Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Truthful Adventure

A Truthful Adventure

June 6, 2011

Sorry about the drought of writing there. It's been quite a while since I've done anything nautical. But I've finally got an addition for you all. Let me lay the back story down a little.

The Hawaiian arrival happened, Jeffry, the owner of Leeway, helped me out as my stopgap residency and I was soon on a plane home to California. A couple of months were spent at my mother's house helping to renovate the old family home, but I soon got an offer I couldn't refuse. At a social gathering of sorts, I was reunited with my age-old buddies Brett, Mike, and Jessica (along with many others), who proposed that I scoot myself down to Santa Barbara, a place of expansive beaches, fair winds, copious employment, and fine education. How could I resist?

I made the move, roomed with Brett on the living room floor for a while, but am now finally starting to settle in. We've got ourselves a nice little 2.5 bedroom apartment right next to the City College (seriously, you can't get any closer than this), in which Brett and I happily share a closet for dirt cheap rent. I've reputably got a fair job at Peet's Coffee as a budding barista and my education plan is laid out before me. Things look to be very much in order except for the lack of one item: the ocean. That's what led me to the Truth.

From A Truthful Adventure

I figured the best way to get into the nautical world of Santa Barbara was to walk the docks. After hopping a bus into town, I cruised down the main drag, State Street, towards the harbor. The first dock I stumbled upon was open to all visitors and had 5 commercial boats of various shapes and sizes moored to it. One of them had a captain-esque looking man aboard so I made conversation with him. This was Cap'n Davey of the Truth, a commercial dive boat / excursion vessel that makes its way to the Channel islands and back. Captain Davey with passenger Isabelle:

From A Truthful Adventure

He told me his boat was steaming out at 4AM sharp the next morning and I was welcome to come aboard for no pay other than food in my stomach. I graciously accepted his offer and became the boat's “deadhead” for the next 3 days. Since the buses don't run at 04:00, I had to make my way back that same day and spend the night aboard the vessel.

I returned around 22:00 with a bulging backpack eager for the weekend ahead. The boat was bustling with people loading their SCUBA equipment aboard, drinking beers, and having a grand time. Yet there wasn't a familiar face to be seen, Captain Davey nor the deckhand I had met earlier seemed to be aboard. I introduced myself around anyways with my official title of “deadhead” and quickly came to meet the passengers we would have aboard for the next three days. Being the highest ranking worker aboard invited many a question towards me: “How many PSI do your compressors do?”, “How many people are coming aboard this cruise?”, none of which I could answer. They soon understood that I was useless in that sense and I was left to flit about the boat checking out her floor plan.

The Truth was the first of the 3 dive boats owned and built by Truth Aquatics. If I recall correctly, she was built in the late 70's out of thick plywood encased with fiberglass. She's been serving ever since. On the bow she has two 30kg Bruce anchors, one of which is used as a stern anchor. Moving back, on the top level, she's got a pilot house with sleeping quarters for the crew along with a sundeck. Below lies the galley, the spacious dining area, and two heads. Below the waterline are the passenger quarters, enough berths to hold about 30 souls. Moving aft still, the dive deck is lined with tank holders and below it are the guts of the whole operation.

After moving down a staircase and donning a pair of hearing protection you find the twin diesel motors. They're massive things, the specs of which I'm unsure. In the same compartment are the dive compressors, the holding tanks, the battery banks, the genset, and many more goodies that keep her running smoothly. Farther aft, in the lazarette are two showers and hanging space for suits. She's a strong vessel that measures out to about 75' on deck.

After mingling for a bit, I went below decks to catch some shuteye knowing that my abilities would be requested bright and early the next morning.

I woke up to the rumble of the genset (a diesel-powered electric generator) cranking on at about 03:30; the motors soon followed. I climbed the stairs and found the familiar face of Captain Davey and the boat's deckhands: Brandon and KG. The Cap'n congratulated me on being able to make it and we were quickly on to the task of casting off. Brandon and KG had the operation on lock, so I was left to gather up and shank the lines. We glided out of the marina just behind another dive boat owned by Truth Aquatics, the Vision, and were soon cutting through the still, pre-dawn air. Once again, dawn at sea:

From A Truthful Adventure

The sun began to tickle the sky with its first tinges of gray as we steamed towards Isla Santa Cruz. Once we got a few miles offshore, the forecast started to show. Whitecaps popped up all around us and a steep, little swell was turning our glide into a hobble. Davey said all was well told us to go get some shuteye. And that we did. I went below and was quickly lulled to sleep by the rushing sound of water against the hull.

Next thing I woke up to was the hustle and bustle of rousing passengers and the aroma of pancakes. Back up the stairs I went to meet Katie, the voyage's chef, and what a chef she was. Throughout the trip, she spent practically all her time in the galley preparing lunch, breakfast, and dinner for the 20 people aboard. Not just “boat food” either, she prepared tri-tip, hamburgers, beer-boiled bratwursts, and many other delicious treats in bulk portions for all. She was easily the hardest worker on the Truth that trip. Katie with lunch:

From A Truthful Adventure

I requested from her a plate of blueberry pancakes and some eggs and then the day began. After we rounded the East Cape of Santa Cruz and turned up into the wind, it really started to honk. The gale warnings were justified, but we just kept motoring forwards toward the lee of the island. We soon found ourselves a quiet little anchorage to drop in and we put out a bow and a stern anchor. I really enjoyed the method used to anchor the Truth. Wind on the other side of Santa Cruz:

From A Truthful Adventure
From A Truthful Adventure

Both anchors hung off the bow and the stern anchor had a float at the end of its rode. Captain Davey would edge up to the shore, using the bow's protrusion to get a little extra length, and we'd drop the anchor in very shallow water. After letting out some rode, he'd set it and the deckhand would throw the float over to be retrieved at a later time. We'd then motor offshore to throw out the bow anchor and set it. Then Davey would slowly back up to the stern anchor buoy and a deckhand would pluck it with a boat hook and cleat it off. This final maneuver would always show how well the Captain knew his boat. He'd maneuver it right up to the rocks, stern side in, without qualm. It amazed me every time. Dropping the stern anchor:

From A Truthful Adventure

Once anchored, the fun began. Everyone began to suit up in their formidable cold-water diving suits and strapped on their SCUBA equipment. They stepped in one after the other, usually paired up as dive buddies. There were divers of all ages and types. The youngest was an 11-year-old Iz (pictured above) and the oldest had to be near 70 years of age. Some were getting their first open-water certification while others were chalking off triple-digit dives. Our job was to keep them happy and keep them diving. After the lot of them were in, a safety diver would be posted to make sure nobody ran into trouble and we would spend some time enjoying the sunshine (and freezing winds). Brandon supervising the dive deck and an instructor taking the plunge:

From A Truthful Adventure
From A Truthful Adventure

We did this across multiple anchorages usually hiding just outside the reaches of the gale-force northwester blowing through the channel. It was relatively easy-going and few problems arose. On the final day, Captain Davey decided to take a request from one of the instructors and drop the divers near Gull Island off the south coast of Santa Cruz. Just after sunrise we pulled anchor and dropped it on the, presently calm, windward side of Gull Island. The sunrise over Isle Anacapa and the anchorage at Gull Island:

From A Truthful Adventure
From A Truthful Adventure

The divers got a couple of dives in before the afternoon winds started to rise. We pulled up the anchors after a bit of finagling (the stern anchor rode had gotten wrapped around a rock) and moved to the lee side for the diver's final dives. All went in and all came up very pleased at the abundant sea life and the crystal clear visibility that site allotted them. While they were under, Katie cooked up a massive Memorial Day lunch that was soon engulfed by hungry divers. After all were aboard (and checked and double checked), we upped anchor and steamed back towards Santa Barbara.

The going was a bit rough at first as we had to go directly into the wind, but as soon as we made the turn towards the harbor, the swells began to roll smoothly under our hull. We made port around 17:30 and the passengers all went their own ways. Beers and cleaning was to be had by all left aboard. After these tasks were done, I took a bus back home and took a long, hot shower.

I made a great many a friend on this three day voyage. I was welcomed to come back anytime for future deadhead opportunities. They even suggested I get on their list of people to call in case of deckhand shortage. I really enjoyed everyone involved and would love to join as a crew full time. Sadly, my summer education cuts into many possible deckhand opportunities. Perhaps the next summer.

A couple more exposures. A shot from the helm as we approach Santa Barbara Harbor and one of the anchorages we managed to set up in during the 30+ knot winds:

From A Truthful Adventure
From A Truthful Adventure

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Terra Firma

We've made it to Hawaii my friends. Plans are being coordinated and further details will follow. For now I will reference you all to my picasa page for the most recent photos.

http://picasaweb.google.com/handstandchamp

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pushing towards Hilo

Post 35

January 17, 2010

08:00

We've sailed into the guessed-at area of low winds that was forecast to be sitting just outside the gates of landfall. By the tale of the satellite phone's weather maps, we can paint a picture as to what exactly is going on around us. A cyclonic system from the North Pacific is running southeast towards Hawaii steered by the jet stream far above, but it's been stopped dead by a high pressure zone that's squatting right on top of Hawaii. It will soon be shoved north and east along the edge of the semi-permanent North Pacific high that lays southwest of California and it will probably smack the west coast with a fury. All it does for us though is disturb our smooth sailing. Over the last couple of days, the wind has slowly dropped from twenty-five knots (a rock-and-rollin' ride) of the day before yesterday to a mere ten knots (a put up everything we've got kind of ride) at sunrise this morning. Kind wind and waves are a blessing to any sailor, but our speed over ground of 3.2 knots is not.

Luckily, Mike had an ace up his sleeve. His ace didn't come in the form of diamonds, hearts, clubs, nor spades, but in the form of a massive sheet of nylon emblazoned with Brazil's national colors. That's right, we pulled out Jennifer the gennaker (a hybrid between a genoa and a spinnaker). After extending the bowsprit (a metal pipe the sticks out horizontally from the bow of the boat) and running the appropriate sheets to the winches, the "sock" was hauled aloft from the forepeak (the foremost cabin on a sailboat, also my current sleeping quarters) on the spinnaker halyard. It took a little tugging and pulling to get it around the forestay to its proper position, but it was done and I made my way back to the cockpit to handle the sheets while Mike hoisted up the sock to expose the sail to the wind. Foul, oops! We brought the sock back down, spun the tack around the sail and reset. Beautiful. Mike remarked that it was a bit more work than usual (due to the fouling), but as I had previously noted: what's setting a spinnaker without a little rasslin'?

11:00

That was a wonderful forty-five minutes of spinnaker sailing. Shortly after setting Jennifer, the sun warmed up the trades and the wind picked up. It was nothing major, but a seventeen knot gust overtook Alfred the autopilot and rounded Walk On's nose right up into the wind giving the gennaker the full force of the wind on the beam. This rapidly ended breakfast preparations as all three of us scrambled into the cockpit to try and make our little, floating world relatively upright again. In seconds Alfred noticed his mistake and brought her back off the wind to put us back on only a slightly-askew plane. After a few more gusts, we realized Jennifer had to go. It only took a minute to douse her with the aid of the sock and it was only a few minutes more before she was dropped right back into the forepeak. I hope to see her again soon. How beautiful she was.

January 18, 2010

11:28

We've fallen into a complete calm since yesterday evening. We had a fine moment where we sailed under wing and wing through the sunset, but, like the gennakker, this was short lived. All is hauled tight and the motor is pushing us towards Hilo in a near dead calm.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Getting Closer All the Time

Post 34

January 14, 2010

08:28

It looks as if we may have finally escaped from the clutches of the dreaded ITCZ. On coming out this morning, I was pleased to find us reaching on a brisk breeze under a cumulus-engorged sky. No more fears of flukey winds or granddaddy squalls. This run through the ITCZ varied greatly from my previous one on Leeway last May. Instead of the convergence area being a gray, rain-drenched plot of sea, this passage recalled all the stories mariners love to tell so much. We had it all: the indifferent winds-we motored through a night and a bit of a day; the chaotic and confused seas that send a rogue to test our hatches every once in a while; massive squalls-we had innumerable amounts, two with gale-force winds swept over us in one day, the second lasting in excess of three hours. It was all the sailors of years past could have dreamed up for us besides a lightning strike.

This is now all a repressed memory though. Behind, if I strain my eyes, I can see the fading brushes of the unsettled weather's high altitude clouds glowing in the morning sun and ahead I see unbroken checkers of fair weather cumulus. The motion is fine, the speed is grand, and Hawaii is less than 800 miles away.

January 15, 2010

08:43

You can tell you're back to sailing in the trade winds when you laconically crank on a winch handle for no use other than to temporarily remove you of your boredom. Yesterday the sails were set on a broad reach towards Hilo and they haven't been touched since (besides our idle fiddling). We are less than 700 miles away from the 50th state of the great US of A and our talk frequently falls on the subject.

This is the sailor's preparation for such an abrupt change in lifestyle. He or she dwells on the closing land and usually chooses a vice to focus in on. It's commonly food, gluttony, and sometimes it's drink. Whatever it be, the sailor builds it up so much through talk and thought, and yet, when it finally arrives, it isn't diminished in the least bit. When that cheeseburger or that beer touches the lips of the sailor, it finalizes the passage and justifies any hardships that happened along the way. Michael has declared that what he wants, more than anything, is a Kona burger and a Kona beer. Larissa proclaimed her desire for a mahi burger and a Hawaiian mai tai. What do I crave, you ask? Since I've recently realized that I am not of legal age to drink in American lands, I've revised my landfall vice to a big dollop of raspberry ice cream and a fine, cold mug of juice.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hawaii Bound

December 18, 2010

04:45

Ah, dawn watch again. On this peculiar morning the sun is rising with an incredible warmth. First light at sea is usually a cold, gray essence that slowly emerges from behind the horizon to fill the whole world with blues, and grays. This one is different. The southern hemisphere summer haze puts a different color in the light and it warms the body and the soul with an all-encompassing yellow glow that slowly, but inevitably, turns to daylight.

And with the sun comes the resurgence of the trades. Yesterday's and last night's 25 knot winds have left their mark on the ocean. A sizable swell pushed up by the fresh breeze is slowly flattening out, but they're still a good 8 feet with 12 footers frequently rolling through. These are not something we want to be beating into. Yet Walk On, despite her hefty steel hull, rises magnificently above the crests and gently settles through the troughs.

We're about a day out from Ua Pou and we're motorsailing again. Apparently our easting wasn't enough once the wind filled in and backed to the north. We pinch the wind with minimal sail set and a boost from the prop. If the wind and all the other factors cooperate, we should be with our hook in the mud by tomorrow.

December 28, 2010

09:15

We've settled back into the Marquesas. After the nearly week long beat, we sailed for the closest possible landfall, which turned out to be good ol' Nuku Hiva, my first Polynesian landfall 7 months ago to the day.

The night before we made anchor, the trade winds were as strong as ever with plenty of squalls to show us what's for. We were able to take momentary refuge in the lee of Nuku Hiva's massive plateau, but all anchorages would take some windward beating to get to. We knew we'd have to brave it, so we sailed out on the north side and aimed for the closest bay: Hatiheu. By the time the lights of civilization had started to sparkle at the foot of Nuku Hiva's massive silhouette, the moon had set and the squall lines were beginning their march with us underfoot. Being prudent sailors, we decided to hold off until first light to make landfall.

At about two in the morning, Michael went below and I settled in for my watch during the darkest hours. We had, by chance, situated Walk On into a slow forereach (a tactic used to stabilize the vessel, similar to heaving-to, but instead of slowing drifting leewards, the boat sails slowly up into the wind) that she held bravely throughout the night. I made myself a big, piping cup of espresso and settled into a comfortable nook in the cockpit. The night passed pretty quickly as I played mind games to keep vigilant. A few 30 knot squalls rolled over us, but with such reduced sail aloft, no action was necessary. I saw the Aranui III (one of the supply ships for the Marquesas) pull into the bay just as we were setting sail to beat in. I hoped he wouldn't take all the good parking spots. By the time the first rays of the sun were peeking above the horizon, we had good sail up and were beating hard towards Hatiheu. As we entered the bay, we saw there was plenty of parking space and this was a pretty fine anchorage after all.
It has nearly everything going for it, except one of the most important features for cruisers. It's wide open and easy to maneuver into and the landscape is absolutely gorgeous. Sitting in the bay, one is surrounded by towering volcanic spires and steep mountainsides that are covered in palm trees from former copra plantations. Atop one of the crumbly spires miraculously sits a white-washed statue of a saint. How it was transported up there puzzled me throughout the entire stay. Besides the impressive, upright landscape, this anchorage is the greenest one I've seen in the northern Marquesas (Mike and Larissa report Fatu Hiva in the Southern Marquesas was lush), where the effects of the La Nina-induced drought are still clearly visible even though we've now passed into the "rainy season". Hatiheu also features a nice niche of civilization: a magasin has the basics and fresh bread is supposedly available every once in a while if it makes it from across the mountains. But as I mentioned, Hatiheu has a major downfall: a lack of a location to moor a dinghy. The large, concrete quay is bare of mooring rings and the beach runs a good surf at all times. We were left to taking turns going ashore and giving each other rides.

January 2-5, 2011

We soon tired of the continuous roll of the anchorage and were looking for a stable surface to sleep on, something we had lacked since Rangiroa. I, being a previous patron of this lovely island, suggested the next-door anchorage of Anaho. After much hyping up, the Mike and Larissa were convinced by my tales of golden shores and quiet waters to weigh anchor. In less than an hour, we were safely anchored behind Point Messange in Anaho Bay.

Nothing had changed and it was as heavenly as it ever was. The point still protected the anchorage from swell, the long beach still stretched around the entire alcove, and the mountains still towered high above it all. I was back in Anaho after 6 months of seafaring through Polynesia. Coming back felt like returning to a place I had lost touch of since childhood, but everything was still the same size. When cruising, it's pretty rare to return to a location you've been to in the same sailing season. Most of the time it's up anchor and say good bye for a long time. This is because most cruises are planned on a downwind circuit: Long Beach-to-Mexico, Mexico-to Marquesas, Marquesas-to-Tahiti, Tahiti-to-Bora - all downwind. But we reversed this trend by going dead upwind from Tahiti to Nuku Hiva, a path not spanned by many in sailboats.

Despite the mild hardship in heading back up north against the trades, it was rewarding to dig my toes back into Marquesan sand after nearly half a year of being away from it. Going back really gave me a sense of time passed. It's hard to pin down dates in the mind's perspective when I hardly know what day of the week it is 90% of the time. When we putted back into Anaho, I was able to look at my log and get a grasp of time once more. Six months it had been. This is what six months feels like. If you're following me.

We hung around Anaho for a few days getting plenty of rest and regaining our sense of adventure. As it always happens, we were reluctant to leave the calm waters, but Christmas was fast approaching and we couldn't go without a fine Christmas meal. Taiohae was made our next destination. It was an uneventful sail over. Mike and Larissa dug the little town of 2,000 people (the largest in the Marquesas) for having a nice balance of scenery, markets, and soft-serve ice cream on the quay. As I was the acting resident Marquesan on board, I showed them the ropes of the town [that must have originated as a sailor's expression]: the bank, the shops, the delicious ice cream, and the beautiful church. Just before Christmas we stocked up on a fine assortment of meats: some ribs and a slab of entrecout and then headed over to quiet Daniel's Bay just a few miles to the west. A fantastic Christmas lunch barbeque was had in my bay.

Even though the bay was, as in all Marquesan anchorages this season, dry as a bone, vertical cliffs made it pleasing to the eyes. They extended up nearly a thousand feet and completely bordered the west reaches of the bay. On entrance we saw the scar of a dry waterfall that, when running, is said to be one of the top 5 tallest in the world.

We weren't the only ones with the idea to sail over to Daniel's Bay for a quiet Christmas. As we cleared the point and looked down into the bay we saw 2 catamarans swung at anchor in the shallow limits of the bay and by the time we left two days later, 7 boats, including ourselves, were sitting in the small bay. After Christmas we took a small foray to Daniel's beach, had a second tumbling night of sleep, and then decided it was high time to begin preparations to leave French Polynesia. We soon motorsailed back to Taiohae. Although it was upwind, we took it on two tacks and it turned out to be short and pleasant.

Now it was time to get down to business. Final plans were laid down for provisioning. We accomplished these leisurely over a few day's time with many ice cream breaks in between. By the time our final day came in Taiohae, we had bellies full of ice cream and few pockets full of Pacific Island Francs left. Being the good sailors that we are, we spent the remainder on booze for the upcoming New Years and possibly the passage if any was left (none was besides Neptune's bottle of wine - I'll get to this). Early the next morning we upped anchor and set sail for Anaho, the bay we had deemed fit to be our final touch of French Polynesia.

The trade winds had died down a bit since our upwind beat from Rangiroa and as we cleared Taiohae's Sentry Rock, we were met with the kind 15 knot easterlies that I've undoubtedly been spoiled by. We took the upwind portion on two tacks, fell off on a beam reach to fly up the eastern portion of Nuku Hiva, and then executed a precision jibe around the northeastern point and rounded up until we sailed right into the mouth of Anaho.

A troubling sight presented itself as we came around the southeast point of the island. Just as we cleared it, a cruise liner emerged from the depths of the Pacific bound for Taiohae. Why would I be so troubled by a cruise liner, of which I've seen hundreds by now? Every island, bay, or port that I've visited on this voyage where a cruise liner calls is diminished by materialism. I'm not saying it's a cause, but it's surely a correlation. A sign of things to come, perhaps. It would be terrible to see the people of the Marquesas become corrupted by the quickly-globalizing world. They may lose their pleasure derived from being generous and living off their own land in trying to keep up with the Jones's. Big screen televisions and oversized automobiles may soon replace their well-tended gardens and artisan work. The houses may cease to be lit by candle light and noisy diesel generators will be brought into each bay ruining the ambiance and the night sky. Visitors will no longer be opportunities to display their inbred generosity and will soon be looked at as opportunities for monetary gain. This new mentality is already seen imbedded in people of the inner Society islands and if the Marquesan's aren't careful, it will be sure to debauch their way of life as well. The Marquesas is like to be a very different place in 10 years.

As it neared the island, the cruise liner repeatedly tried to hail the port captain of Taiohae and after quite a few attempts, the operator of the local radio station had to inform him that Taiohae didn't have a port captain. I was glad to hear that they still retain their non-commercial tendencies. Chalk one up to the preservation of the Marquesan lifestyle.

As we entered Anaho, we found ourselves to be the only ones in the bay and happily dropped anchor in the most protected area and cracked a few Hinanos. Our final stay in Anaho was one of the best stays we've had in any anchorage. We arrived the day before New Years and kicked our feet up for a moment. Stunning, glowing sunsets behind the mountaintops were the norm and turtles and mantas greeted us a few times. As always, the strip of palm-tree-lined, golden beach glowed enticingly when the sun shone on it. The swell was non-existent in the anchorage behind the point, but crashed on the distant shore so we were gifted with the calming white noise of surf at night. The trade winds ran through the anchorage nearly unabated for all but the last two muggy nights of our stay giving us . But the item that made the bay truly magical this time was, as usual, the people we met.

It was during the first afternoon of our stay. The sun was bracing itself between the mountaintops and the tide was slowly flowing out. Standing out against the bright, sun-mirroring water were a couple of black silhouettes skidding across the small waves on a couple of kayaks. I couldn't resist. I walked up to the foredeck and loosed the yak into the water. It only took a moment to hop on and paddle out to the humble surf.

I was greeted with wide smiles as I surfed the baby waves and soon got to chatting with Laurent, a man who was vacationing from France with his in-laws in Polynesia. Before I went off to dispatch my 'longshore duties (a fresh water shower at the beach's spigot), he invited me and the rest of Walk On's crew to his New Year's festivals. The next morning (New Year's eve) he paddled out to make sure we were coming to the party. And what a party it turned out to be. There was everything one could hope for: dancing, a a magnificent feast, fine wine, and spectacular champagne at the drop of the ball.And, after the big event, the greatest fireworks show Anaho had ever seen - the 6-shot Roman candle I gifted Mike on Christmas. The crew, tired from the taxing lifestyle of the tropical sailor returned to the boat after navigating the coral-head-lined channel without event.

Sadly, our newly-made friends were to take leave from Anaho the next afternoon. We bid one another farewell as they cruised out of the ocean-locked bay on a plywood powerboat and then soon got down to business. Laying on the beach is a hardly-known hose that dispenses the purest water in the Marquesas. According to the generous owners of this hose, the source is an underground spring from up on the mountainside. Rain or shine, drought or monsoon, the hose always gives us crystal clear water. We needed 1200 liters of it (that's about 300 gallons my American friends) which we would be taking in 100 liter trips. From timing high tide, the chore was made easy. One could fill the bottles in the dinghy without having to cart them an inch.

After we filled the boat up to her eyeballs with the tasty water, we decided to set aside a couple days for frolicking in order to give French Polynesia its due goodbyes. I took it upon myself to hike the horse/human trail that straddled the bays of Hatiheu and Anaho. It was reported to be an easy hike, so I tuned and dropped the uke into my backpack for a few strumming recesses on the way up and paddled in. The trail was carved right through the thick brush alongside a dry river bed. After stepping off the banana plantation set in front of the trail, I was quickly in the wilderness. Stretching, bending palms trees made up much of the foliage, but acacia, tiare (gardenia), hibiscus, and citrus trees were bountiful as well. Being in the wilderness once more, I had to play the part of wilderness explorer. It wasn't long until I was tromping off the beaten path to collect limes for our voyage and using my ever-handy Leatherman to slice open young ferns and coconuts for sustenance. I think the life of the ancient Marquesan would have suited me well.

After a few uke interludes, I reached the saddle between the mountains that marked the summit of the trail. The view of Anaho was nice, but Hatiheu was shrouded by overgrowth. This would be the last panorama of Marquesan land to reach my eyes for a while; I wanted more. After a short and understandably convoluted chat with a French family hiking the opposite way on the trail, I set my eyes higher.

Off to the side of the trail's summit, was a steeper, less-beaten path that went in an enticing direction: up. I zipped the uke up tight and continued along it. It wasn't long before the trail turned to dry brush and became much less hospitable, but I just couldn't stop myself from ascending. Several times I came to knolls, saw a higher one ahead, and continued onwards and upwards for glory. After 45 minutes of brush clearing assisted by a couple of stiff branches, I was at the base of the highest knoll on this side of the bay. It was a little vertical, but I scaled it hand over foot over ukulele.

The view from a top was splendid. Hatiheu and Anaho were both visible and the unruffled Pacific Ocean stretched on into infinity. I perched myself on the windy knob that was marked only by scattered piles of goat droppings and I felt I was the first man in the world to scale this minor peak. It requiring a christening of sorts, I committed three apt acts: a magnificent holler at the top of my lungs, a carving of "Ka'oha Nui" in the soft volcanic rock, and singing into the wind while shredding on the uke. Eventually I made my way back down and was overjoyed by the sensation of removing my hiking shoes and sticking my toes into sand. I was content with my final Polynesian adventure and the day after the next we upped anchor and set sail for the Sandwich Islands.

January 6, 2011

17:00

We have begun our sail northwards.

January 7, 2011

13:00

Well we're in the middle of the ocean under a beautiful sky and on top of a beautiful sea. Although it's still disputed in some circles, I believe Ferdinand Magellan's label of "Pacific" was an apropos observation. At least for this particular stretch of the ocean.

Ever since leaving Anaho, three days previous, we've been beam reaching due north. The winds are a stable 15 knots, the squalls are rare, and the boat is steady. Walk On reaches at a brisk 6 knots towards the equator. Once we give Neptune his due offerings, we can only sail north and hope that the ITCZ isn't too wide. After meeting back up with the trade winds of the northern hemisphere, we'll veer northwest and (hopefully) beam reach right to Hilo, Hawaii in the US of A. Out of the many 'ifs' that are enclosed in any bluewater cruise, the most prominent one is 'if' the wind will cooperate on our way across the northern hemisphere.

As all my friends and family in California may have noticed, there are a lot of North Pacific storms spinning off the Aleutians and making their way down to the lower latitudes. While these don't generally seem to make their way all the way down to Hawaii, their massive force does tend to interrupt the regular NE trades that should prevail in that area. Trade winds are reported to blow only half of the time in this season.

January 8, 2011

10:00

First of all, I'd like to wish a happy birthday to my lovely mother! Mike and Larissa let me use their satellite phone to call her from these deep waters and although the voice modulator made her sound pretty alien, I'll always recognize the voice of my favorite momma.

By the looks of it, that may be the biggest event of the day. The weather is as fair as a babe's hair with 15 knots still sitting on the beam. The sky was void of clouds all last night and up until just a few hours ago this morning. The trades acted their part last evening by dropping off with the sun and since we needed a charge on the battery bank, we motored through the diamond-studded night sky without event. Mike and Larissa took extended watches due to the tranquil state of affairs and I actually had to rouse myself at dawn after the tossing and turning that precursors waking from a full night's sleep.

18:00

The sun has lowered past the horizon and my shipmates have taken to their berth for a bit of shut eye. The wind has eased as it did last night, but Michael and I unleashed the fury of the full mainsail before sunset. This is the first time I've seen her with all her sail set and what a fantastic amount she hold aloft. As a result, she comfortably skids over he softly rolling swells on a broad reach. It's fantastic sailing that, if the sky is any indication, won't be changing soon.

We are still surrounded by a vast, misty void above. Today's coppery sunset with highlights of verdigris, illuminated all three clouds in the sky at dusk. Michael and I have come to the conclusion as to why we are cloud void without any change in weather. During one of our frequent meteorological snippets of chat, it became clear that we are probably crossing through the most distal fingers of the Peru current (also known as the Humboldt current). This cold water current stems from the Antarctic and runs up the western face of South America only to veer west at the equator. It would also make sense for this current to be reinforced by this year's La Nina effects.

It has huge repercussions on the coast of South America and the Galapagos archipelago that sits directly in its path. The air and water is much cooler and and upwelling of sea life comes with it. Out here, 4000 miles away, its indicators are lesser, but still apparent. The first, and least dubious, being a noticeable fall in water temperature. The air has also turned so cold that we go as far as to wear shirts during the day. The next indicator is deduced: the complete lack of cloud cover. This would coincide with a cold water current because the lower temperature of the water would reduce the surface evaporation that forms clouds. This current, although frustratingly west-setting, has some fine benefits.

The declared favorite of the crew is of course the absolutely smooth sailing. What a fine break from the upwind passage to the Marquesas. Many of the other benefits are only noticeable at night. Due to the clearness of the sky and the slenderness of the moon, the stargazing is a true spectacle. Every pinprick of light in the universe is visible above. I struggle to work out the most telling constellations with my limited astronomical abilities. The Southern Cross now winks a mere 10 degrees above the horizon while the Magellan clouds still stand high in the sky. As we reach farther north, I can expect these to make a slow drop below the haze of the horizon. Miles before the drop of Magellan's clouds, should come the rise of the Great Bear, Ursa Major. My familiar Big Dipper will be the first friend to welcome me back into the northern hemisphere.

This feeling of humbleness upon the smooth Pacific is further reinforced by my latest readings: Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. His is a classic sailing tale that speaks of the happy happenings and hardships - but mostly hardships - of his voyage while twice doubling the Horn during the golden age of sail. I found it comforting to look up from reading, "When climbing the mainmast to reef to top gallants, I was literally pinned to the mast by the horizontal sleet." [a paraphrase] to see that same ocean rolling gently beneath me and a sweet breeze. Among his harrowing stories of terrible storms, he talks much about a California past. He sailed the coast in the late 1830s, before the Gold Rush and before much Yankee settlement. His business there was the hide trade with the Mexicans and the Indians. I found his account very interesting, and was impressed upon by a spot of homesickness from reading the names of all of California's lovely coastal Spanish towns. Norcaler's (if that's a proper term) would be glad to know that even before the establishment of San Francisco as a mere village, Los Angeles was referred to as "hell".

January 9, 2010

05:00

Sunrise and sunset: the only things that break the monotony of passages through the smooth, tradewind-brushed swaths of the Pacific. The winds are still constant from the same direction and at the same velocity. On coming out this morning I found the whole sky dappled with alto-cumulus and stratus of all shapes and sizes. This may be an indicator of changing weather.

January 10, 2011

07:40

Yet another beautiful day on the high seas. We crossed the equator yesterday an hour after sunset and gave our sacrifices to Neptune hoping to garner favor from his northern reaches. The captain give him the first gulp of Walk On's last bottle of wine, I presented him with a piece of strawberry cake frosted with nutella, and Larissa gave him a few pretzels to complete the meal.

We've come to believe that our gifts were well received as the west-setting current has turned to a northwest setting one (that's in the exact direction of Hawaii if you're not too geographically inclined). Coinciding with the favorable change of set, the drift is now nearly 4 knots. Allow half a knot for leeway on a broad reach and that means we're boosted by a 3.5 knot current. Wow. 9-10 knots speed over ground isn't a rarity.

January 11, 2011

02:45

Yesterday was our sixth day out. On outset, we arranged a rotational watch schedule that gave everybody a chance at the lonesome midwatch and the magical sunrise watch. My time has run out on the sunrise watch and I've been bumped back into the darkest hours.

On waking this morning, I heated up the pork n beans let on the stove and took my steaming bowl outside with me to check out the scenery. I had stepped out into a pitch black void. Clouds covered all signs of anything existing beyond Walk On's bulwarks. My eyes did slowly adjust over the course of 20 minutes and I was able to make out amorphous blotches lining the sky, some darker than the other.

We're now at about 4 degrees north and the wind is starting to show flukey tendencies. It died and came back a couple of times and I trimmed sails appropriately.

For a moment the layers of stratus cleared and I was presented with the Big Dipper low and dead ahead! It's two stars pointed straight down to a misty Polaris (the north star) just above the horizon. It feels good to be in the northern hemisphere and to be greeted by my astronomical bretheren.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

We Got The Beat

Post 32

December 16, 2010

11:10

The white horses are galloping high on the tops of the building waves that shove and smash Walk On as she tries to cut through the steep seascape. The trade winds have found us again. 15-17 knot winds embraced us again last night and then strengthened to the low 20s with the convective power of the sun aloft. They wind have rejoined us at a fine time, though. It looks as if we've made enough easting to beat to our destination on just a single tack. We're very much looking forward to a Marquesan land fall and have created a high stakes game out of guessing what day and what time the anchor drop will fall on; the highly sought prize: a cold Hinano.

I've learned a bit more about my fellow seafarers in our first extended passage together. One of the most intriguing things about a sailor is how he or she utilizes his or her ample free time on passage. All unnecessary boat work should be left to quiet beautiful anchorages, so what does one do? Each of us still does the normal activities in varying proportions: reading, writing, and cooking, but each also retains a unique hobby. Larissa derives much pleasure from making her toe and fingernails absolutely perfect, Michael has rediscovered a video game from 10 years past that he enjoys playing, and I, of course, have the uke. We still hold onto an ever-important semblance of independence through all the interdependence necessary the survive on this little boat in the middle of the largest ocean.

On the subject of independence, an interesting phenomenon arose after we set out to sea. We've ended up spending larger portions of our time isolated from one another. This naturally-evolved buffer prevents, or slows, many of the social problems experienced by the crews of yachts undergoing extended passages. Since Walk On has several comfortable, yet distinct, living spaces: the cockpit, the quarter berth, the fo'c'sle, and the airy main saloon, we can always find our own niche throughout the day. Whenever the soul strives for a moment of solitude to do a little reading, writing, reflection, or repose, an open location is always near at hand. With freely-acquired social leaves, the people aboard hold a higher morale and the social bonds remain tighter because clashes of character and personal flaws (of which everyone has) aren't exasperated by their perpetual presence.

December 17, 2010

10:30

"Christmas is over," uttered Mike while looking at the most recent weather charts of our area. This phrase perfectly captured our current situation. Our beautiful weather window has slammed its panes. This morning the reinforced La Nina trades (an effect opposite of the famous El Nino) have settled down upon us. Under a double-reefed mainsail, staysail, and mostly-furled genoa, we uncomfortably beat through the dynamic landscape that's piling up from the fresh 20 knot winds.

With the extra winds waft a slight anxiety for an anchorage. The crew now longs to make landfall. To be honest, I don't really much mind. Now that I've gotten my sealegs, and my seamentality to accompany it, I could be out here for months without noticing a minute has passed. The reason for their longing is that these bigger winds go hand in hand with bigger seas, thus more motion and salt spray, and thus less sleep. I claim it builds character.

Last night I decided to switch my dawn watch with Mike's midwatch (00:00-04:00). This would finally allow him a full night's sleep and would give me a chance to get reacquainted with the Pacific's more mysterious side. The midwatch has recently garnered a strange appeal to me. While the flanking watches both boast transitions from light to dark and the converse dark to light, the midwatch provides only the deepest of darkness. The person standing the first watch enjoys the company of the fading sunlight until the moon takes over with its comforting light and the sailor on the final watch, the dawn watch, gets the cheerful prospect of a lightening sky that brings upon a bright new day. There's no comfort in the midwatch. Once the moon has set, all you know is the boat and its motion imparted by the empty, dark sea.

I gently woke up for my midwatch from a light tap on my shoulder imparted by Larissa. After suiting up, I went out into the dark. The large, gibbous moon was setting under a distant squall that painted it yellow like the moon on a 4th of July night. It quickly set and all that was left was a sky full of stars and the sea void of anything. I could do anything but read my book on this dark night. Quite a bit of time was spent watching the dance of the phosphorescence swirling in Walk On's wake. It being mostly overcast, I also spent much of my time reading the dark blotches above for approaching squall lines. The rest of the night was spent hallucinating ships on the horizon and then subsequently investigating these hallucinations. The watch passed quickly in my timeless state of mind and, before I knew it, the next watchee had risen to make his cup of coffee.

True entertainment (much to the chagrin of another seaman or seawoman) can be derived from observing a freshly-roused sailor moving about at some ungodly hour. Their bodies, still groggy from the melatonin of sleep, stumble like a landlubber's. Even after a week out at sea, the whole time in rugged seaway, a newly-waken sailor will stumble about, grasp for handholds, and fall like a drunkard until one's sealegs are quickly reacquired. I can say with a certainty that most boat-inflicted bruises are received in the sailor's pre-coffee state.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

East East East

Post 31

December 14, 2010

08:00

The weather window has thrown its panes wide. Walk On has been motoring through a light, 10-knot breeze that's just enough to fill her conservative sails aloft. She makes a good 4 knots east by north across a fairly calm sea. We've been driving for all of the easting we can in preparation for the reestablishment of the eastern trades that are due back in 3 days. If we get enough easting under our keel in the meantime, we'll be able to reach up to the Marquesas quickly and comfortably rather than having to beat further into 20 knots of easterly tradewind.

My meteorological senses have been tingling as of late. The sky is enclosed with a thick veil of alto-stratus and alto-cumulus. The middle altitude clouds have thrown away their patchy presence and have assimilated the whole of our bright blue sky with their gray sheets of haze. Occasional squalls punctuate the day and bring lengthy downpours with them.

I took to following in Michael's footsteps today and had myself a totally free (to our water stores) freshwater shower from one of these very squalls. As the massive cloud inched our way just a few knots above tradewind velocity, I gathered my towel and shampoo. When the water started to fall a few articles were shed before I strolled up to the foredeck and sudsed up. It wasn't the warmest experience and the cloud passed before I could completely rinse off (a very common happening during free showers), but there was enough water caught in the mainsail bag to finish the job and deem this novel event a success.

The current weather conditions perfectly replicate those of the ITCZ down to the last detail besides their location. We have flukey winds, a grayed-out sky, and random squalls with seemingly endless stores of water within them. I wouldn't say it's unheard of it for the ITCZ to stray this far south, but it would be a pretty rare occurrence for this time of year. I suppose it's been disturbed by some other system and it's just giving us a sneak preview. After our last short beat to the Tuamotus, we aren't complaining about having to motor through a calm to get our precious easting. There's that word again.

16:00

Oh what a fine day for sailing this has turned out to be. A few hours ago someone, not me, made the decision to cut the motor, unfurl the genoa, and see how she sails to windward. The breeze is just above 10 knots and veers from NE to E. She cuts a quiet wake 43 degrees off the apparent wind. Since our windward beat is through weakened 10 knot trades, it turns out not to be much of a beat at all. We're skipping along faster than we ever did with the motor, at about 6 knots, and the slamming bow has become a repressed memory of the past.

The skies have cleared, the sun is lowering, and the moon stands bright in the daylight sky. For things to stay as such for the next few days would make this passage a fine moment in Walk On's passage-making history. These are the kind of days we sail for.