Saturday, May 21, 2016

Pacific Crossing Day One

One year delay with busted fuel tanks, ten days delay with an autopilot replacement part, and many provisioning trips later the crew of S/V Traveler is actually out to sea on the way to Hawaii. 129 miles WSW of Cabo San Lucas, we've been traveling 27 hours, and still, nothing is broken. Can it be true?

I'll catch you up in a moment but first I want to explain what I hope to do with this log. I've read countless logs from boaters crossing the Pacific. It seems that the overshadowing interest is always miles traveled and miles to go. Many logs also start with current position (latitude and longitude) From salty sailors, we hear about sea state, weather, and sail changes.... ad nauseum. Others talk about books being read, movies being watched, food consumed. Boring.

Here in this blog we might mention some of the above items but mostly I'd like to describe what it is actually like to imprison yourself in a small floating vessel for three or four weeks. What is the toll on your body and how does life change as you struggle to get your rhythm? I've rarely enjoyed overnight or multiple night passages as my sleep cycle gets disrupted and I become stupid and irritable. Everyone says, though, that on a long trip you get used to keeping strange hours. Well, we shall see now, won't we, cause I have no other options at this point other than doping myself up and making my crew do all the watch shifts.
Leaving Cabo San Lucas - Land's End

To catch you up: On the eighth of May we left San Jose del Cabo and headed to Hawaii. All provisioned up and ready to go, we scooted towards Land's End. I engaged the autopilot, the same autopilot that handily drove us across the Sea of Cortez a week before. Within minutes the boat took a hard right. The autopilot driving arm had retracted and refused to steer the boat. Three or four circles later we disengaged, put our tails between our legs, and hand steered back to the marina at San Jose del Cabo.

After a long distance phone call to Chris at Alpha Marine on Mercer Island and some measuring with an ohm meter, and we concluded that a new drive unit was required. Karen Tobiason wired the money to Alpha and Fed Ex (I always think of Tom Hanks) started the wheels and jet engines in play to deliver the part here to the tip of Baja Mexico. Countless annoying delays and huge sums of money later we had the new drive unit in hand. After Scott Tobiason and I tried to install the power backwards, Chris got us straightened out and a mere ten days later we were back in business, all the fresh fruits and veggies spoiled necessitating more provisioning trips to the grocery store.

Wednesday afternoon after battening everything down we headed out and around Land's End. We had one reef in the main and a partial jib rolled out. In the distance we could see a definite line between normal white capping wind waves and a full herd of raging buffalo. Across the distance these buffalo roared south, a never ending field of white frothy boulders. A mile out we felt the full brunt of that northerly rushing down the outside of the Baja peninsula. Seas to 8 feet, spaced seconds apart! Wind gusting to 20 knots! Wow, we should have double reefed and had the smaller staysail deployed. Should we do this amidst this frothing, leaping, crazy herd of buffalo or just tuck back in behind Land's End where the seas are calm and the tourists are zooming around on jet skis and lounging on party boats? We chose to head back and once there in the calm of the late afternoon our thoughts turned to cold drinks, a nice dinner, and the wisdom of waiting for the calmer seas and lighter winds of tomorrow for a more civilized departure. A few hours later we were in a cantina in Cabo San Lucas with a Mexican band serenading us and Scott and Connie dancing like Latin lovers.

Thursday, we were even more prepared. This time MORE than everything was ready, if that's possible. We double reefed the main and pulled up the little staysail. Out ahead we saw the buffalo, baby buffalo. The 8 foot seas had shrunk to 4 foot seas and the wind was steady at 15 knots. Now this is much better!

The wind and waves were coming straight out of the west so we had to crack off a little to the south to make any headway. Traveling close hauled like this, we bashed into the seas as they steadily grew in height. By late afternoon we felt like we were in a washing machine, holding on for dear life and being careful not to hurt ourselves. Going down below, even just for a few minutes, made us turn green. Soon, Connie and I were huddled together in the cockpit staring at the horizon, trying not to hurl our breakfast. Scott Tobiason busied himself with fishing gear and tiding up lines, acting as if this was like a stroll in the park. Later, he admitted that he also struggled to keep it together.

Connie was hot, Connie felt dizzy, Connie felt weak, Connie went below to lie down to see if that would help. Nope. A minute later she was rushing up the companionway. "Out of my way, I'm going to be sick!" After puking up her breakfast she gave us the briefest of smiles, said she felt better, then retired below, bracing herself against the violent motion of the boat by carefully placing all the pillows around her on the lee side of the master bunk.

I sat and stared at the horizon and tried to make small talk with S.T. hoping I could keep my breakfast down. Eventually, after hours of dry mouth, swallowing saliva, and a vagueness in my head, I was able to forget for a few moments at a time that my body was miserable. S.T. took the first 3 hour shift while I laid down, sleepless on the settee. I took the next 3 hour shift in the dark, hanging on for dear life while bracing myself in the cockpit. The boat was leaping about, crashing into waves, and shuddering with the effort. We did have wind, though, and that enabled us to push through most of the waves, the sails giving us a steadying effect. Through this time we had to adjust sails, letting them out, bringing them in, moving the traveler, moving the jib sheet turning block, adjusting the autopilot. Never a dull moment.

I ate a cookie. At midnight, Connie reappeared and volunteered to take a shift. She ate a cracker. While Connie did her shift, I laid in bed, wedged into the lee side, not sleeping. The wind dropped and the sails clattered but the rough leftover seas remained. S.T. got up for his 03:00 shift, looked around and immediately put more sail on Traveler, shaking the last reef out of the main and rolling the Genoa out completely. Suddenly the wind came back up and we took off like a race horse, creaming through the bumpy seas. With the steading effect of the sails she marched into the night her motion eased somewhat.

By noon the following day we'd covered 127 nautical miles, eaten next to nothing, and felt the fatigue that comes with rough passage making. The wind held steady and yes, Yes! the seas seemed to be going down. I knew everything was going to be alright when I heard Connie down below singing and playing the ukulele.

You can follow our progress by using the link mentioned in the header of this blog.

Peace out. Scott, Connie, and Scott

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  1. I want to know what it's like to be out there in the middle of nowhere under countless stars, dark and full of the mysterious deep. What's that like?