First Day's Run
First Day's Run.


The first days run with the aid of a huge current past Cabo Falso, was 132 nm, and because it was so high, it mentally set us up for disappointment down the road. By the morning of day two, we were already exhausted and simultaneously, but secretly, dwelling on the thought of 30 days like this. I focused myself on finding the infamous tradewinds that old sailors talk about with much longing and affection. My guess, based on pure speculation and little knowledge, was that we should find the tradewinds after a "few" days sailing southwest. For three years I've had images in my mind of us gliding along on calm seas, with 15 Kts of 85oF breeze over the starboard quarter (back right corner of boat) and lounging in the cockpit with gin and tonic in hand. If only I knew!

Late in the morning of day 2, I decided it was time to switch off the Autohelm autopilot (ST4000) and start using the Monitor windvane. This is a mechanical device on the stern of the boat that steers by the wind. If the wind direction changes it pushes over a vane that is attached via pulleys to a small rudder. The rudder twists in the water and the force of water passing over it is transferred to Sojourners main rudder via lines. In a nutshell it uses the power of water rushing past the boat, to turn the main rudder in response to wind changes. They are strong devices capable of steering in 60 to 70 Kts winds and of circling the globe without any electrical power and with very little maintenance. The changeover from the electrical ST4000 to the Monitor on Sojourner, is complicated and requires me crawling to the aft deck and hooking lines to the emergency tiller, then crawling back and switching a bypass valve on the hydraulic wheel steering. All of it has to be done quickly, so that the transition does not result in the boat heading to Alaska. So in full foul-weather gear, I clambered out of the cockpit to the cramped aft deck and fumbled with the lines. Suddenly I felt the stern dip into a huge trough and, knowing what that meant, I took a white knuckle grip on the stern rail and stupidly looked up to meet the maker. The wall of 72oF (22oC) foam crashed into the stern, funneled itself into the hood opening of my foulies, accelerated down the neck and fanned out throughout the torso to emerge from the ankles. All this despite claims to the opposite by the manufacturer stating "waterproof foul weather gear for the toughest offshore conditions". That seawater festered in the foulies for a few days and new life forms evolved which, I am convinced, would talk to me from the hanging locker at night.

The subject of voices on a boat is often included in seafarer's narratives. Logical people such as myself would discount such nonsense as the product of a bored mind that has been at sea too long. Reluctantly, I have to report that Sojourner does have voices, and I am anything but bored. There's Tony living in the deck scupper who's constantly in conversation and often drops the name Tony clearly. Then there's the canary on the aft deck which tweets night and day. I have tried to convince myself it is a squeaking pulley or worn deck fitting, but I can assure anyone that a full can of WD40 sprayed over the entire deck does not kill the canary. There are the dogs and women that Jen hears from the ocean .... need I say more. And we haven't even touched the vodka yet.

By the afternoon the wind started to drop and the seas obeyed my not-so-polite commands to lay down and give us a break. I've learned since the first couple days we left Oceanside that it is not wise to swear at Mother Ocean, as she always gets the last laugh! My log says of the afternoon "first time the word 'pleasant' used". The conditions improved drastically with the wind dropping to 14 Kts and the seas immediately laying down. This gave us some breathing room to re-coup our energy. Up until this point, we had been using a reefed main and reefed working jib (a headsail for heavier weather, made smaller by tying up the bottom part), but now needed to put up the big 150 genny and shake out the reefs on the main. The wind swung around to the NNE and puffy fair weather cumulus clouds appeared in the blue sky. In my naiveté, I thought this may be the start of tradewinds and we both got a little excited. Unknown to us at that time, it would be another week before we would see true tradewinds. But the air felt different, so I checked the sea temperature and overnight it had jumped from 72oF to 76oF. Things were happening, warmer waters at least; not quite the 85oF I am looking for, but a step in the right direction.

By evening the wind had swung back to the NW and piped up to 17 Kts, so back on with the working jib and tuck a reef in the main. One aspect of passage-making I had underestimated was the sheer physical effort it takes to keep a boat sailing in roughly the right direction at the best possible speed continuously day after day. Most of the sail changes are done on ones knees on a pitching deck, fighting with halyards (lines used to pull sails up), sheets (lines that are used to trim the sails), harness tether, poles and all the other paraphernalia sailboats have. Bring one sail down, and you have to roll it up and tie it down before putting the next one up, or risk loosing it over the side. We found out early on that Jen hates deck work with a vengeance, and has little desire to master it. Being small, she doesn't have the mass behind her to wrestle a genny in rough conditions, and I have visions of her parasailing off the front of the boat while trying to hoist the cruising spinnaker. It works out well, though, because she loves to cook, and boy does she cook well. Galley work is intense, everything at sea takes 4 times as long. It still marvels me how she whips up gourmet meals in a galley which is no bigger than a matchbox. So we have fallen into our respective roles - Jen below decks and me above (plus bilge and engine of course!). I don't want to know how to prepare a shitake mushroom, and she doesn't give a hoot about how well the jib is trimmed. But she has enough knowledge to sail the boat if I fall overboard, and I can find the can opener if she falls overboard.

Our second day had taken us another 118 miles out to sea, and as I scan the horizon on day three, I realize just how alone we are out here. The sea surface is constantly changing, and no evidence is left behind that we were ever here, nor does it care. Our wake disappears after a couple hundred yards, and the turbulence after a 1/4 mile. Then there is just unspoiled ocean with swells constantly marching in line from a distant storm to a remote shoreline. Some swells we experience may have originated in a storm of New Zealand, or Alaska, and the energy has been transferred over thousands of miles from swell to swell. The water in a swell does not move forward, the energy is transferred forward in an orbital pattern, causing the neighboring water to heap up, and so on. Thus the energy can travel thousands of miles with very little frictional loss, just as a low frequency whale song in the South Pacific could be heard in California with the right acoustical equipment. I ponder these things as I look seaward, and wonder what is in store for us over the next month at sea.

Day three had put another 94 miles of Pacific under Sojourners keel and at the start of day 4 the wind was still out of the NW and so were the 10' NW swells. But we were making good time and starting to build some resistance to the motion and the necessity of having to constantly brace oneself for everything. Our compliment of bruises had increased so much that we each look liked we had done a round with Mike Tyson (except we still had intact ears). But the "malaise" was still there. It is a feeling we seem to get on passages that saps all our energy. Everything appears to be a monumental task, and you'd rather sit there and think about something than do it. It's similar to those dreams where you are in a fight and as you go to punch the other person, you can't because your arms move in slow motion. You push as hard as you can, and yet they won't move faster. It may be a simple thing like getting a kitchen roll out of the aft cabin; but the job exaggerates in your mind to a huge task, so instead you put it off and stare at the horizon. It's not sea-sickness, because Jen never gets sick after two days, and I am lucky in that I never get sick. It's a state of mind probably related to the strange sleep schedules and alien environment. It has to be fought as it doesn't go away on it's own.

So in my malaise I did the rounds of the deck to check for chafe, loose items and damage, and noticed a fish lying against the toerail (raised bit at the edge of the deck). It was a flying fish about 8" long, a member of the family Exocoetidae. They are bony looking fish with huge modified pectoral fins for gliding, large eyes and a stupid looking circular pouty mouth. I opened the pectorals out to see the wings which were about 10' in span and had a gray mottled pattern. From the mess on the deck and bruising around his mouth, it seems that it had done a kamikaze flight plan into the cabin side of Sojourner, and then flapped around trying to get back to the ocean. I had been watching the flying fish in amazement yesterday and was intrigued by their capacity for flight. Sometimes a whole shoal of them would suddenly leap out of the water and glide through the air together. They head upwind or slightly cross wind at a high speed which can reach 34 mph, performing banks and turns with incredible agility. By staying close to the waves they seem to make use of updrafts from the surface and "ground effect" to stay aloft longer, and at the same time keeping check on other members of the shoal so that a tight group can be maintained in the air. They fly to escape predators, and I am sure that the bow wave of Sojourner is perceived as a predator. Sometimes I am able to see the splash as a Dorado snaps at a flying fish but misses, then the fish takes off with Dorado in pursuit. His life is at stake and he may dip his tail back into the water several times for more thrust and to increase the flight path, perhaps as far as 230 yards. The Dorado (or Mahi Mahi) is perfectly adapted for high speed and is able to follow the flying fish underwater and, if he can keep close enough, dispose of him when he eventually "lands". I have seen the violent splash as a flyer becomes lunch on landing, and I know I am witnessing natural selection at work. Only the best flyers will escape the menacing Dorado and reproduce to add even more great flyers to the gene pool. I wonder how far they will be able to fly after another million years of natural selection?

As the fourth day at sea turns to darkness, I feel as if we are becoming adapted to this strange mobile world. The collisions with tables and cupboard doors have reduced in frequency, the food has become more elaborate, and my creativity with sail changes and combinations has increased. To cap it off, the night watch was spectacular. A light breeze of 7 Kts out of the NW, very warm and calm seas. The Southern Cross was now a whole fist above the horizon just off the port bow, it's long axis pointing to the South Pole which is well below the horizon for us. This constellation is so brilliant and conspicuous in the southern sky, it is found on several national flags Including New Zealand, Western Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Places that sound so exotic and appealing right now that I feel 30 days at sea is a small price to pay to be able to spend 6 months visiting them.

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