FATHER'S DAY - A SON'S MUSINGS - Part 1
Today's message comes from Norm.
We will arrive in Hawaii on Sunday, which is Father's Day. I just sent my Dad a note to let him know he is well loved and that I would be home soon to see him. His name is Bill. He is 90 years old; an impressive feat. I missed his big birthday party, unfortunately. It's one of the downsides of being away at sea. He lives in a care home in Vancouver where he is a treasure to all the staff. He calls it the Institute and he calls himself an Inmate. This name is not really fair. It is said tongue in cheek. Indeed, he is well cared for at the care home. Not just by the staff but also by his devoted wife, Valerie. He was lucky enough to find love again after my mom died. He was 80 at the time. Yes, another impressive feat. She visits him every day. Such devotion. If not for her I'm not sure we would be out here sailing. She makes being away possible.
At 90 years of age certain systems just pack it in. They have given good service but are simply worn out. Dad's hearing is not so good anymore. Ditto for his vision but things like the cat climbing in and out of his bedroom window still catch his attention. He responds more to touch these days, ever happy to sit and hold your hand. He no longer speaks much. But he listens well. He was always a good listener. Now, when you tell him a story, at the appropriate moment, the funny moment, he smiles knowingly. He always had a great sense of humor. With those responsive smiles, just like a gentle squeeze of his hand, communication is easily established. It is clear to me, despite the loss of some senses and silent demeanor, his mind, his quite excellent mind, is still ticking along quite nicely.
Dad came from Winnipeg. His father died young of complications from being gassed during WWI. His mother was a tiny woman with a great musical talent. In fact she played the piano at silent movie theaters. I guess that's where Dad got his talent. He could play the piano by ear. Not just Christmas carols but things like Moonlight Sonata, note by note. We had a big upright piano. One day for reasons unknown he painted it powder blue, even though he never really played the blues. But his boogie woogie was pretty good. Atop the piano sat an aquarium capped with a plywood canopy with a light bulb inside. It too was painted powder blue. He evidently liked a certain amount of orderliness. Or was there just leftover paint? Our jet black cat, Mirrow, would sit on the aquarium canopy, basking in the heat of the light bulb below radiating through the lid. From time to time she would peer down at the fish rubbing their noses along the glass but otherwise was content to just sprawl and listen to Dad play the powder blue piano quite beautifully, as did we all in the household.
Dad was one of the few positive results of WWII. He enlisted at a young age just to get out of the house. He was not keen on his stepfather. So he joined the Canadian Air Force. Aptitude tests directed him to training in electronics. Soon he was in England fixing radios in airplanes that had been shot to pieces by the Luftwaffe. He thrived in this occupation and upon return to Canada he enrolled at the University of Manitoba to study electrical engineering, courtesy of the Canadian government as a returning serviceman. This was one of the most brilliant government investments ever made. There he met the woman who would become my mom, Joan, a nurse at Winnipeg General Hospital. He fell in love and they were soon married. A family followed. My sister, Allison, was the first to arrive. Then I came along three years later. And so my growing up, my early and most precious remembrances of Dad began.
TO BE CONTINUED - PART 2 TOMORROW
Today's reflective bog post is brought to you from David.
One of the clearest sunrises broke the horizon today. This was one of the rare times there were no clouds to block the view. A sleepy orange ball slowly rose and brought yet another fine day to us. We are motor sailing for the time being to charge the batteries. The seas have tempered their enthusiasm some so we're cruising along with more comfort than at this time yesterday. All signs still point to Sunday landfall, but this time we'll be in sight of land for a lot longer before actually arriving in Honolulu. (So near, yet so farĀ....) I suspect we'll see the big island of Hilo some time Friday afternoon or early evening. For sure, when we rise Saturday morning, we'll see it as we will sailing alongside in its shadow all day long.
Before we left Penrhyn, Beth and Norm were going through some of their books on board deciding which ones to keep and give away in trade. Norm handed me three keepers and when I had them in my hands, I agreed readily that I would enjoy them. All three involved sailors with whom I was familiar; all three told their tale of adventure out on the ocean. I thumbed the pages and gave a cursory examination to each: Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum, a sailing classic. Ah, I had wanted to read this one for a while. I picked up the next, A World of My Own, by Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, yes, the Brit who became the first to circumnavigate single-handed and non-stop in 1968; lastly, True Spirit, by Jessica Watson, the Australian teenager who became the youngest to circumnavigate non- stop. I had followed her progress with my grade 4 class and knew her story the best. I realized that there was a similarity between them. Each book I cradled in my hands told of a single-handed circumnavigation.
I've since completed Slocum's book and am working my way through Knox-Johnson's. I found myself thinking a lot about Joshua Slocum's effort when reading it. He left Boston in April 1895 at 51 years of age in a 37 foot sloop that he rebuilt himself plank by plank. Completed his voyage in June 1898. This was 115 years ago. He had no engine aboard and no electricity. He raised and lowered the anchor turning his windlass by hand. Light came from oil lamps, heat and cooking by way of a wood stove. He had to collect firewood and water. He had no chart plotter, no GPS, no laptop, no water maker, no fridge, no self-steering mechanism, no weather information, no weather routers, no radio (either to communicate with or listen to for entertainment). He had a sextant, a compass, charts, and a tin clock. Beyond that, he relied on his knowledge and his wit. When coming abreast of another vessel, they communicated with each other by way of signal flags - if they were close enough to read them that is; he had no binoculars either. About the only similarity between him and us is with provisioning; that being the limitations on availability, abundance, and location.
His voyage and ours are worlds apart really and I find the contrast quite fascinating. He embarked on his journey at a time when sailing as a means of freight and passenger transport was nearing its end. Ours is recreational, a lifestyle, an entirely different industry. For me, I sailed a bit as a kid then rediscovered it as an adult. Slocum spent all his life around boats and even ran away from home in Nova Scotia to get on a boat. He would die at sea too. When I think about his endeavour I consider the means by which he travelled part of a craft rarely if ever practiced anymore. It is a lost art.
I should say that I'm not about to use this forum to now declare my intention to embark on a single-handed circumnavigation myself. Nor am I about to dedicate my life to the study of the sextant and memorize sight reduction tables. However, I am a romantic and tend to favour 'old school' so I appreciate greatly the skills used to find one's way on the barren landscape of the sea, devoid of landmarks, and to do so with precision. I respect that and marvel at his accomplishment frequently.
It's Tuesday afternoon just after lunch. Herds of stampeding buffalo are racing across the seascape, their white manes of foam rushing towards the distant horizon. The wind is relentless, whipping up steep and choppy seas that roll Sarah Jean from side to side, sometimes at dizzying angles. Yes, it is a little rough out here! These tumultuous seas will continue until Saturday morning when we move into the lee of the Big Island of Hawaii which is along our route and about 200 miles southeast of Oahu.
Despite the conditions we are making steady progress towards Honolulu. We have elected to sail at a conservative pace of about 6 kts or 150 miles per day. This gives us a landfall on Sunday morning. Sure, we could go faster; probably much faster. After all, we are flying only a triple reefed main and a triple reefed jib and going 6-7 kts. But what's the point? Going fast would just be uncomfortable and greatly increase the risk of damage to the boat and to ourselves. Safety and comfort always trump the speed card on Sarah Jean. Besides, we are tired. Sleep is always illusive and, at best, quite fragmented in such conditions.
To expound upon this situation I have written about waking up this morning. It goes like this:
ONE MAN'S AWAKENING AT SEA
I awoke. It was dark but it did not feel dark. The sun comes up early here; around 5:00 a.m. As I lay sweating on the settee I could feel the rays of the sun on my skin. My God, I thought, I've gone blind! Such thoughts are not uncommon for someone such as me with a history of eye disease. In a panic I reached up to touch my eyes to make sure they were still there. With much relief I felt the silky texture of the black sleeping mask covering my eyes. Suddenly the darkness made sense.
My mind wandered. I felt like just like Zorro except my mask had no eyeholes. I am wearing the Stevie Wonder version, I thought. This style would clearly be a handicap during swordfights. This was another thought. Speaking of swordfights, wasn't Catherine Zeta- Jones just too hot in The Mask of Zorro? The best part of the movie, of course, was when Zorro rakishly cuts away the straps of her dress during a girl versus boy swordfight. Suddenly the dress falls to her feet! She is outraged but predictably smitten by his outrageous antics. Zorro, disappointingly, exits stage left, jumps on the back of his trusty black stallion and rides off into the night, leaving Zeta-Jones all hot and bothered with her dress around her ankles. Zorro's reputation for mystery, and now for stupidity, grows exponentially at this point. Indeed, it is a moment of pure cinematic genius! But I digress.
I put my Stevie Zorro mask aside. I then remove my spongy earplugs and lay them on the shelf above the settee where they join many others, a collection of little orange turds that festoon all flat surfaces and baskets throughout the boat. At sea one can never have too many earplugs!
I sit up. I am now directly under the fan. Relief from the muggy heat inside the boat is reversely proportional to your proximity to a fan. I sit up taller and let the fan blow through my hair, just like a Breck Shampoo commercial. Yeah, right! My hair is damp and plastered to my head. It does not move under the considerable force of the Hella Turbo Fan on its highest setting. Today must be a shower day.
I am sitting up in the settee now but I'm not really sitting. I'm leaning back at an angle of at least 20 degrees, matching the heeling angle of the boat. I feel like an astronaut atop a giant Saturn rocket. In fact I feel like John Glen ready for blastoff! Can you imagine what he must have been thinking waiting for the word IGNITION? I look across the saloon to my first handhold target of the day. So near yet so far. Definitely uphill. I'm still tired. I'm not sure if my acrobatic timing is dialed in yet. I summon up my courage. This will be more than one small step for a man; it will be a giant leap from the settee. Hopefully it will propel me into another boisterous but otherwise fine day at sea.
I launch myself and grab for the distant handhold, like a rock climber on a granite precipice. I'm not a rock climber but I know this is what it would be like. I wrap my hand around the stainless steel bar and pull myself upright. I then drop back against THE LEANING WALL with a sigh of relief. I'm up! I made it! A successful first attempt! This bodes well for the day. I stand, legs spread, my back plastered against THE LEANING WALL, the only completely flat surface on the boat where you can rest securely while standing up. Beth and I have been known to exchange standing hugs here, sometimes I press her into the wall and sometimes she does me. These encounters are generally brief as we pass en route to our respective tasks about the boat. But they are sweet and much needed in a setting where physical contact is challenging at best. THE LEANING WALL is a therefore a special place, a sanctuary in our rolling and heaving world. There the golden cherry wood glistens, oiled and well polished by countless encounters with the bare skin of my back. Indeed, there is no need for Murphy's Oils Soap on this bit of woodwork!
And so I am up and about, now swinging from handhold to handhold like George of the Jungle, working my way to the forward head for my morning ablutions. With near surgical precision, as the boat rocks and rolls, I will instill a series of drops into my eyes, a daily feat in which I take great pride, akin to peeing into a coke bottle on a bumpy party bus with no shocks. And not spilling a drop! Remember those days?
But my morning ablutions are another story for another day . . .
TRADE WIND SAILING
You gotta love those trade winds!
FINALLY, after sailing 4,000 miles from New Zealand and spending 30 days at sea (with stops at Rarotonga and Penrhyn in the Cook Islands) we are now sailing in the trade winds. Why are they fabulous? Because they are constant and predictable. This makes for easy sailing. None of our sailing in the past 4,000 miles has been predictable or easy. Until now. Granted, we had some nice downwind sailing on our passage from New Zealand to Rarotonga but we also encountered a low pressure system on this passage and we had to change our route so we wouldn't get hammered. We got hammered anyway! Lately we've been close hauled most of the time and have dealt with dozens of squalls from Rarotonga north to the equator. After leaving Penrhyn we sailed east 600 miles, actually moving away from Hawaii, to gain precious easting so we would hit the NE trades at the right angle. We had to constantly monitor our course, our sail trim, and our radar. All of this has left us pretty exhausted. It was sailing requiring intense focus.
Now, finally, we have turned left into the NE trades and we are sailing a straight line course for Hawaii. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and the winds are a steady 18 kt. We are close reaching at 60 degrees apparent and we're sailing fast; typically about 7.5 kts or more. Yahoo! The crew of Sarah Jean has breathed a sigh of relief. Instead of watching the instruments, reefing and changing course every few minutes we can now relax on our watch. Yesterday, after we made the turn at 8 N and 147 W, I just sat and enjoyed looking at the ever changing ocean. It felt good to do nothing; just watch the flying fish skim over the waves. On my watch from 6:00 - 9:00 a.m. this morning I did yoga stretches, cleaned the cockpit, wrote in my journal, read my book and read about all the fun things to do in Oahu in the Hawaii Lonely Planet book.
We are all getting a little weary of being at sea. Norm said this morning, "Who ever said it was about the journey?" Sure, there are some awesome moments out here at sea with fabulous sunsets and wild looking squalls, but for us cruising is about exploring new lands and meeting the local people. Passage making is just something to get through, especially an upwind passage like this one from New Zealand to Vancouver. It is about the destination. About arrival.
I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. It occurred to me that most people just jump on a plane and in 4 hours they are in Hawaii on vacation. We, on the other hand, have spent almost 2 months getting to Hawaii from New Zealand; much of it challenging. Crazy!
We expect to make landfall in Honolulu on Sunday, June 16. And what a sweet landfall it will be. Norm already has a long list of boat chores to do. It is taped to the cabin wall and we keep adding to it, so we'll be busy. But I know we'll also make time for some fun and sipping a cool, refreshing Mai Tai while listening to a Don Ho strum his ukulele. Is he still around?
I'm in the Zone today, folks. Now I'm not talking about the kind of zone where I everything I do turns effortlessly to gold or like I sink 7 birdies in a row on the back nine then drain a sixty foot putt to win the Masters. I'm referring to the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). (Ohhh, that zone.)
The ITCZ is an area north of the equator where the winds are typically very light to non-existent, the seas smooth as a mill pond, and is guarded by towering cumulous clouds offering intense squally conditions, including lightning, that develop very rapidly. This was one of features of this voyage to which I most looked forward. I'd heard that one would be sailing along merrily, then all would go still and the boat would be becalmed. To get out of the ITCZ, one would be on the motor for one to two days depending on its thickness. The trick in navigating this area is locating the part of it where it appears the thinnest, motor straight across, and prepare for the intense squally conditions. Yes, I did say I was looking forward to this, but it hasn't turned out that way. Apparently, we're too far west.
Alas, there has been no mill pond and there have been satisfactory winds so we've largely sailed. The one ITCZ feature we have enjoyed, so to speak, has been the squalls, but only as of last night and this morning. When we left Penrhyn, we had squalls for the first 3 to 4 days, but since then we've been squall free. Only last night did the squalls return and thus signal our official arrival into the Zone.
This morning's offering had to be the most glorious presentation. (of course it was - this is my first major voyage) What started as a tiny blip on radar around 5:10 am, morphed into a massive crescent shaped cell barely thirty minutes later and it appeared to be circling the wagons around us. As the first light of morning broke over the horizon, I could see a clearer and clearer outline of just how massive this squall was. It had to be at least 12 miles across and who knew how high, but I was looking up at it. Rain cascaded out of the clouds farther to the southeast leaving a dark smudge on the horizon while over the rest of it a "lighter" rain fell by way of a heavy, dirty grey curtain hanging down trying to keep the sun's light out. Directly ahead of us towered its northeast edge. I looked up, wayyyyy up. This was no Friendly Giant. This was The Colossus itself in cloud form and he looked ticked. Underneath, another massive downpour drained mightily from the threatening squall and we and it were about to cross paths.
Then suddenly, the foreboding spectacle morphed from menace to glorious. The sun's light penetrated the top of The Colossus where it became totally illuminated and shone like a golden crown upon a white pedestal. Underneath, the dirty curtain now flushed yellow like the gilded edge of tapestry over its entire length. Behind us, a full rainbow gleamed and held the clouds to our rear tightly within its arch. Frankly, it was awesome. With all good things though, the time comes when it ends and in short order the magic light faded, the rain fell and the wind blew. As we were positioned near the head of the cell, the rain didn't fall that fiercely, the winds didn't build too strongly, and after a briefer spell than I expected, we were through to the other side.
It is a few hours later now. As I came up on deck around 9:30 am and greeted Norm at the helm, the sky was overcast and the seas very lumpy. Soon after, the clouds gave way entirely and we were bathed in sunshine once again. Behind us a literal wall of cloud rose from sea to sky and we took that to mean, as we drew farther away, that we had passed through the Zone for good. We are smacking the waves pretty hard now, and for a few hours more we'll be going hard on the wind. Later this afternoon we will at last bear off and make our turn towards Hawaii.
On behalf of captain and crew, I hope you are all well.
The crew members of Sarah Jean II are taking a day off blog writing. David is making bread, Norm is having a nap, catching up on his sleep, and I'm supposed to be on watch. I have to keep this brief! So you will have a break today too. No blog to read. I can hear some of you breathing a sigh of relief!
Our position is 05 27 N and 147 43 W. We are 75 miles south of where we expect the doldrums (ITCZ) to begin although we could be in it now. It looks like the ITCZ as the sky is full of clouds, some dark and menacing. The doldrums, however, are supposed to be a no wind zone. We have 18 kt of SE wind and we're flying along at 7-8 kts, close reaching at 60 degrees apparent. Go figure??
This time tomorrow we should be in the real ITCZ Zone so we'll let you know what that looks like. We should hit the NE trade winds at about 08 N and 147 W later on Sunday afternoon. Then we'll turn left for Hawaii. Yahoo! Pina Coladas, here we come!
Have a wonderful weekend everyone. We wish you sunshine wherever you are. The humorous blog writers on Sarah Jean II will return tomorrow.