Tuesday, April 17, 2007
We Are Not Going To Cartagena!
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Editor's Note: Not all the letters were distributed at the time of their writing. Some didn't get mailed, for whatever reason, others didn't get published because they got misplaced, others didn't because they violated national security and/or obscenity laws.
Sailing is not always wonderful. In fact, most of the time, it is like having small grains of sand dropped into your eyes, with brief periods where you are able to look on the face of God. You are forced to buy the sand, by the way; it's a buck a grain, and God turns out to look a lot like Mel Brooks.
The last twenty four hours were like that; the previous night was windy with gusts above thirty knots, the seas were eight to ten feet of an annoying following swell almost dead on our stern, the current was against us and the chop came from whatever angle it could to bang into us, and the auto pilot stopped working. Whoever was at the helm had to work extra hard to keep us on course, and the thought of accidental jibes (and the captain's unpleasant reaction to them) sat heavy on their minds. At night, with only the red light off the compass to focus on, your concentration becomes intense. At one point, as Jeff was hunched over the helm, a flying fish jumped out of the water, sailed right past his face (about an inch away) and slammed into the salon door to his left. It scarred the shit out of him, and when he told us about it we laughed for hours. We call them kamikazi gefilta fish.
Despite the humor, it is still work to sail this boat in unfavorable winds without an autopilot. Two hour shifts suddenly became an unpleasant chore. The boat's motion isn't as comfortable, the weather isn't inviting, and everyone disappears into their bunks to nap. The wind shifts often, and waves bang around the sides and bottom of the boat. I think I didn't get more than an hour of uninterrupted sleep, popping up on deck each time I felt the wind back around, or seas shift, or boat move differently. I felt like a mother whose colicky child has deprived her of sleep, but can't relax until she knows her baby is doing better. At least boats don't require diaper changes.
The next morning the sun came up, the weather warmed, the seas flattened out, the wind came more on our beam, and everyone relaxed into it. It was a beautiful day for sailing, we had gorgeous weather, everyone ran about with as little on as possible, dolphins swam along side, we played music and sang, had brunch in the cockpit, lazed on the trampolines, and just enjoyed ourselves. We stopped to swim in the ocean, and took pictures using Jeff's water proof (well, resistant, actually) camera of each other doing silly things. It was a glorious few seconds in an otherwise long journey against the weather. We had really hoped for better conditions overall, and would have been a lot better off if we'd brought an asymmetrical spinnaker, a symmetrical spinnaker, a whisker pole, and perhaps a second autopilot, but you can't have everything - at least not just yet.
We still haven't installed the radar unit. We looked around for a rigger in Aruba that could do it, but it isn't the place to find them. Trinidad just wasn't someplace I'd trust anyone to do the work, as it would have been overpriced and probably wrong. Maybe we'll find someone in Panama City. So far we haven't needed it, but the further North we get, the more we will want it.
I'd have also liked to have installed a few more solar panels. The one we have is only 55 watts and it really isn't enough to compensate for the frig, lights, fans, radio, stereo, and various other loads on the batteries. We have to run the engines every day to recharge them, which is loud, smells bad (especially since the wind is at our backs and the exhaust fumes blow over the boat) and it wastes diesel. My goal is to build a hard bimini (the roof over the cockpit area) and cover it with 120watt panels, enough to satisfy our thirsty electrical needs.
I'd also like to add a wind generator off the targa wing (the large fiberglass arch at the aft end of the cockpit, or, more likely I'll build another arch out of stainless steel just aft of it, and run the wind generator off a pole above it. There are so many things I'd like to do to this boat, but I need to get it back home before I can begin. I don't trust that the work will be done right if I'm not standing right there watching, so I might as well do it myself. Plus the cost will be significantly cheaper if I do it - not to mention the satisfaction of being able to say I did. SF is a fabulous place to get parts and equipment, and technical knowhow abounds there, so the real work starts when I get home.
AnnMarie is aboard now, and between her and Mike we are eating like kings. It is amazing how lucky we've been to have two professional cooks (Mike was a chef before becoming a firefighter/paramedic and AnnMarie was the pastry chef for the Fog City Diner in SF) and our appetites have never dimmed. You are supposed to be lose weight on deliveries, but so far I haven't gotten any thinner.
Editor's Note: The above probably isn't true, judging from the photos, but there was definitely real weight loss when Robb spent two weeks in the San Blas Islands, with Jeff and Mota - with no one to cook, eating nothing but canned pineapple, octopus and mayonnaise.
We are heading past Columbia, the hippest place you can travel these days, which is a tantalizing forty miles off to our port side. About once an hour Jeff, or Mota, or Jen, or Mike, or MaryAnn will ask if we can stop at Cartegena. My job as captain, mostly, has been to say (repeatedly and without cessation) "No, we are not going to Cartegena, where the women are famed for their beauty and amazingly large, artificial breasts." or "No, we are not going to Bonaire, famed for its magnificent diving and topless beaches", or "No, we are not going back to lovely island of Aruba, adult playground for Cruise Ship passengers throughout the world, we are going to the Panama canal, the dirtiest ditch of water on the Western hemisphere."
It is a hard job being captain, mostly because I really want to go to all those places, and I'm watching myself turn into the Grinch while refusing to do it. At one point I caught myself yelling at the crew for roughhousing on the aft deck, I was about to say "Stop that this instant or I'll pull this boat over!" It occurred to me that perhaps I needed to just chill a bit. I made AnnMarie take off all her clothes and lie next to me in our bunk, a well known relaxation technique I learned from reading sailing books, and let the crew make as much noise as they want. I'm not sure if it improved everyone's moral, but at least two of us were happier.
Well, there's more to come, so to speak, but we'll close for now, at sea and rocking and rolling along.
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