Three Men and a Dog on a Boat

These are not idle thoughts, the usual nothings that make up the content of my Blog. The words below, not all mine, convey experiences that I don’t want to lose, and digital media does seem, at the moment, to be the best strong box around in which to keep them for future readers and viewers. Perhaps.

In a nutshell (actually a catamaran) the experience is the ocean adventure of our son, N, with two friends, the Captain T and J, who are at this moment sailing from Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas to Hawaii. They promised to stay in touch with us and so we’ve received emailed trip notes from the three of them, T, J, and most recently our son, N. Included below is also my emailed response to J ‘s trip notes.

We hear first from Captain T:

Hi all,

We’ll it’s official, the Three Musketeers have departed for their big voyage to Hawaii.(Captain T, J, N and the ship’s mascot, Ria, in any order.)

This particular passage of roughly 2000 nautical miles has been made for thousands of years, but gotten progressively more comfortable since the original Polynesians made it in outrigger canoes.  Apparently there were no flush toilets, microwaves or chart plotters on those primitive craft.  On the other hand, they did benefit from human sacrifices, granting them the blessing of the god Tane, who remains the grand poobah in these waters.

(In Māori mythology, Tāne (also Tāne Mahuta) is the god of forests and birds)

Since none of our crew are too keen on being sacrificed, we’re trying to negotiate better terms.

My buddies Nat and Jeremy arrived in Nuku Hiva on October 5th, and Veronique barely waited the requisite 24 hours before jumping ship (she’s now off to DC to do some real work).  Ria doesn’t know what to make of three eligible bachelors on board all at once: so much attention, so many beds to sleep in, so many suckers to cajole food from.

We spent yesterday anchored in a stunning and secluded bay that Veronique and I had just visited, and went over boat systems.   Nat knows a good deal about sailing, while Jeremy is obsessed with the workings of the life raft. We perfected the art of male bonding by cleaning the hulls together, and this morning the boys hiked up to a beautiful waterfall with a local buddy of ours.  Our final act was to pillage every piece of fruit available from the gracious locals.

With our two large stalks of bananas alone, I’d guess we can now make over 100 loaves of banana bread.

We raised anchor around 2 pm and found a nice breeze as soon as we cleared Nuku Hiva.  Apart from a closer encounter with a freighter (he finally gave way after hearing Ria’s vicious bark over VHF), it seemed that we were off to a promising start.

Unfortunately though, we just discovered a serious problem that could compromise our whole trip, and force us to turn back.  It seems that some malicious virus has infected all electronic systems on board, causing untold damage.  The first manifestations of this occurred when random reminder messages started popping up simultaneously on our various computer systems on board.   Here is a sample message that mysteriously popped up, and which we immediately forwarded to MacAfee virus protection for analysis:

“After Ria’s last walk on land, rinse and bathe her with the doggie shampoo (it’s under the sink near water tank levers). Wet her, put on shampoo, rub in thoroughly, let stand for 5 minutes or a little more, then rinse thoroughly. Very important to rinse all the shampoo off. Dry her. Put shampoo back under sink. Put towel in her bed so she doesn’t wet it. Tomorrow, remove the towel and hang it outside. Put another towel in its place.”

Best to all,
Team JeRiNaTe

Then these notes from J:

To you old sea hands some of what I say here won’t be news at all. I’m no old sea hand and neither are the people I’m sending this to, so please bear with.

Old Sea Hands

First, particular news:  We’re making fabulous time averaging close to eight knots. At this rate we’d be in Hawaii in 11 days, not that we expect to maintain this rate.

1 KNOT is 1.15 MILES, 1 NAUTICAL MILE IS 1.15 MILES , so 8 KNOTS PER HOUR IS 9.2 MPH

Ria, our dog is doing well but misses her mother. We had expected the wind to come more from the south than it has.  It’s more due easterly and northeasterly. We’re shooting straight up from the Maquessa islands until past the equator when we turn Northwest toward Hawaii.  So far the sailing is perfect for a tyro like me.  We steer toward zero degrees, the winds on the side are about ideal for goosing us up toward the northern hemisphere.

The newly mended mainsail is behaving itself. Nathaniel and I have had mild endurable nausea, just enough to put us off eating temporarily, me more than him. Yesterday in a misguided effort at over-caution I ran a thin sheet (rope) triple ply through the jaws on our main winch. It quickly turned into quadruple and maybe even quintuple ply doing minor damage to the jaw’s gripping power which is not something welcome on the main winch. Ted says not to worry and that it’s easy enough to work around.  A more unflappable captain I couldn’t wish for.  His unflappability thankfully does not translate into flipness.  He is alert, competent and bent on getting us all to Hawaii safely.  He is the Obama of sea captains.

“the Obama of sea captains”

Though we were expecting doldrums and a chance to drop sail and swim at the convergence region between Northern and Southern hemisphere weather just above the equator, forecasts now show storm patches. How we’ll cross them is a decision we have to leave until we get closer and the forecasts are less speculative.

doldrums

As we enter the middle of  nowhere life assumes a surreal quality. No geographical reference points, and yet all the conveniences of home from microwave to board games; no contact with others yet each other’s easy constant company; seamless days yet the rigors of night watch–transoceanic sailing is full of bizarre contrasts.

Alice when falling through the rabbit hole speculates to herself that after such a fall as this she’ll think nothing of falling off the roof.

Alice when falling through the rabbit hole

Sometimes the yacht tosses like a roller coaster. Walking close to the boat’s edge can feel like tottering atop skyscraper.  The walls and floor grumble creak and growl startlingly all day and night. We ride it as though it’s normal. This evening during a quiet dinner Ted paused to toss some wayward flying fish back out to sea. I hope to bring home some fresh new unflappability learned at sea. This trip reminds me just how effete I can get in the reliable comforts of home.

If any of us three are formulating opinions of each other’s shortcomings we’re not sharing them. We’ve not run out of things to talk about, and even Ted, the quietest of us three has ventured opinions and comments. Kidding aside the conversations are nicely balanced. We’re getting around to everything and having a good time of it.

J

And my reply to  J:

Thanks for the “notes” Jeremy.  I’m not an old sea hand so most of what you said was news. You pushed me (as Nathaniel had earlier) to go to Google Earth to follow your sea journey, and yes, on the map it does look like you’re in the “middle of nowhere.” Probably good in that you won’t run into any pirates who evidently don’t do their pirating so far from the mainland. In fact as you zoom in and out on Google’s Earth you have to be careful to not lose the beginning and end points of the sail you’re trying to visualize.  Well not so much in regard to Hawaii, that’s clearly visible on most magnifications, but the Marquesas, it took me awhile to find them. Which one of the latter islands did you leave from? Anyway I now know more about French Polynesia and, what’s the ocean that you’re navigating called, Oceania, than I ever did before? And as they say in my wife’s language, Cela me fait une belle jambe.
Wind “due easterly and northeasterly,” isn’t your direction northwest, according to my Google aided searches, about 30 degrees north and 20 degrees west. So is a wind blowing northeast a good wind for you? In my nautical ignorance I’d assume that wind would take you northeast, into an even more desolate ocean region of the globe, heading for where, Mexico, (which you definitely don’t want to do, given the war going on between the government and the cartels)? I know I’m missing something here. By the way, what do you mean that you “steer toward zero degrees,” toward the equator? I guess you have to cross the equator. Ask Nathaniel to tell us about the differences between an ocean equator crossing experience, and the ones he has experienced in Brazil and Africa. I haven’t been to either one myself, but if you three keep this up maybe I’ll get closer to a land equator when you decide not to break up and take the Verité and Ria, and Veronique, there with you.
One question about your reference to Alice—  “Alice when falling through the rabbit hole speculates to herself that after such a fall as this she’ll think nothing of falling off the roof.” I love the image. And I’m trying to understand its meaning in your circumstances. Did you mean to imply that now you’d feel more at home when walking “atop a skyscraper”? Have you ever done that? I think of the Mohawk Indians who do that for a living, but I’ve never done it myself. Although I’m sure that the experience you describe of the shaking boat, of the walls and floor grumbling, creaking and growling and then, during a quiet dinner, Ted getting up and tossing a lost flying fish back into the water (were you eating out on the deck, and by the way, how’s Nathaniel’s cooking and are you eating now yourself?), I’m sure all that would make anyone less flappable.
And I’d love to hear what the three of you talk about, during those long hours when you can let the boat sail itself. Your “getting around to talking about everything and having a good time doing it” implies that maybe you won’t stop, but will continue to sail onto a new destination. There are times in this life, times that I’ve experienced, and not all that rarely, that you want just to keep going. I think of one, the bus that used to take us from Avignon to our village in la Haute Provence, Forcalquier. I really didn’t want to get there, just wanted to stay in the bus….
Best, And keep writing.
Philip (I’m happy that someone put me on your mailing list, probably my son.)

And lastly, N’s trip notes, timed with their crossing of the Equator.

Dear All:

We are quite well settled onto our passage routine.  Constant backgrounds are the noise of rushing water, the slap/bang of hull on waves and the consistent pitching, rolling, careening, sometimes violent motion of our home.  Dominating themes are long stays at the Navigation station inside, looking at wind speed and angle, and noting with satisfaction Speed Over the Ground;

The Pacific Ocean

late mornings thru nightfall when we are all three mostly up, chatting, arranging, snacking, reading with the occasional dip below for naps; lunch which is emerging as our central meal of the day; post lunch intense conversations; afternoon live music sessions with Jeremy adding some live bass guitar to some of my House Music; late afternoon movie time (so far we have watched The World is Not Enough, Michael Clayton, and Up); time with Ria as she is equally cuddly with all of us during the day; morning stints at the outdoor Nav Station before the Equatorial sun is too high; and night time solo shifts of three hours.

Like most things that we do that are quite different from our normal routine the perception of time changes.  The first one to two days were new and distinct.  Now into (is it day 4 or day 5???) life has shrunk to the moment.  I think that we are all pretty relaxed.  Certainly I am, and Jeremy has commented on his sense of calm as well.  As Ted has been at this considerably longer and is in charge of all on board maybe his perception is different.

However, already when I look back to the beginning of our voyage a few days ago there have been memorable moments.  I will list a few.

After we left our beautiful bay we motored West to clear the Southern side of the island of Nuka Hiva. When we rounded the island we set sail and headed North, still protected from the wind and swell of the Pacific Ocean by the lee side of the island.  The four of us sat on the bench on Verite’s bow.  I eagerly scanned the distant coast of Nuka Hiva knowing it was the last time we would see land until Hawaii.

Nuka Hiva, Les Marquesas

We spoke about the coming journey.  Ted went back and reappeared with a surprise.  A husked coconut with three straws sticking out of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He had added Malibu to the coconut and we passed the coconut around taking eager sips.  When we were done we recycled the straws and I tossed the coconut overboard.  It quickly receded.  We sailed due North, with many degrees to cross.  It was the last time we sat up there.  Maybe we will sit there again in the doldrums (convergence of Easterly winds in the South with more Northerly winds farther North) when the waters will be much calmer.

The Doldrums

My first night when I did the 3 to 6 am shift and watched the sunrise.  I’ve seen many, many sunrises all over the planet, many on board a sailing vessel.  This one was not especially beautiful.  What made this one different was that for the first time I could not tell the difference between the sunrise and the sunset.  I think that this is partly because of our proximity to the Equator.  As  I looked East towards the rising sun my thoughts were not of a coming new day but of being a part of this spherical planet where one man’s dawn is another man’s dusk.  A few days later after we watched Pixar Media’s Up  Ted commented that our boat skipping and tossing its way across the Pacific was very much like the house in the movie floating away carried by many balloons towards Paradise Falls.  That’s how I felt, free to skim across the ocean.

Darwin Crossing the Line

And yesterday we crossed the Equator.  I had read about the tradition of the British seamen to shave the first time crossers in addition to some other ‘hazing’.  I wasn’t keen to follow that tradition too closely as I am beginning to like my long hair, now not cut since early September, 2009.  Ted would not have to cut his 18 month locks as he first crossed the Equator on the Atlantic.  And Jeremy has short hair.  Ted calculated that we would cross the Equator at about 1230pm so we decided to prepare a nice lunch and dine together and at the moment of crossing present each an offering to Neptune.  We tossed overboard a fresh coconut, Jeremy’s boxers and a coin from Tahiti.  Ria barked appreciatively.  The moment became memorable as it marked an accomplishment.

It is now Noon, winds are blowing at about 15 to 18 knots, our speed is good at close to 7 knots, our course is a few degrees West of North.  Skirt steak is thawing in the sink.  We are all hungry and looking forward to lunch.  I get veto over this afternoon’s movie choice.  And I am going to close up this computer and join Jeremy and Ted in a new conversation.

Maruru! (soon Aloha)

PS.  Our current GPS position: 02.53.6N; 141.28.4W

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