Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Sailor not the Sea

A sailboat to me is like a dinghy in the bathtub, but completely wound up with rope.  Dang knots.  Should have paid more attention in Girl Guides.

1 knot/nautical mile = 1.15 miles
Right - Starboard - Green light
Left - Port - Red light
bow/V berth cabin - front
stern/aft cabin - rear

luffing - fluttering
flogging - flapping
Missen - rear sail
Main - middle sail
Jenny - large front sail (light winds)
Jib - small front sail (heavy winds)
change tack - switch directions
listing - leaning
heading - intended course
course - direction we're actually headed

Through a pod of dolphins alongside shipping lanes in Panama.  Caught in a swell, The boat keels to a 45 degree angle.  All we can do is watch the Cpn attend to the sails, dumbfounded.  That'll be us one day, we hope.

It's our first day.  Our first sailing trip is one most sailors will never do in their lifetime: Crossing the Pacific.

Life aboard is pretty routine.  The rhythm comes easily.  Just when we start to find our footing, & learn to use a moving kitchen without dropping anything or killing/burning ourselves (hint: the stove is on a pivot, & thus always upright), we change tack & start leaning in the other direction.  Listing to portside turns my bed into a cradle, listing to starboard makes my bed the floor.

Everything has a system.  Washing dishes in seawater, but careful not to throw any rogue cutlery into the depths.  Showering in the rain, when we get the chance.  Jamie is sharp & demanding when need be, but quick to lighten the mood.  On sunny days there's nude sunbathing on deck.  Some days we have to duck from flying fish, & apparently 3 inch little squids, & get glimpses of sharks or turtles, or whales breaching on the horizon.  Some days you see nothing but overcast all day & you're sweating it out in the kitchen.  We're resilient.  We will resile.

Rule #1 - Do not leave the boat.

If you fall in the water under sail, you're screwed.  +/- the currents, wind, weather, time of day, GPS coordinates; we are all told we'd be very lucky to get back on board & spend many a nights laughing about the adventures we'd have when the captain falls overboard.  I can just imagine a mistreated boat with tattered sails being spotted on the horizon, with the crew drunk as all hell & completely useless.
Which brings me to

Rule #2 - Must be alert & sober at all times.

The boat is well provisioned, so much so that I think it's kind of crazy.  Soy milk powder, tons of candy, spinach flavoured pasta, kalamata olives, gouda cheese, sundried tomatoes and plenty o rum - but alas, this fair crew cannot get drunk during passage.  It's not happening.  With Cpn's permission, we're allowed beer or wine during dinner, or on special occasions, which could be anything.  It's a party if we catch a fish, and there is a fine tradition of sipping Venezuelan rum salvaged from a ship & eat apple crisp at 2:30am when we cross the Equator.

Night watch is enchanting.  You can see 3 times further at night.  The ghosts ships you that seem to slip by during the day, are illuminated, along with flecks of phosphoresence along the side of the boat.  There is no such thing as darkness.  The undersides of clouds are brimming with light, or the surface by reflection of the moon.  My watch is 2-4am.  Soothing.  Attention to the sails, & the instruments must be precise.  In fact, the definition of sailing is finding the balance between where you want to go & where the wind will allow you to go.

One night Jimmy was taking a scheduled nap during his watch & awoke to a light coming straight for us.  In the dark, distance is perceptual.  The first few nights I had recurring dreams of exactly that, of hitting something during my watch.  Cpn sprung out of bed to a flurry of spanish voices yelling at us.  I have selective hearing at night that jerks me awake when I hear the Cpn swear, but not for possible pirates.  It's deciphered that we almost ran across a fishing net, which would put us in a bad situation fast.  We've driven over our own fishing line twice, which is a pain in the ass.  Under the boat in close to 10,000ft of water with a kitchen knife trying to free up the propeller is fun-ish.  Fun in the way your mind goes blank & you think don't look down.
Rule #3 - Step up into the liferaft.

If the boat flips onto it's side, it's got the weight of 3 cars on the hull, and will right itself.  If there's a hole in the hull, we're getting in the water to plug it.  Ships are found sailing with no one on board, because they skipped out too soon.  The boat will sail on across the ocean.  Whether we are on it is another story.  Which brings us back to Rule #1.

On our 7th day, it became obvious we were having engine trouble.  We discovered we'd been given dirty fuel from the marina in Panama & it was destroying our filters & ruining the engine.  Our heading changed towards the coast of Ecuador instead of Galapagos.  Paramour needs some TLC & if that means skipping Galapagos in lieu of bigger fish in the South Pacific, we are okay with that.

We drank rum that day.  And had showers.

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