Thursday the 12th was my projected day for leaving, since it gave me sufficient time in New Zealand to tie up and prepare Sojourner for 8 months of storage. It also coincided with the full moon on the 14th, making the night-time sailing much more bearable. There's something comforting about that silver-grey glow glistening off the waves at night, although when the waves are 20 feet plus it's generally better to not be able to see them at all. On Thursday morning, most of the ducks were in a row - Sojourner was ready, the moon was indeed almost full and I was as mentally prepared as I would ever be. But the weather duck still wouldn't play the game. It had cost over US$5000 to get to this point, friends and family were following the "adventure" on the web. There was also the personal challenge I had set myself - to make the crossing solo at the worst time of year, the southern winter when huge lows come up from Antarctica and pummel New Zealand. So the self-induced pressure was mounting and by now the computer and HF radio were running 24 hours per day, downloading fax after fax from Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia. The weatherfax radio signal has a high pitch whistle for the white component of the picture and a scratching sound for the black component. Since the grid lines and isobars have a regularity on the page, the scratching part has a kind of rhythm which has become the theme "tune" for this trip. I even find myself singing "ka-cheee, ka-cheeee cheee.... " as if the weatherfax were top 20 hit on the radio. Add to that my hacking cough and my mumbling to myself, I'd say it was a good thing there was at least 150 yards between me and the next boat.
Amongst yachties there is a consensus of opinion that most single-handlers are somewhat weird. Many a cocktail hour at beach bars in tropical islands around the world have been spent trying to ascertain if they began weird, thus explaining why they are single-handling, or if they became weird as a result of single-handling. So this was a good experiment for me. I had spent considerable time alone on Sojourner, last year in Tonga and also here in Fiji. As far as I know, I wasn't weird in the beginning (although I'm sure there are some out there who would argue that point), but I certainly began some strange habits as time progressed. Already on this trip I am singing to weather faxes, talking to myself - even contradicting myself and cracking jokes. By default, I'm beginning to answer the age-old question about solo sailor weirdness. Only I can't share this with other sailors - to admit that I am showing weird tendencies would not be smart, especially in the closed yachtie community, or anywhere for that matter (so why an I putting it on the internet?). So the beach bar debates will continue as usual, only I'll simply listen in silence and not give them the benefit of my recent research.. I doubt yachties are going to check out our website.
The weather fax for Thursday morning showed the high filling in around Fiji and the low, west of New Zealand, slowly moving off to the east. But the high was moving at 20 knots which means I would miss it and hit the low on its tail. The 72-hour forecast showed a huge low filling in over the Tasman Sea, meaning that I would be sailing toward that, followed by the front of the next high and screaming southerlies in the squash zone. To rub salt in, Hawaii was showing a tropical disturbance still over the Solomons and a trough line leading it to Fiji. It also seems that the high is going to be short lived and I would have to wait another cycle. I knew I was going nowhere on Thursday - but my mind began to question. Am I making excuses, was this just fear and procrastination? It's hard to say, but easy to justify waiting. One thing is for sure - "get thereitis" is responsible for many lost boats and small plane crashes. Leaving in conditions one wouldn't consider leaving in if more time were available, has lead to many boats disappearing in storms, or running up on reefs, planes flying into terrain in fog, and so on. I asked myself "if time were not a factor, would you go now?" (see, talking to myself again). I answered out load - "waddya keedding me, of course not" - even adding a Mexican accent and confirming I have been alone on SJ too long.
A phone conversation with Jen put my turmoiled mind at rest. What a great wife she is, no complaints about the cost, no criticism about the delay in leaving, just loving support. She re-affirmed that to leave without at least a good 5 day weather window is insanity. She also tactfully sowed another seed; what would be the loss if I missed the window and didn't leave at all? She pointed out that to have our yacht in Fiji for another year, prepped, in the water and ready for a tropical vacation when we return from Antarctica in February, was not too shabby. The duty customs was charging us is simply the cost of keeping a boat in paradise. She also justified the cost of this trip, Sojourner needed work and needed to be used. Leaving her for longer than a year untouched was one way to accelerate her decline and lessen the value of our "investment". That's what I've always loved about Jen, she sees the good in absolutely everything.
But I couldn't let go of the possibility of a final, desperate weather window. So Thursday night I got up at 4am to get the New Zealand Mean Sea Level Analysis chart. Sure enough a monster low was already working a wicked arm of itself up into the Tasman, meaning the present high was on its way out and it was definitely not a good time to go. I went back to bed then tossed and turned until the sun poked above the palm trees and stabbed into the cabin at 6:15 am. I drifted in and out of nightmares, most with me partially submerged under foaming seas, the air white with horizontal spray and the sails just rags, cracking like whips in the hurricane force winds. I woke in a pool of sweat, the wind had died, and the cabin was already hot, my cold was worse and my head pounded. Everything seemed to be stacked against this passage. I began to think of my phone call with Jen and thawing out in Fiji after 6 months in the Antarctic...
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