Getting from there to here
20 August 2016
As much as we would like to take all the credit for our long voyage across the Pacific, we have had a steady and reliable aid guiding us along. That aid is the multitude of instruments we have to tell us things like: where are we? Are we going in the right direction? How fast are we going? Is there a current? When will we arrive? How's the wind and weather 24, 48 and 96, even 10 days into the future? How does it do all this? Well, you are about to find out!
When I come up on deck (and it's pretty much the same with everyone) the first thing I do is sit down and review the 'data' (yes, our instrumentation screen, aka chart plotter, is located low and requires sitting or kneeling on the deck to effectively read it). There's the map. It shows the boat placed on the correct location on the map. We see the location latitude and longitude, we see the boats direction, the wind direction, and most importantly, we see any other ships in the area. A system called AIS, uses our VHF antenna to receive transmissions from all ships in our area. I think they even relay from ship to ship to extend the area where we can see ships. AIS tells us what ships are within a out 60 miles. It gives the ships name, destination, heading, speed, size and, again, most importantly the closest it will come to us and the time when that will occur in the future. Obviously, we don't want to be anywhere close to one of these huge ships, some 800 and 1100 feet long! Karl and I passed a ship last night within about 4 miles. It was a bit foggy, and at first we couldn't see it, but after a while it emerged, a huge cargo ship far off in the distance going in the opposite direction to us.
Other info on the chart plotter is about the point, or waypoint, we are headed to. This might be a point along our route in the middle of the ocean, or, like right now, 'GG Bridge'. This gives us the name of the way point, the heading to the waypoint, our 'VMG' (Velocity Made Good), the distance and the ETA in hours to the way point. We've been watching this like a hawk for a while now trying to estimate our arrival time. When sailing the ETA changes like crazy with every change in wind speed, boat speed and direction. When we have 900 or 700 miles to go, 0.3 Knot change in VMG results in the ETA changing by days, from say 120 hours to 96 hours. It's very gratifying when a gust of wind speeds up the boat to 9.5 kts and the ETA drops by two days, however the reality is we don't maintain that at all and we use a more reasonable 6 or 7 Kts as an average.
When driving the boat while sailing, we rely very heavily on another related set of instruments that are mounted as a 'heads up' (actually a head down) display. By glancing down, you can see the heading of the boat relative to the wind, the boat speed and wind speed. The compass is also located here. All of these are crucial to good sailing. If we are trying to go a specific compass heading, the instruments tell us if we need to trim the sails. If the wind speed picks up, we may need to depower the sails or reduce sail (reef the sails). If we are sailing to the wind, which is usually the case, every time the wind shifts, or if there's a gust, the boat needs to be steered to take advantage of it; to keep the sails at the same apparent angle to the wind. You need to do this while at the same time steering big swells or around steep waves. And the instruments, including the compass, change values so much, you are constantly averaging them and anticipating the next change. It can be tiring and is the reason we almost exclusively when to 15 minute shifts of steering when in the most challenging, dynamic situations (read high wind, big swell, steep waves).
We have VHF radio for communication with other ships. We haven't used it, but we make sure it's on. We want to hear if anyone is trying to contact us, especially one of those big ships.
The other really important electrical equipment is our Iridium Go and a cool program called Air mail (Sail mail). It's a satellite phone and computer program that provides a connection to a specific server, the sail mail server, dedicated to people like us. The server provides us GRIB files. These are data files that allow us to view on a map what the wind and waves will be in the next week or so in 6, 12 or 24 hour increments. We would look at the map and say, OK, we will be here in 24 hours, the wind will be 12 Kts from the North West and the swell will be 1.5 meters. In 48 hours we'll be over here and, well you get the idea. We also downloaded things called weather faxes. These are old style weather maps like what you might see on a weather forecast. It's done by a National Weather Service weather man and tells us where the high and low pressure systems a are, hurricanes, Gales etc., and where what it will be in 24, 48 and 96 hours. We also get email via the Iridium Go, and I post these blog entries that way. It's been our only connection to the outside world over these last 16 days. 16 days!
Right now: wind speed: 3.5 Kts Boat Speed: 7.6 Kts Heading: 081M Course over ground: 076M Way point: GG Bridge VMG: 7.2 Kts Range: 83.0 nm ETA: 12 Hrs, 14 Min
That's about it. Love you all.
19 August 2016
For the most part, the life in the deep ocean is under the water and not seen, but there have been some remarkable sightings on this trip. Here's a taste of what we have encountered.
There's the squid. We were on the way down to Hawaii, a few days into the race when George noticed something squishy under his feet while he was steering one night. We turned on our lights to find, unfortunately :( a semi squashed squid. it was about 8 inches long and a pale white with a rather lot of ink squirted out around the deck. We had several others on deck as well which we kindly returned to the sea. The ink was very black and difficult to wash off the deck. The theory we came up with as to why these were jumping onto out boat was that at night we turn on 'Nav' lights. One of these lights is bright white and located facing away from the back of the boat. We think these squid would see the light and jump towards it. What do you think?
Another frequent visitor to our deck is the flying fish. I have seen these most frequently in the lower latitudes, but just saw one the other day flying over the waves here in the North. Each morning, we would take a survey of the flying fish on the deck. How big was it? Where was it? We had a few every morning, mostly only a few inches long. These creatures are most impressive in the sea. We don't know why they fly, probably to escape being eaten, but when they do it's really impressive. The take off out of the water like any fish I guess, but then they defy gravity and instead of falling on an arc back into the water they take off gliding over the waves. They do this for a surprising distance, often 20 or 30 yards. And then they usually take right back off again. Perhaps this is another convenient mutation that has allowed them to survive the next hungry fish?
The Tuna is an amazing fish. The are all muscle. We enjoyed the Tuna in two ways, one as the majestic creature that it is, another as Poke. We were unsuccessful fishing on the way to Hawaii, but on the way back we caught two fish: a Mahi Mahi, aka Dorado, and a Yellow Fin Tuna. The Tuna, as I said is complete muscle. Joe describes them as 'footballs', because that's the shape they are; thick and stubby. We saw one jump across in front of the boat one day. It was really moving fast and jumped a foot or two out of the water in a big graceful arc. It was likely chasing another fish. Maybe one of those flying fish? I was amazed at the size of incredibly small size of the connection between the torso and the tail. For a fish that was about 20 inches in total length, the connection was only maybe a 1/2 inch thick! They have big black eyes and definitely was looking at us as we hovered over it in excitement. We had been told that if you pour alcohol over the gills, it kills them instantly. This is not true. We poured a pint of vodka over them and he was still kicking so to speak, albeit now probably very drunk. We opted for the the winch handle between the eyes, and although not very efficient it did the trick. I voted for the SV Delos recommendation of cutting the gills, but that was vetoed as being too messy. It turned out to be pretty messy any way. Joe cut of two amazing fillets up on deck and then finished them by removing the skin in the galley. The fillets then were turned into Poke, a dish we ran across frequently in Hawaii. Our Poke had some soy, garlic, Saracha and we ate it with crackers, wasabi (real wasabi thanks Stella!) and pickled ginger. Yes, we were prepared.
I should not overlook the Mahi Mahi, because it is the prettier of the two fish. It's an amazing combo of glittering greens, blues and yellows. It's a beautiful fish. The one we caught was also about 20 inches. They have a blunt snout that looks like they could use to ram another fish, but it gives them a unique look among fish. The Mahi Mahi makes equally good Poke as well!
One day we were sailing along, and I was at the helm. Trash, more specifically floating plastic, is a constant during the trip. It seems to float past the boat almost exactly 10 yards away on either side. Why is that? Obviously, that's not true, there's trash everywhere, but it's interesting that most of what we actually saw was at that distance. Something to do with optics or human psychology or something. Anyway, I'm looking to Starboard and see something big. It looks like a 50 gallon drum floating with one of its round ends up. I follow it as the boat comes up along side (10 yards away, naturally). Just as we get closest to it, I see a flipper come up out out of the water. Wow, it's a turtle! It was a big one, like those you might see snorkling or diving in Hawaii. We were in the middle of the pacific. Where was it going? Where did it come from? How does it know where to go? What does it eat? The questions abound.
Patrick was on the helm and yelled "There some life in the water ahead". We rushed up on deck to find several, maybe 5, Orca's swimming around the boat! They would surface, blow and then we would see the big black back as the dove back down again. As we sailed away, a couple followed the boat for 1/4 mile or so. As we anxiously peered of the back of the boat we were rewarded by one last surface only 10 or 15 yards away. I think they are as amazed to see us as we are to see them. Imagine, a boat this far out in the ocean.
Just today, Dolphins started swimming along with us. They would swim on one side, then under the boat and swim on the other side. They jumped incredibly close to the bow of the boat. I've heard of this behavior before, but I'm not sure why they like to be so close; maybe within 6 inches.
We see quite a few Birds. Less out in the middle of the ocean but they are there none the less. I don't know the names, but there are basically two types that I can describe. One is smaller, like a small sea gull. One just landed on our boat today for a rest. The birds out here fly in a very specific way. They glide down in the troughs of the waves and then pop up into the wind to gain energy. The arc across the wind and then dive back down into another trough. They go very fast and cover a great distance with very little energy, although they do flap, so It makes me wonder how they do that for as long as they do. The most impressive bird is much bigger; we think it's an albatross. It's very majestic as it climbs up and then dives down for the glide. The glide is very efficient, as their wings are so close to the water they seem to touch.
We also some some whales off in the distance one day, but we couldn't quite see the type. We've seen other things as well, but couldn't get a close enough look to see what they are.
All this makes you wonder what's going on down there under the boat. I think there is quite a lot going on as we sail on by. A whole world to themselves swimming around enjoying life and trying not to get eaten!
SF approach, full moon and meteor
18 August 2016
This is an interesting part of the return trip. We had the hard sailing north from Hawaii into the prevailing swell. We had the sinister high pressure that was following us everywhere we went in the middle of the trip. Now, finally we are on track towards SF. It's a good feeling to be making good progress in the right direction at this point. It feels so close, like I should be cleaning up for our arrival. It's the feeling I had starting at about 800 miles to go. Here we are about 400 miles still to go and I still feel that way. Counting down the miles, the hours and the days.
I had another feeling that I heard another Pacific Cup racer express in a blog. We are all dying to reach SF. Can't wait for a shower, a level,warm and dry bed and seeing our loved ones again. But, as I sit out on deck, the sea and wind raging, I know I need to take advantage of my time out here; to enjoy it while it lasts. And I really do enjoy it.
I was up on deck last night. The sky was full of clouds with hardly a break anywhere. Then, all of a sudden the sea started to glow in the distance. It was the full moon shining through a small break in the clouds. A minute later, it was the boat that was aglow as the moon shown through another opening. As we moved along, so did the clouds and the moon. The entire night we were treated to glimpses here and there of weird and beautiful formations and light. You just don't see that very often and in many places in your life.
Another treat we had on the boat, which I unfortunately didn't have the pleasure of witnessing, was a meteor. Michael and Joe were on deck and as they described it to me it was amazing. It was close, not like a normal falling star, but something real that you could see. They saw it break into pieces and then after that saw the characteristic tails. I'll let them describe it in more detail, but it's another great example of the things we need to appreciate.
I'm making a deal with myself. For ever 100 miles we get closer to SF, I'll count one of the many blessings of being here right now.
Heavy Weather Sailing
18 August 2016
It's almost a relief hitting the heavy weather portion of our trip. We were worrying about the gale for so long, and the large seas and high winds that it would bring where we were further south, that when it finally hits we know what to expect. As our last correspondence with the weather guys states:
"There is a persistent pressure gradient
squeeze between 133W to 129W when you are expected to be crossing those
longitudes. The expected wind/wave conditions are NNEerly 25-30 gusts
40kts, wave heights 12-15 ft."
We're at longitude 132 and we've had these conditions for about 36 hours. Boat handles well on a beam reach (double reefed main, about 40% jib) and allows us to take the waves at nice angle. Some of the waves are huge but Aquavit rolls over them like a pro.
Exhilarating sailing but very wet as some waves and a lot of wave spray hits the cockpit. Follies are totally wet and never have a chance to dry out between shifts. We're on modified watch schedule now, so that two crew are always in the cockpit. Good for safety but not for sleep...less time between shifts and longer shifts. On the upside, all the crew are so accustomed to heavy weather sailing that its almost routine by now. Usually its quiet in the cockpit, as we huddle down trying to avoid spray directly into our faces. But Pat and Carl, our two "youths" on the voyage, comment loudly on evary wave ("yeah...that was a big one")and revel in the challenge and excitement. We others soldier through!
We're "only" 450 miles from SF now, and we're all excited about our landfall. Making very good progress. Amazing to me that the boat does about 8.5kts into swells with such reduced canvas up. I expect Sunday evening arrival.
Lot's of boats now steaming to LA or Oakland, seen on our AIS and occasional sighting, but none close so far.
Joe and I saw the most amazing thing in the early morning hours, about 1am. Two bright lights, intense lights, moving quickly across our starboard side about 2 miles away and low in the sky. Joe shouted UFOs! But after a few seconds the lights developing flaming tails until they died out 30 seconds or so later. We think they were meteorites that had entered the earth's atmosphere and fell into the ocean not far from us.
Miss everyone and, after two weeks sailing, looking forward to getting home.
From Aquavit, Lst 37degrees 47 minutes, Long 132 degrees, 02 minutes, s
Whales and Weather
15 August 2016
Saw a pod of killer whales yesterday, passed all around us, and one followed us for a few minutes. This is their place and they are curious about us. I've seen lots of killer whales in the San Juans, but new and exciting to several others.
Caught some wind going south and we're sailing nicely! The bad news is that we've lost a degree of latitude, but plenty of time to make it up. We're now 800 NM from SF. We actually reefed with the higher winds. Aquavit loves a lot of jib, she's a traditional sailor powered mainly by the jib, so it's best for us to reef the main and let the jib be out as much as possible. So we have one reef in the main and the full jib out. Reefing for us is routine since we've done it so much is so many different conditions (waves, winds). One crew at the helm and another handling the lines But it involves several steps-- loosening the boom vang, coming up into the wind a bit, loosening the main sheet, and simultaneously lowering the main halyard and tightening the reef line. Four lines all other the place in the boat, and at night it is a maze of lines everywhere. And one needs to be careful to make sure all the lines are moving freely, so the flashlight comes out at the same time, all the while that the boat is pounded by waves and wind. (The reason, of course, for reefing in the first place). It looks like a mess when one completes the reef and gets the boat settled, and a bit like a blind man recoiling all the lines in the dark and reattaching them to the hangers.
Fun to sail and this morning we got good news about the weather! The gale (40+ knot winds) will dissipate in 4 days, about the time we will approach the area. So it is not expected to hang around for days and will not delay much our move to the coast. We'll slow down a bit, and still hit good wind (about 25knots) and waves (about 9 feet), but nothing too rough if we able to do a beam reach (90 degrees to the wind) or lower. So the grib files and forecasts are favorable today and things are looking good!
Just a word about the crew. Spirits are high and everyone gets along great. Karl is our music meister, playing all sorts o play lists that keep us jumping. His enthusiasm and good spirit is infectious. Pat is a great sail trimmer, from his many years racing at UCSC and other venues, and has taught us all a great deal about the best sail combinations and trims to make the boat go fast at all angles, wind, and wave angles. He is also a great conversationalist and always fun to talk to. Karl and Pat are playing cards, and talking about everything from good food and cooking to music to girls. Joe and I reminisce about old times growing up in Lafayette. (Joe is the younder brother of John Dillard, a close friend friend from grade school days). Bill is philosophical and loves sailing...he is a fanatic...and jumps on anything needing repair. We have a lot in common, married to Swedes, living in Sweden, growing up in the Bay Area, so there is always lots to talk about. In short, we are a contented and happy boat.
Fair Winds from Aquavit,
14 August 2016
Seems like we've been plagued by the adverse weather this trip. On the way to Hawaii we encountered large, confused, seas and then Hurricane Darby. The last leg of the trip to Kanehoe was rushing like madmen to avoid been trapped at sea for days while the storm system passed. (We arrived at 4pm. Boats after midnight were advised to stay offshore.)
We started the return trip with high expectations of a fast return trip, sailing close to the wind in a northern route and along the southern edge of a stable stationary high was the plan. We even left Kanehoe early to avoid a developing wether system soon to hit the islands
Well, just as we got well north, to about 37 lat, the high moved south and we've been in the middle of it for days. And, the forecasts suggest that once we do escape the high to the east, a gale is likely to be upon us! We don't want to knowingly sail into 12 foot seas and 30+ knot winds, so we are now going to sail a bit southward, and then a bit northward, to find wind and take a more leisurely approach to longitude 130. The gale is supposed to start in 2 days and last about 2 days, so if we arrive there in about 5 days we should be okay.
Nonetheless, I'm beginning to hate weather reports, weather faxes, grib files and the like...day after day I pore over them with Bill and Joe, and the high just seems to chase us eastward!
I suppose, in the larger scheme of things, these patterns are not unusual, and we were advised to plan our approach to the coast, either speeding up or slowing down, to avoid the gales typical of this time of year. But it is a first time for me and our crew, and frustrating!
Otherwise things are well on Aquavit! Last of the frozen food (lasagna)last night. Dinners are canned foods here on out.
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