This trip has been looming for over a year, however, the enormity of it has only really sunk in during the last month. A myriad of details for the preparation have been accumulating and I have been constantly carrying a note pad to jot them down as they come to mind. The list became huge and a mission unto itself, occupying all my spare time and preventing me from dwelling too much on the passage. It was a mission of "stuff" to be purchased at a frenzied rate.
The list was important since one simple omission can be devastating. Take for example a sail slide stopper; a tiny $8 object that screws into the sail slide track and prevents the sail from sliding out of its groove. When the wind pipes up I have to shorten sail or "reef" to prevent the boat being over powered and the sail or rigging being damaged. To do this I have to slide some of the sail out the bottom of the track and tie it up, after which the stopper is then installed to prevent the rest from sliding out. Since this is normally being done when the weather is boisterous, it's not unusual to drop this object and see it bounce off the deck into the 5000 feet of water beneath. This has happened many times and one would think it would be simple to jury rig a replacement. True, but since it has to be removed and re-installed many times a day, the wire creations and holes drilled in the mast to accomplish the same task as this $8 gizmo, tend to drive one insane. When the shit hits the fan you want the simplest gadget - not some Heath-Robinson affair to grapple with. This is just one example of hundreds of widgets needed. It just so happens that I cannot for the heck of it remember if my last one is still on board or sitting on a coral reef in Fiji. Thus it is item number 23 on the West Marine list.
The top of my list is comprised of those life or death thingys. Not Gin or Fiji Bitter, but harnesses, jack lines and fancy foul weather gear. I'd much rather be buying electronic gadgets like a C-Map electronic plotter which talks to the radar and makes me redundant, but these things rarely save lives. Sometimes they do the opposite. Things that keep me and Sojourner (SJ) inextricably linked are paramount. To fall overboard and see SJ sail away guided by the windvane is a lot more serious than Goldie Hawn portrayed in her movie. It is almost certain death, a slow one treading water while watching the mast sink below the horizon, wondering if the sharks or drowning will come first. It's every sailor's nightmare, and not that uncommon. Often the husband or wife is still on board, sleeping off watch, unaware they'll never see their partner again. Usually the husband is peeing over the side when that out of sync wave catches him one-handed, off balance and complacent. Peeing is not the way I want to go.
The tether is the gadget that links my harness to Sojourner. We've been using ours for three and a half years in the intense UV of the topics, so it was time to buy new. If you get flung over the side by a rogue wave the force exerted by shock-loading on a tether can be up to 6000lb, so you need to be sure the stitching is not rotted by the UV and salt. The catalog shows many types, most of which nowadays have a quick release shackle on the harness end. This addition perplexes me; I wonder why anyone would ever opt to "cut away" from a yacht in the middle of the ocean. Even with someone else on board there is an infinite probability that once separated from the yacht you'll never be found. The force of water while being dragged alongside a boat at 6 to 7 knots must be huge, and if you can't climb on board it's a choice between drowning by dragging, or pull the release toggle and watch your home sail away. Perhaps the next model should have a little pouch with some cyanide pills. So I bought the one with the quick release toggle, assuming there must be a good reason for it. As an insurance I decided I'd duct tape a little bottle of scotch to the chest strap. Heck, at least I'll have a smile on my face…
More gizmos needed. Jack lines are nylon webbing straps that run from the cockpit to the bow on both sides of the deck, so that my tether is always attached as I move about the deck. Although ours are supposed to be eternally UV resistant, I decide to order new ones anyhow. The premise being that I wouldn't be around to return them if they weren't as UV resistant as the manufacturer claimed.
Foul Weather Gear: now there's a good name for a product. I wonder if anyone has thought of Hellish Weather Gear, or perhaps, Please Kill Me Gear. Anyhow, our budget West Marine gear had rotted in the tropics so that the rubber lining covers anything in the vicinity with yellow flakes. Time for new - only this can be expensive. A good set is over $1,000 for jacket and trousers. The rage is now "breathable", which makes me laugh. In real foul weather the spray and rain is so thick that only a fish could breath. I remember when Jen and I were in a storm in the Hapai group of Tonga, running for a harbor. I actually had to wear a dive mask to see, and had to forcibly blow through my lips so that I could breath without inhaling water. If I could hardly breath it would be quite an accomplishment if my foul weather gear could.
So to find some "foul weather gear" I looked on eBay and found a set of top brand Jeantex racing gear with the tags on, for 1/3 the cost. It was a chance, but it fit well with the exception of 2' extra around the ankles. The challenge was not the fit, but getting Paypal to actually pay. It took 3 days of phone calls and emails to find out where my $350 of cybermoney ended up. But at least the gear was breathable and I think the guy (or somebody) got paid. And so the list goes on:-
These are just random snippets of a huge list that consumed my last month, and are only a tiny fraction of the Fiji shopping list. There's this dread, this desperate feeling that a simple omission will cause the final downfall. Of course it is false, it's a desperate attachment to stuff which by possession will supposedly make us secure. In reality human nature, resourcefulness and improvisation are infinitely more important. I guess while land-bound in Denver and preparing for a trip like this, the simple substitute is to buy, buy, buy. Deep down I know that when it all hits the fan, no amount of stuff on board would fix it. Besides if history is anything to go by, I doubt I could find that critical piece of equipment anyway, but at least I'll have my breathable hell-weather gear on under my new harness with the optional suicide toggle …
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