Wet Blanket…..

Dear F&F,
June 3-4, 2009

I struggled to keep the spinnaker flying in light & shifty air during my 8:00 p.m. to midnight shift. Poor Mike had what even he, Mr. Sunny in All Circumstances, called the \”watch from heck\” midnight to 4:00 a.m. Keeping the boat sailing downwind in light air is a real challenge. That is when we really pay for our \”payload\”. We are weighted down with all the comforts of home. \”Miss Piggy\” can gittey-up with 14+ knots of wind, but under 10 we just park.

Imagine a video game: the goal is to keep the wind angle between 90 to 100 degrees (on this trip to our left or port side). You must also watch the wind speed: if it is 12 or higher you can steer the boat to the right (which in our course in these conditions is more the direction we would like to go). If the wind is light you have to quickly steer the boat left or else the spinnaker will flop like a giant noisy tablecloth. If you \”lose it\”, meaning that the spinnaker is hanging limp & not moving you along, you must steer right quickly to get the wind to fill it back up, yet not gybe the boat (have the boom cross over to the other side). If I lost some of you there, don\’t worry – there will not be a quiz. It is too cumbersome to explain every single sailing term in plain English. I am hoping over time & repetition you will catch on. But I do try my best to assume most of you don\’t know Sailor Speak.

One nickname for a spinnaker is \”kite\”. Another is \”chute\” (as in parachute). If you imagine us trying to fly a giant kite it is quite an accurate way to visualize spinnaker sailing. Ours is a teal green & dark blue rocket-type pattern. When I say \”steer\” the boat: I mean turn a one-inch diameter plastic knob of our auto-pilot. One unit is located outside at our helm, the second control unit is inside at the navigation station. Usually we turn it left or right a click or two at a time. Each click is one degree. Sailing this way takes full concentration. You have to wait to even go to the bathroom until you get enough wind to keep the kite flying that long. The goal of the person on watch driving the boat is to #1 Make sure the boat moves as quietly & comfortably so that the off-watch crew can sleep. #2 Go as fast as possible in the right direction, but this is generally second to #1.

So you are at your video game screen(s). You are watching the wind angle indicator: try to keep it at about 100 degrees to port. You watch the \”Speed Over Ground indicator\” (SOG): this tells us (by GPS calculation) how fast we are actually making way over the earth. We go up & down and rock right & left with the waves – that doesn\’t count. Only forward motion counts. Sometimes we get to surf down a wave & we get bonus Speed Over the Ground, which is more than we can get out of the sails alone. If there is current or swell in the Wrong direction, we go slower. Why am I explaining all this? Because I am going to be out here for a minimum of another 10 days and this is what we do on watch, so I want you to understand. The two video screens plus the one control knob are not ergonomically placed for vision, reach or bodily comfort. We have a remote. Note to self: get it out to try tomorrow.

We have not had to steer downwind this much for this long before so this is somewhat of a new discovery. We experimented with the automated feature on the auto-pilot to steer according to the wind. But it does not work with big beam swells, which we have had. So even though we are using the auto-pilot & NOT steering by hand with the wheel, we are making minute (pronounce my-noot) adjustments that enable us to make progress despite the light conditions. If I want to sit, I must perch on the edge of the helm seat with my feet through the wheel braced against the helm in a jockey-like position. Mostly I stand. If I get achy from being in an awkward position for a long time
I strap my 12 volt heating pad around my back, it helps.

There is a point, which is less than 8 knots of apparent wind for our boat, that it is simply impossible to keep the kite flying. The kite sags, flaps & you slow wayyyy down. You must go wake up another crew to help you \”sock the chute\” (put the kite in its condom), lower the whole thing down, stow it or at least secure it and start motoring. This is how our day began today at 3:30 a.m. Mike had come to assist us at 3:00 a.m. but we were so tired and asleep that we didn\’t exactly leap into action. The poor guy continued to beat the dead horse and was wrung out. Scott heard the chute flapping and not flying properly so he got up half an hour early to help him take it down. I blissfully slept through that part.

I was so worn out after my 8:00 p.m. to midnight shift, \”playing the video game\” non-stop that I showered, then curled up in the salon to sleep during the first part my off time. The interior of our boat can be noisy in the cabins. Since Scott & I have the \”downhill\” cabin on this trip we get more waves slapping the hull & spanking the bridge deck. It is quieter up in the salon. If I rearrange the cushions a bit, it is a great place to sleep. At 3:00 a.m. after Mike reported to Scott that he was really struggling to keep the kite flying, I moved down to our cabin and fell back asleep until dawn. I felt rested by then, such a relief! It was the first time I got 4 hours of sleep. Before then I had no more than 2 hours, once or twice per day over the previous 3 days.

Due to a build-up of fatigue, yesterday during the day was tough for me. I was moody, over-tired yet could not sleep. I was cranky that I didn\’t have privacy with Scott. Yet, it is such a help to have Mike and he is such a sweet, nice guy that it was not at all personal toward him. It felt both too crowded onboard and yet I was lonely. Seasickness continues to plague me with any attempts at reading or writing email. Blessedly I can read my book lying down which I finally figured out was the best thing to do with myself when I was not sleeping during my daytime \”off-watches\”. It was a good thing I could not write because in my mind the subject line for this post was: Purgatory & Beyond. What a difference 4 luxurious hours of sleep makes! Today was an entirely different and much, much better day.

As I said, today began for Scott at 3:30 a.m. I was up at 5:00 a.m., although not due to take over until 8:00 a.m. I knew it was a chance for Scott & I to have the boat to ourselves while Mike was still sleeping. No, I was not THAT well rested, but it was great to have our tea & watch the sunrise & feel peaceful. Motoring is soooo much less work than sailing. We do not have enough fuel to motor all the way to the Marquesas. We hope that the expected trade winds will return soon. But the prediction is for light air today & tomorrow. For me it was a welcome day of feeling better. When I feel lousy (either seasick or overly tired) I am such a Negative Nellie. When I am rested & not sick, I am a real trooper & can-do gal. Pretty normal I guess. The guys are, well, what can I say…GUYS! They are so fine sometimes I want to just smack them. But thank God they are fine & as long as I keep a regular stream of food heading their way they are very happy campers. It is great for Scott to have Mike to be a new set of sailor eyes on our boat underway. They have tackled several small projects & at 3 a.m. this morning I discovered one we never imagined we would tackle underway.

When I came downstairs to our cabin, Scott asked me for a blanket. It was downright cold the first 3 nights, for me anyway. Mike I think would have to go to Antartica to get cold. Scott is somewhere in between. He just wanted something over his legs, he has not been getting under the sheet. Anyway, I went into the linen cabinet, grabbed a light blanket & felt it was damp. I pawed around the locker: this is supposed to be a dry area, but it was WET. Ugh! I made a mental note to report the problem later, covered Scott\’s legs & conked out.

Mike, usually an early riser, took full advantage of his off time to recover from his tough night shift. Later that morning, I showed him the wet area. There are 2 cabinets: linens low, cameras above. I emptied both and we discovered dampness coming from up on the deck, trickling down inside the cabinets. YUCK! No wonder I felt my sheets were always a bit damp. Any drop of sea water will keep things feeling wet forever plus cause mildew. We had more than a drop, we had a problem. Mike jumped in with screwdriver, chisel and a can-do attitude while taking out the cosmetic interior cabinet ceiling liner. This covers things that are screwed through the fiberglass deck. Scott got a headache, felt nauseous & whined. He wanted to play electronics with Mike, not discover our boat leaks! Me, I was thrilled. I have been fighting mildew smell and dampness in that area for quite a while. I have been concerned about Scott\’s cameras & indeed, the waist pack he hikes with was full of mildew. I gave Scott 2 aspirin, a tall glass of Gatorade and he quickly got with the program.

When you have to empty cabinets on a boat, it looks like the place exploded. We fit so much into each and every locker that when it comes out and is sprawling all over the place it is a big mess. Fortunately the lack of wind continued all day and the sea was calm so we were able to work on this project without being too concerned about things blowing out of the cockpit or any of us being overly focused on keeping the boat going. One engine at 2000 rpms does a fine job of that. Bonus – when motoring you can go exactly the direction you want. No need to play the video game since there is no wind & the sails are down. Scott rolled up the main sail when he came up since it was not helping us. We still rotated our watches throughout the day, but the boat just keeps plugging along as she should.

We ran the watermaker a lot. Scott blasted the hose on the suspicious area while Mike observed from inside and discovered what WE HOPE is the culprit. It is always possible that there could be more than one culprit… While I scrubbed things with vinegar, did loads of laundry & aired things out in the sun, the guys went to work on filling the hole. It was a very small screw hole, but any leak is unacceptable. Custom readouts on our electronic chart plotter are dandy, but this was a live ability issue. These are the reasons that wives jump ship and return to land. Because in a house you are less likely to open the linen closet and grab a wet blanket! All this took most of the day. Mike did the 2-part epoxy application (the product is called \”Splash Zone\” – how appropriate!) Scott applied mildew retardant to the interior of the lockers. By sunset we had put it all back together.

I have so much more to tell you but it is beyond the end of my short shift & am eager to shower & get to sleep as I have a blessed 8 hours off tonight! Whoo hoo! Getting up for the 4:00 a.m. shift is easy since it starts to get light by 4:30 a.m. Short shifts mean we have 2, two hour shifts: 4:00-6:00 pm & 6:00-8:00 pm. This rotates the schedule every day each one of us has the toughest shift (midnight – 4:00 a.m.) only once every 3 days. We were all game to try it this way & any of us can bring up the schedule for review and alteration as needed. It is fair, but not ideal. Harder to get our sleep patterns in a routine. I keep the watch schedule written out & posted since it is not something that you can easily memorize.

Going to sign off for now. More Sea Talk tomorrow. Stay tuned, I am behind on telling you about whales, dolphins, squid, flying fish & the mola mola (sun fish).

Scott & Cindy