I woke up from "dreaming of paradise" to the shrill ring of a kitchen timer. We used a timer to wake us from naps every 20-min since that is about the time it would take a huge ship to travel from the horizon to us, if on a head-on course. My eyes were so heavy from only 3 hours sleep in the previous 24 hours, and the naps just seemed to make things worse. But, like the boat, I was on "autopilot." I stood, holding the grab bar, looking out over "Sojourner's bow, then scanned the entire dark horizon very slowly, looking for lights. In the distance I could see the marker light of Clarion Island and another bright light which appeared to be a fishing vessel. Crossing over to the other side of the cockpit, stretching my tether to the max, I scanned the port side, then took the radar off "standby" and flicked through the 24NM, 12 NM and 6 NM ranges. Clarion Island showed clearly as a small "blotch" at 10 miles, with another return nearby which must have been the fishing boat. Even with the screen heavily dimmed in night mode, the radar essentially destroyed my valuable night vision. So looking back toward the island the ocean appeared incredibly black and suffocating, with none of the detail my electronic companion so easily discerned.
We had set our course to pass within 5 miles of Clarion, a small uninhabited island governed by Mexico. If we had made landfall in daytime, we would have considered anchoring in the lee of the island in a small cove for a rest, but our timing was wrong. Even with radar, approaching any strange shore at night is bordering on suicide, so we continued on, subconsciously pleased about not upsetting the rhythm of the passage. I repositioned the seat and settled down for the next 20 minutes, my Helly Hansen breathable gear keeping me dry. This cycle of visual and radar scans was repeated 12 times on each watch, and, for me, the whole four-hour watch seemed like an eternity. Sometimes I would read, using my "Itty Bitty Book Light" with an improvised red filter to protect my night vision, which helped to pass the long watch. I would read anything, as long as wasn't about sailing; action was best since it tended to keep me awake the longest. We found that shorter watches didn't give the resting person enough time to go into a deep sleep. Even with 4 -hour blocks, which became 3.5 with "changeover" time, we still ran at a deficit.
The start of Sunday, May 9th, (day 5), was a good one. I awoke after my off- watch to a superb "breakfast in bunk" of eggs, delicious Mexican melon and toast. I would have savored it more, had I known how conditions on the crossing were to change and how rare a pleasure like this would be. At that point, the cabin had a sense of order, the bed was dry, the sheets were clean, the cupboards were full of fresh food and the cabin temperature was in the mid 70's - we didn't know how lucky we were! Yesterday had put a mediocre 88 miles under the keel and we were now 433 NM out to sea, much too far to turn back. We were committed!
The weather started out glum, with some high cirrus clouds and a definite front or trough above us. But the light 8-knot breeze from the NW made sailing easy and relaxing. As afternoon passed, the high clouds cleared rapidly and the wind swung around to the North and increased to 13 Kts. At the same time, small puffy fair-weather cumulus clouds developed against the clear blue sky, looking suspiciously like the signature "tradewind clouds". I was optimistically wondering if this was the very beginning of the NE trade winds and the start of our "downwind ride".
Our buddies, the Booby birds, were still with us, even this far from the mainland. We had spotted our first Boobies on day two and they increased rapidly in number as we approached Clarion Island yesterday. They probably use the island as a nesting site, although I haven't confirmed this. These seemed to be Brown Boobies, but we also saw what must have been Masked Boobies. The Booby bird seems to fit its strange name. Physically it has a gawky, clumsy look about it, due in part to its heavy-set head and large tapering bill, but in flight it is a master of the ocean winds. Its long tapering wings allow it to glide effortlessly, low over the water's surface, gaining lift from the updraft on the face of the waves. It steals so much energy from the air-water interface that it rarely flaps its wings, unless it needs to gain altitude or head upwind. It has a distinct fascination with boats, often circling multiple times and adjusting airspeed to pass slow over the stern about 10 feet away. It turns its head in flight to get a good look at us, and to scope out possible landing sites. After a few passes, it often comes in low from downwind, lowering its feet to slow down and twisting its wings to increase lift and to slow to "stall" speed. As it gets close to the stern, it looks left and right, frustrated that we don't have a clear space for it to touch down. At the last second, the wind generator seems to spook it, and it raises its landing gear and aborts the attempt.
We have heard many stories of Boobies landing on boats and staying for days, not budging, even when shooed away with flailing arms. Some have even entered the cabin and taken residence. The first day, they are usually a welcome fascination, but after the cameras are put away and the guano accumulates, the symbiosis between Booby and skipper wears thin. Many stories end with the skipper physically grabbing the Booby and launching him unceremoniously into the air with a half-hearted "goodbye". Jen enjoys talking to the Boobies, and I had hoped, for her sake, that one would land on our boat. She dearly misses her surrogate child - a Sun Conure (parrot) called "Sunny" who couldn't come with us mainly because of New Zealand quarantine laws. "Sunny" is presently living in the lap of luxury in Florida with Jen's parents, whom he has carefully manipulated to become constant suppliers of treats, ranging from lobster to cookies. One should never underestimate the cunning power of birds!
That afternoon, the wind increased until it was blowing 20 knots at 8:00 p.m. Along with the wind, came the chop and build-up of short- period, steep swells. It blew long enough to develop the seas, then died in the night, leaving us with the waves but no wind to stabilize the boat. As Sojourner rolled on each wave, the sails would dump the air, and as she swung back on the pendulum, the sails would catch the air, stretch taught and bang, sending thousands of pounds of shock loading through each fitting, piece of wire and the mast. The force simultaneously travels from the sail down the sheets to the winches, producing a jarring metallic clang, then on through the hull to the cabin where everything shudders. From there, it enters our central nervous systems, making our entire bodies tense with each shock wave. "Worry cells" are kicked into action and I lay awake, wondering what part of the rig is work hardening, or which part of the sail is chafing through. Something must be done. Herein lies the paradox -taking down the sails is like removing the shocks from a car, but with a boat the oscillation is sideways. She swings up to 35 degrees, each side giving a total "ying-yang" of 70 degrees, enough to propel everything out of all the cupboards and the occupants across the cabin.
So, we ask ourselves, is it to be "bone-jarring crashing", or violent "ying -yangs"? - What a choice! In the end, we leave a small amount of sail up to give us a happy medium, but the banging still drives us insane. The ugliest part of us emerges in these Chinese torture hours; even the slightest task can send one into a rage. For example, when making a cup of coffee, you have to prop the cups against the down-slope cupboard door and hope the up-slope yang doesn't get them. Then take the coffee grounds and prop that container up somewhere downslope, and put the scoops in the French press. We are already on our third French press. The first was killed by "yang" and the second by "ying". So now you are playing Russian roulette with three items. Then, once the water is boiled (the cooker is "gimbaled" and swings with the boat, thus is nearly always level), you must carefully pour it into the coffee press. This must be done, holding the press in the left hand with the kettle in the right hand, while balancing your body, by pressing hips, or any body part, into the side of the counter. Your back is generally severely arched, so your body is somewhat upright, but gravity is no longer constant and changes direction with each "ying". Thus, even the pouring of simple water is an acquired art - you must predict the next wave so you know when to let the water flow, so you can catch it in the pot. The same sequence occurs when pouring the coffee, but there is another item added to the nautical Russian roulette - the coffeepot. After that you add the creamer, bearing in mind you cannot put down a spoon on a surface, as "yang" will propel it across the cabin. If, after this whole procedure, you are not in a blind rage and covered in coffee grounds and creamer, you then stagger with one coffee cup at a time to the cockpit for air, and look for a horizon to focus on. Sometimes, I have been so exhausted after making coffee, I have had to take a nap; ironically, that was what I was trying to avoid in the first place by making the coffee. Jen is able to make gourmet meals under these conditions, albeit not always devoid of profanities, and surely does deserve the "Congressional Ying Yang Medal".
So, to get a respite from the violent motion, I decided to start the engine and motor for a while - we needed to charge the batteries anyway, and I was evolving into an "axe- murderer". No luck, the engine wouldn't start. There seemed to be air in the system, a problem I've had since changing the secondary filter in Mexico. At this point, the vocabulary I came up with surprised even me, and should go down in the "Guinness Book of World Records" as the most varied and numerous profanities ever thrown at inanimate objects in a period of three hours. Faced with lying on my stomach in Sojourners' bilge to bleed the engine, while she "ying-yangs" in the darkness, I instead retired to the sea-berth, quivering and mumbling strange things about "sea gods" and "why me"? Jen kept her distance. Little did she know my journal was line after line of "All sailing and no play, makes Steve a bad boy... all sailing and no play makes Steve a bad boy...all sailing....." Just after midnight the seas laid down and the banging stopped - it was … Heaven! I erased a few lines from my journal.
The morning of the 6th day found us with huge bags under our eyes and cranky demeanors that would manifest themselves again throughout the day. During the night the rolling had also caused the water in the tanks to smash back and forward with such force that the noise was deafening. Jen couldn't sleep at all through this, so we were both up pumping water into Jerry cans until the level got low enough that the baffles muffled the noise. But despite all this, Sojourner still managed to claim another 101 miles of the Pacific, putting us a total of 534 miles closer to our destination.
The morning wind was very light and before Jen got up, I flew the cruising spinnaker and kicked Sojourner from 0.5 Kts to 4.5 Kts. This was the first time I had flown the spinnaker "solo", and felt pretty good about it, since it is a very awkward sail to hoist alone. But the spinnaker is only an offering to the wind gods, because always within an hour of raising it, the wind picks up and it must be quickly lowered before it overpowers the boat and tears into pieces. After dousing the spinnaker, Jen was helping me raise the genny, and she got her finger caught in the winch. Fortunately, it was minor and a shallow flesh cut, but that is no consolation to a tired and cranky crew member who had just had 12 hours of "ying-yangs" and one hour of pumping water. At that point she nearly took the profanity record out of my hands, but I think I held onto it by a tiny margin. She did, however, vow to catch a flight to Florida as soon as we reached the Marquesas, a strong statement that I would hear many times before the passage was over. Who can blame her? The passage so far has been mainly an endurance test, very little of the "cruising paradise" we had dreamed of. I think those times will begin after we arrive in Polynesia ... at least I HOPE!
So, for the rest of the day, a low-pressure system over Clipperton Island funneled more "northerlies" toward us until it reached 21 knots, with rising seas again. We both slept a lot and the day became a blur of semi- consciousness, as I did extra-long watches to help Jen catch up on sleep. In the early evening, I read to Jen from our Polynesia travel guides of the highlights from some of the islands we would visit. It helped her envision crystal clear waters in coral atolls with myriad's of strikingly colorful fish, bordered by white coral sand beaches and coconut palms. I promised tiny villages of 100 inhabitants with people so friendly that we'd be invited to drink Kava with the island Chief. There would certainly be waterfalls in the jungle to bathe in and tropical birds screeching in the trees. These images floated in our numb minds and instilled a sense of purpose, allowing us to view the exhausting passage with a little more perspective. The dream was still alive, but it had taken a severe beating.