Category Archives: Sailing

Some reef encounters captured in blink of eye

Published November 26, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott

One of the pleasures of being home after an adventure is sorting photos of the trip. But as I go through pictures of my recent sailing trip in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, I’m also enjoying the images my mind took when it was too dark or too distant to shoot, or when I didn’t feel like looking at something marvelous through a lens.

One late afternoon, after sailing all day, the weather took a turn, and we raced for shelter in a mainland waterway called Island Head Creek. As our boat turned the corner of the large island protecting the creek’s entrance, the world, like magic, changed from screaming wind and bucking boat into flat, calm silence.

Craig dropped the anchor, and we stood on the deck watching herons, cormorants and other water birds hunt for fish.

“Look!” Craig said, “A crocodile!”

The estuaries along the northern Queensland coast are famous for salties. But no. When the brown back Craig had seen reappeared, the creature also raised its head to take a breath. It was a dugong.

Dugongs are the Southern Hemisphere’s version of the manatee, both called sea cows and both endangered species. Like manatees, dugongs are slow, harmless vegetarians that graze on sea grasses in tropical creeks, rivers and estuaries.

When another of these rare marine mammals appeared on the other side of the boat, we watched the two pop up for air and dive down for food for a glorious half-hour. In the meantime the setting sun turned the water pink, then orange, then dark red. Island Head Creek — a dugong sanctuary, we later learned — became one of our favorite anchorages.

Another series of events I downloaded in brain only were endless flocks of shearwaters and black noddies. Soon after I wrote that I missed seeing flocks of seabirds at sea, we sailed to what’s known as the Bunker Group, the line of atolls that form the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. The Bunkers’ coral reefs encircle sandy, wooded islands where black noddies build nests in trees and wedge-tailed shearwaters dig burrows for their eggs and chicks.

Near these outer reefs and islands, the water swarmed with seabirds, the shearwaters riding the air currents above the waves, and both species gathering in thousand-bird feeding frenzies, called bird piles in Hawaii, over schools of small fish.

Usually when one of us spots a bird pile, we point it out to the other. Not in the Bunkers. The birds were so abundant that we just sat in the cockpit, marveling in silence as Honu sailed through the feathered masses.

Near the end of the trip, three bottlenose dolphins came rushing to Honu to ride its bow wave. I made my way to the bow, purposely leaving the camera in the cockpit. I wanted to look at the dolphins the way they look at me. And it happened. As I looked down, a dolphin turned on its side to look up. Eye to eye, we shared a moment.

In this age when the phone I carry in my pocket is a camera as well, I often feel compelled to take pictures of everything that happens. No need. Without photos my experiences are as bright and animated in my memory as if I were watching a video. Fortunately, my senses record in high def.

Heading Down Under again, this time like the bird flies

Published October 8, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
©2016 Susan Scott
A wild sulfur-crested cockatoo pays a visit to the Honu at anchor off Hook Island, Whitsunday Islands National Park. ©2016 Susan Scott

A wild sulfur-crested cockatoo pays a visit to the Honu at anchor off Hook Island, Whitsunday Islands National Park. ©2016 Susan Scott

As you read this, Craig and I are on our way to Australia once again to explore the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park on our sailboat, Honu. People assume we’re setting sail when I say that and ask, “How long will it take to get there?” As the bird flies, Australia is about 5,600 miles southwest of Hawaii. Because Honu averages 5 mph, a voyage from here to there nonstop would take six to seven weeks.

In our dreams. At 64 million square miles, the poorly named Pacific Ocean generates endless variations of tradewinds, doldrums, currents and storms that can add weeks to a long offshore voyage.

But few skippers sail directly from Hawaii to Australia, or vice versa. We do it in hops. For my first voyage Down Under, I sailed via Palmyra Atoll, Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji and New Caledonia. The second time I added the Marquesas, the Tuamotus and Niue to the westward run. Because I took my time visiting those South Pacific islands and flew home during cyclone seasons, my answer to how long it took to sail to Australia is, “Ten years.”

Now Honu is in Australia to stay. The decision to keep the boat there was made easy by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, or GBRMPA. For sailing, snorkeling, diving, beachcombing and hiking among friendly hosts who make great food (meat pies, yes!), it’s as good as it gets.

That coral wall we all picture when we mention the GBR is superb, but getting out there in a 37-foot sailboat can be a challenge.

Usually we must leave the night before so we arrive in high sun, critical for dodging coral heads. And because the submerged reefs offer little protection from the open ocean’s wind and waves, flat, calm water is essential. That means motoring, which is fine as long as we have plenty of diesel fuel. And if the wind and swells start up while we’re out there, we hightail it back.

But not going to the outer reefs is an excellent option because the more user-friendly parts of the park — atolls, islands and mainland rivers — offer calm anchorages, drop-dead scenery, astonishing marine life and charming avian visitors.

Honu waits for us now in a marina in Townsville, the headquarters of GBRMPA. The lovely town is visitor-friendly and so close to coral reefs that I highly recommend a visit.

After 10 years of sailing Honu across the South Pacific, the fact that I can leave Honolulu this morning and sleep on the boat tonight feels nothing short of a miracle. This time when someone asks how long it took to get to Australia, I’m very happy to say, “Twelve hours.”

Great reef’s coral array, sea castles still awe explorers

Published June 11, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott

coral1HOOK ISLAND, GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARK >> While snorkeling here this week, I found myself thinking that there’s too much coral.

Capt. Cook thought so, too, in 1770, and he didn’t even know that the lagoon he was exploring was a vast channel paralleling the Australian mainland.

The concept of a barrier reef forming a passage came later. The open stretches of this so-called passage are about 100 feet deep. But sprinkled among them are coral-rimmed islands, free-standing reefs, atolls and peaks. Some reefs are visible, but many lie just below the surface.

Today we have GPS charts that point out most of them. But not all. Last week I came within yards of crashing Honu, at speed, into a tiny, uncharted pinnacle.

“Turn right!” Craig shouted from the bow. We avoided disaster only because he was securing the anchor and saw waves breaking ahead.

Today, corals are much loved and a frequent topic in discussions of global warming. But in the early years of exploration, no one knew what they were. Eng-lish Capt. Mathew Flinders speculated that corals were “animalcules” that lived on the ocean floor. When they died, other animalcules (love that word) grew atop, and so on, thus building “a monument of their wonderful labors.” The creatures’ care in building their walls vertically was to Flinders a “surprising instinct.”

What he didn’t know was that stony corals grow upright because they host algae that need sunshine to survive. That fact came to light 30 years later from another explorer, Charles Darwin.

My problem with the corals here isn’t running the boat into one of their “monuments” (although I’m more watchful now), but that I can’t take them all in.

The corals on these reefs look like mushrooms, wheat fields, brain tissue, antlers, cabbage leaves, chicken skin, grassy knolls and endless other shapes, colors and textures.

Some corals are hard; some are soft. Many cover their space like rugs; others wave greetings like anemones.

Among all the coral splendor here, one in particular stands out for me. On a white-sand beach I found pieces of a bright red structure of tubes known as organ pipe coral. In admiring the tiny pipes, which remind me of fairy castles, I’m in good company. Capt. Cook’s naturalist, Joseph Banks, wrote about being overwhelmed by the variety of corals, too, especially one he called Tubipora musica. That’s the scientific name of my organ pipes.

It’s clear to us modern sailors that this labyrinth of coral shoals must have been a nightmare to early explorers. It’s also clear why mariners, past and present, admire them so. What other animalcules build monuments?

Diverse array of ‘pennies’ comes from marine critters

Published May 28, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott
Australians call these foram shells mermaid’s pennies; they’re common on the Great Barrier Reef. ©2016 Susan Scott

Australians call these foram shells mermaid’s pennies; they’re common on the Great Barrier Reef. ©2016 Susan Scott

Goldsmith Island, Queensland, Australia >> While sailing north through the reefs and islands of Great Barrier Reef National Park, our routine is to sail in the morning, choose one of the nearly endless protected island anchorages, stop there for the night and explore. Although each island is rich with its own charming gangs of kangaroos, parrots and coral-ringed islets, we rarely spend more than one night in the same place. We just never know what this amazing park has in store for us down the line.

One day last week, for instance, after anchoring in a picture postcard bay, we headed to shore in our dinghy and struck it rich. Countless pennies lay scattered over the white sand.

Mermaid’s pennies, that is, according to Australians. To me they were puka shells, but odd ones. It looked as if someone had spilled a truckload of washers on the beach.

The shell washers ranged in diameter from so tiny I could barely pick them up to about an inch wide. The holes in the center also varied from none to most of the shell. Nor were these disks pure white and wavy like puka shells. Their flat surfaces came in all shades of gray, brown and cream. The shells are from a species of marine creature called a foraminifera, foram for short. Being close to the beginning of the food web, forams are vital for healthy oceans, and to human enterprises as well. Egypt’s pyramids are made of zillions of calcium carbonate foram shells squished together over geologic time. Geologists also use foram deposits as clues to the location of underground oil.

Forams deliver beauty as well, decorating some of the most exquisite shorelines on the world. Beaches in Hawaii, Palau, Bermuda and more are carpets of forams finely ground by ocean waves.

Forams are animals like bacteria are animals. They eat, reproduce, walk around, prey on other organisms and die. But even the largest ones are only a single cell. They’re like amoebas with shells arranged in countless shapes of disks, spheres, spirals and tubes. Most are too small to see with the naked eye, which is what makes the mermaid’s pennies (and the white puka shells of the South Pacific) special.

Forams line all ocean floors and drift in marine plankton in astronomical numbers. In his study, one researcher found an estimated 70,000 forams per square yard on the ocean bottom. The number is on the low side for some areas. In one place, “foram ooze” was 6,600 feet thick.

At this writing, we’ve explored beaches and reefs of about 10 islands and found shells of snail species we know and many we don’t. Curiously, we’ve seen no more mermaid’s pennies, but the handful I have make me feel rich indeed.

There’s no place like home for Internet, photo sharing

Tthe 5-foot-long black-tipped reef shark that grazed her belly with its dorsal fin. ©2013 Susan Scott

Even with dozens of South Pacific visions dancing in my head, my own island still dazzles. During a Lani­kai beach walk at dawn last week — the first since my return — I watched great frigate birds and red-footed booby birds glide over my head, tripped over ghost crab sand pyramids and nodded hello to a dozen Homo sapiens come to marvel at sunrise on Oahu. Home rocks don’t get better than that.

Nor does my email. Because I was using a satellite phone program while sailing, I was unable to access my usual email and therefore came back to a treasure trove of comments from readers regarding my Pacific voyaging.

Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to offer encouragement, share stories and gently point out errors.

The mistakes that got the most attention were my misspellings of the place name Tua­motu and the wind force measurement Beaufort, as in the Beaufort scale.

My apologies to motu residents (a motu in French Polynesia is an island inside an atoll’s coral reef) and to Sir Francis Beaufort, the British Royal Navy officer who created the 12-category wind- and sea-state scale.

Another email topic among readers was questioning the lack of photos in my South Pacific columns.

When my underwater camera stopped working, Craig brought with him to the Marquesas a new waterproof Nikon CoolPix that I carried with me on every snorkeling occasion. It took fine pictures, but I couldn’t send them because my sat phone sends text only.

xmastree worm

That’s another joy in being home. I can now share my favorite Tua­motu photos of a fish and a worm.

The fish is the 5-foot-long black-tipped reef shark that grazed my belly with its dorsal fin as it swam beneath me. The Christmas tree worm was one of hundreds that looked trimmed for a holiday, including its purple “hat,” the creature’s trap door called an operculum.

Besides enjoying Oahu’s reefs and beaches this week, I’m also loving my home office, where high-speed Internet sends pictures in a heartbeat and spell-checking is automatic.

Thank you, kind readers, for the warm welcome home.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser,

©2013 Susan Scott

Arduous voyage enriched by following variable wind

PAPEETE, Tahiti » The first leg of my South Pacific voyage is over. It took me three months to outfit the boat in Mexico, sail to the Marquesas, explore the Tua­motu Archipelago and get Honu put up in a Tahiti marina. Now I’m going home.

As in all outdoor adventures, the trip had its ups and downs. Some days I wondered what I had been thinking to take this on. This is too hard, I would grumble, wishing I was in Kailua eating takeout and reading Jack Reacher novels.

Other days, as Honu surfed up and down the Pacific Ocean’s giant blue swells, every cell in my body glowed with pleasure.

“Thank you!” I’d call to the wind.

I talked to the wind because on a sailboat, wind is everything. It’s the engine of the ocean, driving not just sailboats and occupants, but the wildlife that lives in, on and above the water.

Some sailors discuss wind and sea conditions in terms of a system that puts numbers to wind and waves. Called the Beauford Scale, it ranges from Force 0 (no wind) to Force 17 (the strongest hurricane).

I don’t use the Beauford Scale because, in recalling my voyages, there seem to be only two conditions: too little wind or too much wind. Of course, there were plenty of perfectly lovely sailing days, but like most trips, in recalling the details, the extremes stand out.

On the passage from Mexico to the Marquesas, I mostly had too little wind. That may sound relaxing but it is not. The sails slap with annoying bangs, the boat pitches and rolls to no rhythm and the skipper and crew get cranky in a hurry.

At those times I used what sailors jokingly call the iron genny (genny is the nickname for a big sail called a genoa), meaning the diesel engine. It’s loud, hot and smelly, but it moved the boat forward. While motoring, however, I had to worry about fuel.

During most of my time in the Marquesas and the Tua­mo­tos, I had the opposite problem: too much wind. The southeast tradewinds were so strong for such prolonged periods that in one month I visited only two islands and two atolls.

But staying at anchor for longer than I planned turned out to be a bonus. In Nuku Hiva while waiting for a wind break, I hiked to one of that island’s (and the world’s) most stunning waterfalls. In a memorable wade in the pool below, freshwater shrimp climbed onto my feet and up my legs.

Spending a week each in the Tua­moto lagoons of Kau­ehi and Faka­rava atolls, I enjoyed snorkeling in crystal water washed in by wind-driven waves that crashed over the fringing reefs.

The lagoon water was so clear and the marine life so stunning that I snorkeled until my fingers wrinkled and my toes got cold.

I also got to see the seabirds swooping and diving in all their glory.

My 37-foot ketch will stay in Tahiti for a couple of months while Craig and I go home to Oahu the easy way, on a plane. We won’t have to worry about how hard or from what direction the wind blows. As sailors like to say, nothing goes to weather (upwind) like a 747.

Once home, I’ll read a Reacher, eat some salad and start planning the next leg of my South Pacific voyage.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser,

©2013 Susan Scott

Long, arduous voyage dims against Marquesas’ dazzle

Published May 6, 2013 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2013 Susan Scott

TAIOHAE BAY, NUKU HIVA, Marquesas Islands » Twenty-six days after leaving Mexico on my 37-foot sailboat, Honu, I dropped anchor in a bay so stunningly beautiful I felt I had landed in the middle of a movie set. Jagged mountains separated by jungled valleys surround a former volcanic crater filled with warm blue water, bright tropical fish and about 40 resting sailboats. A tiny storybook town (population about 1,200) filled with friendly people lines the bay.

But this is no make-believe place. It’s the administrative center of the islands we call the Marquesas, the most northerly group of French Polynesia.

The Marquesas consist of six large and six small islands. Compared with Hawaii, though, the Marquesas are all small, the 12 island totaling only 492 square miles. The land area of Hawaii is 6,425 square miles.

All the Marquesas Islands are ancient volcanic mountains rising steeply from the sea to about 4,000 feet. As I sailed in, the jutting basalt columns of Nuku Hiva’s windward side reminded me of Easter Island statues. Here the wind, rain and sun have carved their own colossal moai.

With their Spanish-sounding name, I always wondered whether the Marquesas had a Spanish flavor to them. But no. The Spanish link is in name only, bestowed by a 1595 Spanish explorer. He named the group after his sponsor, a marquess married to the viceroy of Peru.

Two centuries later other European explorers came upon the islands, and in 1842 France declared them a French protectorate.

Today the Marquesas are a charming mix of French and Polynesian culture. Both baguettes and breadfruit accompany lunch plates. You buy tapa cloth and pandanus hats with Polynesian francs.

French is the official language, but many locals also speak Marquesan, a language that sounds similar to Hawaiian but with significant differences. For instance, there is no “L” sound in Marquesan. Even so, the sights and sounds of the ancient Polynesian culture here feel so familiar to this 30-year Hawaii resident that even though I can’t understand a thing people are saying, I feel oddly at home.

The fish and seabirds make me feel welcome, too.

Soon after I checked in with immigration, I went snorkeling. From my little dinghy, I watched fairy terns hover over the water fishing, while above them soared my favorite pirates, magnificent frigate birds.

Back-flipping from the dinghy into the deliciously cool water near some shoreline coral heads, I found myself in the middle of a school of flagtails, called ahole­ahole in Hawaiian.

During the day these silver 12-inch-long fish rest in dense schools near reefs. I kept my movements slow and easy, and they allowed me to swim among them.

A moment later I got a thrilling reminder that I am not at home. A dozen or so neon damselfish passed below. The blue of these South Pacific fish is so bright, they look plugged in.

Being one with the fish hours after arriving proved to me that this adventure is going to be well worth the tremendous effort it took to get here. I will never star in a movie, but by sailing here I’ve done better. I’m the star of my own dream.

Rays of sun peek through stormy offshore sailing trip

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,

©2013 Susan Scott

Voyagers transit the calm where hemispheres abut

Published April 22, 2013 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2013 Susan Scott

We crossed the equator on Day 20. It was a joyful event for my two crew members and me on our 2,700-mile voyage from Mexico to the Marquesas aboard my 37-foot sailboat, Honu.

And not just because we have reached the legendary South Pacific.

No, the equator crossing was momentous because it came so hard. To get here we had to cross the Intertropical Convergence Zone — ITCZ — a belt of marine latitudes where the northeast tradewinds meet the southeast tradewinds.

It is not a sailor-friendly meeting. The head-on winds swirl upward, creating thunderheads that roam between 3 and 10 degrees North like a gang of thugs looking for trouble. We saw the black squalls prowling around us for days, but as they have no predictable direction, we never knew if or when one was going to clobber us.

They struck twice. The cooling, boat-rinsing rain was a relief from the salt and equatorial heat, but the squalls also packed lightning and they fired wind in bursts from various directions. We managed to take in sails, stash books and don foul-weather gear in time, but the confused seas and driving rain made for a couple of long nights.

The ITCZ is tricky because it moves north and south, and lurking somewhere inside are the doldrums, calm patches. When the Ancient Mariner was becalmed in the doldrums, he moaned, “Water water everywhere and all the boards did shrink; water water everywhere nor any drop to drink.”

But times have changed since Samuel Taylor Cole­ridge wrote his epic poem. Because Honu is made of Fiberglas, we have no planks to dry out, and our water maker keeps our freshwater tanks full. We also have a diesel engine to power through the seemingly endless glassy blue water.

One day in the doldrums we stopped the motor to take a swim. It’s a daunting moment, jumping off a perfectly good boat 1,000 miles from land, but, like lemmings, John and I followed Alex’s dive off the aft deck.

With the boat not moving, we saw the water’s surface come alive with water striders, the only insects of the sea. Storm petrels, 6 to 8 inches long, had been swooping and dipping over the ocean’s rolling swells, and now we saw what they were doing: plucking goodies from the surface.

The ITCZ is hard for sailors to cross, but it’s impossible for some marine animals, such as soaring seabirds. Albatrosses don’t cross this barrier between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, and the booby birds that had been following Honu stayed behind.

“So long, suckers,” I imagined them saying.

While swimming, I saw that gooseneck barnacles had set up housekeeping on parts of Honu’s hull. John kindly scraped them off while Alex stood on deck as shark lookout.

Making it through the ITCZ and crossing the equator gave us a grand feeling of accomplishment, but with 1,000 miles to go, we know the voyage is far from over.

But our spirits remain high. We know that on a long ocean passage it’s not the destination that’s key, but the magnificence of the journey.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser,

©2013 Susan Scott

Seabirds escort sea trek but they also stain the jib

Published April 15, 2013 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2013 Susan Scott

Susan at the wheel of S.V. Honu (motoring, not sailing though)

About my long voyages, people often ask, What do you do all day?

It’s a hard question to answer. Sailing is a threefold experience: stretches of inactivity, punctuated by stabs of panic, followed by rushes of relief. Then boredom kicks back in and around I go again.

During the unexciting hours, my two crew members and I read, listen to podcasts or watch videos, if the boat’s batteries permit.

Navigation gets voltage priority over everything else. Honu has electric auto­pilots that stay on course far better than we could on our own.

Our main autopilot, nicknamed Alphie, an Alpha 3000, died last week. Panic No. 1. But wait, I have a spare! Then that machine flatly refused to work. Panic No. 2. Oops, we had installed it backward. It is now driving just fine.

Compared with the silent Alphie, the spare is a Chatty Cathy, squawking with every tiny wheel movement. The sound is music to our ears. The alternative is that the three of us steer 24/7 for the next 1,700 or so miles.

Since we rotate three-hour night watches, we let ourselves nap during the day, a treat we rarely give ourselves at home.


Susan enjoying some brie and baguette while the secondary autopilot steers. You can see the belt of the autopilot going up to the wheel in the lower far right third of this picture. In French Polynesia 2005. ©2013 Susan Scott

The marine animals out here are sparse, but they’re here. We marvel over the 4- to 5-inch-long flying fish and squid that have leaped to the deck, photographing their winglike fins and tangles of tentacles, respectively, before we bury them at sea.

I thank the fish and squid for being here because they are the reason that we have our own escort of 10 to 20 seabirds, mostly red-footed boobies and two or three masked boobies. Tropic­birds — one red-billed and one red-tailed — fish near the boat, and we thrill over the wave-riding of shearwaters and storm petrels.

The boobies are extremely interested in the boat, craning their necks to look at it as they circle. We guess that the birds like the boat because its motion causes squid and flying fish to make their death leaps into the air. Poor things. If they don’t land on the boat, they end up in a bird’s gullet.

The birds can rest on the water, but they would rather ride on the boat. Much as I love seabirds, this is not a good thing. Their landing attempts have broken my mast-top weather vane and left poop stains on my jib.

“Land on the aft rail instead,” I call to them, but those rascals ignore me.

Our other main activity is staring at the always moving, always changing ocean. It’s the marine version of watching a campfire, except it never goes out.

The three of us aboard enjoy this do-nothing time, a break from our usual busy lives. “It’s nice to have nowhere to go, nothing that needs to be done and all the time in the world to do it,” said crew member John, a retired pediatrician.

Alex, a busy biologist, said, “It’s the only place in the world I can be completely unplugged. No phone calls, no email, no pressure. I can be quiet in all ways.”

What do we do all day? We soak up every aspect of the extraordinary experience of spending a month at sea.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser,

©2013 Susan Scott