Published April 29, 2013 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2013 Susan Scott
Latitude 8S, Longitude 138W, Day 26 » I am typing these words with water-wrinkled fingers in a sailboat rolling so hard side-to-side that I can barely stay seated. My hair is stiff with salt spray, and I’ve been soaked to the skin so many times in the last six hours, I’ve stopped bothering to change clothes. I’m not seasick but never feel hungry; am exhausted but can’t sleep.
Sigh. Welcome to the downside of offshore sailing.
Ocean passages, such as the monthlong one I am currently experiencing on my sailboat Honu, from Mexico to the Marquesas, are exciting, once-in-a-lifetime adventures. But they definitely have their dark moments.
The current one is literally dark. At about 2 a.m. we were struck with drenching rain and high winds. Since it was nighttime, we had little idea of the scope of this surprise attack.
Sunrise enlightened us. We had sailed into the middle of an enormous storm front so black that as dawn progressed the day got darker rather than lighter.
Fortunately, the boat didn’t care. Honu chugged along perky as ever, shiny and clean after her freshwater bath.
Her passengers, however, weren’t doing so hot, and not because we got wet. In the middle of reducing sail — we were caught in 30 mph winds with full main and big jib flying — our spare autopilot died. That would be the one that replaced the main autopilot that died three weeks ago.
With heavy heart I began steering, trying to find the bright side of standing at the wheel staring at a compass for our last 400 miles.
That’s another downside of sailing: the constant struggle to stay upbeat and amiable in the face of gear failures, storms and the passiveness required to be cooped up in 37 feet of floating fiberglass for weeks on end.
My crew member John’s biggest negative, particularly during squalls but throughout the entire passage, is the constant, erratic motion of the boat. This is definitely nerve-wracking.
Whether taking a bath on the aft deck, making coffee or writing a newspaper column on a leaping computer, we must coordinate each body movement with the rhythm of the sea.
It’s exhausting and frustrating because seas and wind directions are constantly changing, and that causes the boat to move in unanticipated jerks and starts. The scrapes, bruises and bumps on our arms and legs look like we’ve either been brawling or have a contagious clotting disorder.
Some days the negatives are enough humbug to make me consider buying a for-sale sign for my precious Honu.
But wait, what’s this? Alex and John have cleverly fixed the busted autopilot. The sun is peeking out to dry my wet shorts. And several rowdy, loud, gorgeous sooty terns are flying overhead calling my name.
Welcome to the upside of offshore sailing.
We are drawing close to the Marquesas, but on a sailboat a passage isn’t over until the anchor’s dug in. That will happen in a Nuku Hiva bay within the next day or two. I’ll be greatly relieved, I’m sure. And then in a day or two I’ll be planning my next voyage.
Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com
©2013 Susan Scott