Archive for June, 2009

Confessions of a Busy-Body

{Lauren on what it’s like to be in the middle of the ocean}

In the days just prior to and following our departure from the Galapagos, I suspect that I intentionally tried not to think too much about the length of this passage. When I did think about it, albeit briefly, I couldn’t help but feel a little anxious. It’s not that I anticipated that we would be in danger; I have yet to feel unsafe out here. No, I think I felt that way due to the high potential for cabin fever. I experienced what this is like on a hot day when the boat was docked in Panama–I literally felt like I had a fever (even though we had the A.C. on) and had to get off the boat ASAP, at which point I immediately felt better. On this passage, however, there would be no opportunities to get off the boat no matter how restless, irritable, or bored any of us were.

It would not be anything like life in the U.S., where we are so fortunate in terms of space. If one is angry with one’s spouse, for example, all one has to do is go to another part of one’s multi-room house, jump in the car and go for a drive, etc. Similarly, if one had a bad day at work, there are several available avenues for which to veg out or forget about it via electronics, restaurants and bars, and shopping malls. Not so on a 40′ boat in the middle of the ocean.

With that said, it only took a few days for me to be freed of that anxiety and get settled in. The first step was to overcome the lethargy that comes with getting one’s sea legs and avail myself of all of the opportunities for leisure that are onboard. No, I don’t mean like being relieved to find out that there will be a lousy movie playing on one’s long flight, (although watching an good film on board is a welcome diversion). I mean the kind of leisure that is self-selected and allows one to use or develop one’s talents and creativity. For example, there are ever-present opportunities for creative cooking, as you have likely read about in other blogs. I am actually not that creative in the galley (I don’t want to take the risk of having 4 hungry crew) but have really enjoyed experimenting with others’ creative yet tried and true recipes and making substitutions based on available ingredients. In addition, I’ve recently started experimenting with sewing and hope to progress from my current project, a tool roll for Dallas’ wrenches, to other useful items for the boat.

At this point, you may be thinking “OK, Martha Stewart, I get it. You’re having fun being domestic.” It’s true, but that’s not the point. For the first several days it was the point…I was focused on miniature goals such as preparing a nice meal or completing a tedious book chapter. But about a week into the passage, something changed. I started to view my activities not as a means to an end (a goal), but as an end in themselves, and began to enjoy them more as a result. For example, I stopped trying to get through book chapters that didn’t appeal to me; now I pick and choose what I want to read depending on the day. I am currently reading four books and getting more out of them than I would otherwise.

But let me take yet another step back. I think that for me to answer the question of what it’s like to be in the middle of the ocean, it’s important to move beyond what I’m doing to talk about what I’m not doing. I am not sitting in traffic or waiting in line (waiting for anything, for that matter). I am not feeling like I’m behind schedule or haven’t met my personal high standards of achievement. I am not feeling locked in to any one activity or problem to be solved.

Instead, I have the rare privilege for a few short weeks to have decisions no more complicated than what we should have for dinner. I get to watch the waves undulating, feeling the wind and sunshine on my skin. I have unprecedented time to enjoy the company of my husband .I have the quietude to reflect on my prior experiences and to laugh while exchanging stories. I get to work on tasks of my own choosing on my own time. Most of all, I get to relax and just BE.

It’s funny, you know, I think that this trip was founded, in large part, on a desire to achieve goals, and I still think that circumavigating the world on one’s own boat is as good as any. But despite that we have only just started and have crossed but a fraction the immense Pacific, I am beginning to understand what our circumnavigator-friend Ken told us: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”


Lat: 5 34.729′ S
Lon: 114 41.751′ W

1469 miles to go..

Today we reached the halfway point of our passage to the Marquesas. It’s a little anti-climactic; we’ve settled into a routine, the sailing is great, the weather is nice, and the miles keep going by. We’re running on just the spinnaker now and are making our best time ever. The current is definitely helping us, as we’re averaging well over 6 kts. In fact, our average over the last 24 hours is more like 7+. Last night the trades picked up and we were really flying, surfing down the following seas and averaging 8 knots or more. Even with bigger seas, it’s more peaceful today but we’re still in the 7 knot range. Over the last couple of days the wind has moved more to the ESE and freshened a bit — pretty consistent with the June pilot chart for the South Pacific.

Today we may try an experiment with making a podcast. We made up some questions for each other and we’re going to try to record the “interviews/podcast” and post it on the website when we get to the Marquesas. It will give those of you who haven’t met us a chance to hear what we sound like and maybe give some additional perspective that doesn’t make it into the blog.

After several skirmishes, this morning marked the beginning of all-out hostilities between the Pura Vida crew and the fruit flies. We seemed to have picked them up in the Galapagos and they had started attempts to colonize the galley, which of course we are engaged in resisting. There were many rounds of hand-to-wing combat this morning, and although the flies win the majority of battles, we have noticed their numbers dwindling, while we still have our full compliment of 8 hands at the ready.

This afternoon we had an interesting bird sighting. Birds had become less frequent over the last few days, but I saw a couple small ones mid-morning, and a few minutes later, I saw a flock of over 100 birds flying together, gradually moving northeast while apparently diving for fish.

Just before sunset, the wind had really piped up again, probably around 20 knots consistent, with gusts to 25 or more and the seas had built as well. With the spinnaker up, we were typically doing more than 9 knots, with periods above 10 knots. As cool at that is, it’s a pretty lively ride and puts a lot of strain on the boat. The last couple of nights the wind has picked up at night, so to make sure everyone gets some good sleep, we doused the spinnaker and went with just the jib, which still had us moving along at over 6 knots. Dropping the spinnaker went reasonably smoothly, and last time we dropped it Tiff and I did it by ourselves with no problems. We’re finally getting better at it! Lauren gets the credit for dropping the spinnaker at a great time.

Lat: 4 40.984′ S
Lon: 109 44.970′ W

1770 miles to go…

We’re now more than 1000 miles from the Galapagos to the east, Easter Island to the south, the Marquesas to the west, and Mexico to the north. There is Clipperton Island, a small, uninhabited atoll owned by France just under 1000 miles to the north, but another day or two and it will be outside the 1000 mile radius as well. The Pacific is massive. It covers nearly a third of the Earth’s surface — more than all of the lands masses combined. We’ve just barely started our trek across it.

We have had some boat adventures since the last blog. The sat phone is still acting up. The main halyard chafed through again, this time at the external block I added. Going up the stick at sea is really not fun, and I think we’ll be fine without it the rest of the way so it will probably stay like that. We shouldn’t have wind forward of the beam (wind will always be from the side to dead behind us), so we should do just fine with the spinnaker. When we get to the Marquesas I think I’m going to try my hand at splicing a wire rope into the halyard so that the last few feet of the halyard will be wire and much more protected from chafe. Calder’s book says to leave this to professionals, but Don Casey’s book has great instructions on how to do it and a halyard isn’t a safety-related item as long as you aren’t using it to go up the stick, which brings me to another digression. After seeing the condition of some of the halyards after several thousand sea miles and having a couple of them chafe through, I think I’m going to start using a “known good halyard” for going up the stick. This is something our rigger in Ft. Pierce often did and I have a brand new backup halyard as well as some older ones that are in good shape. We’ll see.

Our next adventure was having the dinghy come loose on my watch at 6am. The shackle holding the bow to the davits wore and then broke through, dragging the dinghy at 7+ knots though the wake, with only the stern attached to the boat. Without stopping the boat, this was a two-person job so I woke Wes up. He used a boat hook to grab the dinghy and hold the bow clear of the water while i secured the bow to the davits with a temporary line. He went back to make use of his last 30 minutes of sleep before taking over and I rigged a new shackle and eventually got things back to normal.

And our final adventure: The smell of fiberglassing resin leads to a sticky afternoon. Wes picked up a gallon of resin in Key West to glass a patch of the keel, and the smell of it in the tool berth had gotten even stronger than usual the last couple of days. This afternoon, Lauren noticed that it had started leaking and had gotten onto a number of things. Luckily, we keep a tarp down under the tools and spare parts, so the cushions in the berth weren’t ruined, but we went through a fair amount of acetone cleaning things up and ended up tossing a couple of things. Anybody who’s worked with fiberglass resin knows how much fun that is.

Aside from these few minor adventures, however, the sailing has been great. We’re averaging 6-7+ knots with just the spinnaker up and things are very comfortable. The days are mostly sunny to party cloudy and the temperature is nice, with a slight warming trend lately. Virtually all of our logs since we left the Galapagos have recorded between 77 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit, but the last couple days it has gotten into the mid-80’s inside the salon (though it’s still very nice outside). The weather reminds me of the great fall days back on Galveston Bay where we learned to sail.

Our celebration of the local holiday yesterday was great. We had our now-traditional passage celebration meal: breaded & fried veggie scallops, rosemary & garlic potatoes roasted in olive oil, and green beans. MMMMmmmm. I don’t think we mentioned it before, but you can buy 1 liter boxes of “Clos” wine in Panama for $2 and it’s actually workable for a table wine. Boxes are better than bottles on a boat anyway. More than one boat we know left Panama with caches of Clos measured by the case.

We’ve fallen into a bit of a routine when things aren’t breaking — sleeping, eating, reading, dishes, boat projects, conversation, etc. but we do find ourselves looking forward to the blog & e-mail portions of our day.

As we approach the middle of what should be our longest passage, I’m trying to get the whole crew to take a crack at writing a little bit on “What’s it like to be on a small boat in the middle of the ocean?” We will post the submissions if they appear, so stay tuned…


Several people have asked how we do watches or if someone is always awake, etc. International marine law requires that someone always be on watch. Singlehanders obviously don’t do this, and international marine law is often more about assigning fault in the case of an accident than about enforcement in the same way traffic laws are enforced. We always have someone awake and on watch. Since we have four people, there’s really no excuse not to. Three hours is a common watch length, and that’s what we originally started with, but with four people and 24 hours in the days, it meant that we all had the same shift all the time, good or bad. To remedy this problem, we decided to do two and a half hour shifts at night (which we roughly define as 11pm to sunrise). This moves shift times by 1-2 hours every day, which is enough that we all get to experience sunrise, sunset, mid-day, and the pre-dawn shift without having our sleep schedule moved too drastically from day to day. This can all change in bad weather, when one or more people are too sick to take a watch and the people doing watches are not always able to do a full watch (or can do more than a full watch).

There are really only two watch duties that the on-watch person is solely responsible for in all cases. The first is to look around at least every 15 minutes – a full 360 degree sweep that is done to avoid a collision at sea. Yeah, the ocean is a big place, but you’d be surprised how close you come to ships when you’re near land or even out in the middle of the ocean. Given that your closing speed with them could be over 20 knots and you might miss them on one look around, this is an important safety task. Everyone has numerous close-call stories, but one of the best is the ship that showed up at a port in Alaska with remnants of a sailboat’s rigging hanging from their bow. The crew of the ship was unware they’d hit anything. Large ocean-going ships are notorious for not keeping a lookout, not answering the radio, and being oblivious to smaller craft, so it’s really the duty of the smaller craft to keep a sharp lookout. This sounds like a pretty simple task, but the girls met a woman in Ft. Pierce who had crossed the Atlantic on someone else’s boat and was complaining about the overbearing captain, who had insisted that the on-watch person look around every 15 mintues. It’s a pretty laid-back state of affairs when you feel the need to complain that your job, which you only do for 3 hours at a time, requires you to actually sit up and look around 4 times an hour.

The other watch task we have is to make a log entry at the end of the watch noting date, time, position, speed, heading, temperature, barometric pressure, any notes, etc. This ensures that we have a recent known position in case we have some sort of nav problem, makes it easier to keep an eye on barometric pressure trends, and allows the previous watches to leave notes with information that the subsequent watches may find useful.

Tasks like trimming the sails are essentially the task of the person on watch, but someone is generally available to advise or assist when needed. If we’re in an area with shoals or reefs, the person on watch is responsible for ensuring that our position and course maintain a safe distance from hazards. The person on watch is also has the general task of noticing when “something goes wrong” and either responding to the situation or asking for help before things get worse. This can involve anything from an overheating engine, to a fouled prop, to a chafed-through line, etc.

In an area where there are numerous hazards, or the weather is nice, one’s watch is often spent in the cockpit, enjoying the sun and breeze or the stars. In instances like a major ocean crossing or cold weather (which to us is now anything below 75 degrees with a cool breeze — our thermometer is like this: if shorts, bare feet, and no shirt is comfortable then it’s nice, if a T-shirt is needed then it’s cool, if you’re not comfortable once you’ve added a T-shirt then it’s cold), much of the watch may be spent inside the main salon reading or resting with a trip outside to look things over every 15 minutes.

Lat: 4 00.295′ S
Lon: 103 24.213′ W

2151 miles to go…

Well, hard as it may be to comprehend, there’s not a lot to report from the middle of the ocean. After the Halyard Incident, things have been a bit hum-drum. We changed course to the SW for a day or so to try to find stronger winds and that worked out well, so we’re back on course and averaging close to 6 kts.

Tomorrow is a local holiday — 1000 Miles Down / 1/3 Of The Way To The Marquesas Day. There will be a special meal, possibly a brief speech (toast) by each of the four dignitaries (imbibers) present, and then we’ll be back to the slave-like task of being disturbed from our reading or conversation every 15 minutes to look around.

We’re definitely in a friendly current, which is a welcome change, and are slowly increasing our average speed for the trip on just the main and jib.

We’ve learned a bit about cooking with salt water to conserve fresh water in the last couple days. As Lauren mentioned, the first thing we attempted with good success was steaming potatoes with salt water in a pressure cooker. Next, we looked up the salinity of salt water (an average of 35 ppt) and calculated the conversion into cooking units — 1.6 teaspoons of salt per cup of salt water. We guessed that a 4:1 mixture of fresh to salt water for cooking would taste just fine and Lauren used it to good effect with the rice for a great Cuban lunch (black bean soup over rice and plantains in rum caramel). For dinner we had some tasty quesadillas using homemade tortillas and Tiffany added her first loaf of homemade bread, which was excellent; I finished it off for breakfast this morning.

It takes about 3 days to get “into the groove” of a passage and by now we’re all well adjusted; it seems to get easier as we go along. There are still a few small birds around occasionally of the same type that we saw in the Galapagos, there are always flying fish, and we’re still getting a few squid on deck every night, but other than that there’s not a lot besides sky and ocean. We haven’t seen any sign of human existence since we were out of sight of the Galapagos.