Hey Virtual Voyagers!
Quick update for everyone following.
- Windy TV tracking. Later today (we hope) this should be back up and running due to the awesomness of Tedde and the team at Follow My Challenge. We’re linking our secondary communication system to the Windy TV app. I don’t have an idea of the frequency of the updates yet but you’ll get one at least once a day.
- Randall’s updates. We have a “hack” for this too. Unfortunately, in the short term (about a month) we won’t have images he will be writing updates. They might not be as frequent but you will get them.
Next steps. Randall is heading towards Australia to pull in for this round of repairs.We’re going to wait until then to think about how this will impact the larger project and the timeline. As always, we will figure it out.
Thanks for all the notes of support!
For those who follow Randall on his tracker. Do not panic. He’s fine. His tracker is not. I’m sure you all noticed the stormy weather over the last 24 hours. There were, of course, shenanigans. Randall is drying out and figuring things out and we’re going to try and get the tracker back online. Until then, we’ll continue to keep posting here as we get updates.
Noon Position: 47 03S 53 43E
Wind: NW 20 – 30
Sail: Working jib, two reefs
Sea: NW to 12; N to 7
Sky: Clear, for the moment
Cabin Temp: 56
Water Temp: 43
Miles last 24-hours: 136
Longitude Miles Made Good: 131
Miles since departure: 13,057
In the Heart of It
We’re in the heart of it now, the heart of what this low has to offer. Winds are mostly middle 30s, but blowing up a gale down here is a very gusty business, so 40 and above is not an uncommon. Neither is 18. Seas are steep and confused, and they’re dealing Monte his fair share of curve balls in the form of gusts followed by lulls, or seas that knock us sideways and essentially stop the boat in her tracks, a tough business for a wind vane. I get dirty looks whenever I go on deck.
It’s evening. Have been running under storm jib now for a couple hours. Wind are on port quarter and a heading more or less east. Seas are mainly northwest with the older train coming from the north. The older train is not very substantial at this point. Am taking the larger train slightly to port; the older one unfortunately is on the beam, but it is rarely breaking.
Night is coming on.
I need to pay attention here. All for now.
Noon Position: 46 48S 50 31E
Wind: NNE20 – 25
Sail: two reefs in working jib and three in the main
Sea: N6 but steep
Sky: Overcast with rain
Cabin Temp: 52
Water Temp: 41
Miles last 24-hours: 151
Longitude Miles Made Good: 143
Miles since departure: 12,921
0750 Land Ho. Ilse Crozets. First the upraised clouds and then the smudges on the horizon. Isle Cochon, surprisingly big and round; quite high because I’m 39 miles south of it. Then to the east, Isle Pingouins, much smaller and just shy of 20 miles distant.
I didn’t expect to see land, and it’s an emotional shock. Exciting. Eerie.
Then they are swallowed by cloud.
But their evidence is all around me in vastly increased bird life. I’ve seen my first Cape Petrel and first Giant Petrel, and then all the usual suspects, Wanderers, Black Browed, White Chinned Petrels, Prions, Skuas. An exciting day.
Weather from the north is building. We bash. I ran with the small staysail and three reefs in the main for a time, but it was too little sail. The working jib is back up and just in time for 30 knots. Rough ride.
The real low arrives tonight when this wind turns east. Long day and night ahead.
The Crozet Islands (French: Îles Crozet; or, officially, Archipel Crozet) are a sub-antarctic archipelago of small islands in the southern Indian Ocean. They form one of the five administrative districts of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands.
The Crozet Islands were discovered on 24 January 1772 by the expedition of French explorer Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne, aboard Le Mascarin. His second-in-command Jules (Julien-Marie) Crozet landed on Île de la Possession, claiming the archipelago for France. The expedition continued east and landed at New Zealand, where Captain Marion and much of his crew were killed and cannibalized by Maori. Crozet survived the disaster, and successfully led the survivors back to their base at Mauritius. In 1776 Crozet met James Cook at Cape Town, at the onset of Cook’s third voyage.Crozet shared the charts of his ill-fated expedition, and as Cook sailed eastward he stopped at the islands, naming the western group Marion and the eastern group Crozet. In the following years, sealers visiting the islands referred to both the eastern and western groups as the Crozet Islands, and Marion Island became the name of the larger of the two Prince Edward Islands, which were discovered by Captain Marion on the same expedition.
In the early 19th century, the islands were often visited by sealers, to the extent that the seals had been nearly exterminated by 1835. Subsequently, whaling was the main activity around the islands, especially by the whalers from Massachusetts. In 1841 there were a dozen whaleships around the islands. Within a couple of years this had increased to twenty from the United States alone. Such exploitation was short-lived, and the islands were rarely visited for the rest of the century.
Shipwrecks occurred frequently at the Crozet Islands. The British sealer, Princess of Wales, sank in 1821, and the survivors spent two years on the islands. The Strathmorewas wrecked in 1875. In 1887, the French Tamaris was wrecked and her crew stranded on Île des Cochons. They tied a note to the leg of an albatross, which was found seven months later in Fremantle, but the crew was never recovered. Because shipwrecks around the islands were so common, for some time the Royal Navy dispatched a ship every few years to look for stranded survivors. The steamship Australasian also checked for survivors en route to Australia.
Between 1924 and 1955, France administered the islands as a dependency of Madagascar. Crozet Islands became part of the French Southern Territories in 1955. In 1938, the Crozet Islands were declared a nature reserve. In 1961, a first research station was set up, but it was not until 1963 that the permanent station Alfred Faureopened at Port Alfred on Île de la Possession (both named after the first leader of the station). The station is staffed by 18 to 30 people (depending on the season) and does meteorological, biological, and geological research, maintains a seismograph and a geomagnetic observatory (IAGA code: CZT). The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization ( CTBTO ) has listening equipment on the island after the CTBTO disclosed that two of its stations, the other being on Ascension Island, detected what is believed to be an underwater, non-nuclear explosion off the coast of Argentina and believed to be a fatal accident of the ARA San Juan submarine in 2017.
The Crozet Islands are uninhabited, except for the research station Alfred Faure (Port Alfred) on the East side of Île de la Possession, which has been continuously manned since 1963. Previous scientific stations included La Grande Manchotière and La Petite Manchotière.
The Crozet islands have a maritime-influenced tundra climate (Köppen climate classification, ET). Monthly temperatures average around 2.9 °C (37 °F) and 7.9 °C (46 °F) in winter and summer respectively. Precipitation is high, with over 2,000 mm (78.7 in) per year. It rains on average 300 days a year, and winds exceeding 100 km/h (60 mph) occur on 100 days a year. The temperatures may rise to 18 °C (64.4 °F) in summer and rarely go below −5 °C (23 °F) even in winter.
Flora and fauna
The islands are part of the Southern Indian Ocean Islands tundra ecoregion that includes several subantarctic islands. In this cold climate plant life is mainly limited to grasses, mosses and lichens, while the main animals are insects along with large populations of seabirds, seals and penguins.
The Crozet Islands are home to four species of penguins. Most abundant are the macaroni penguin, of which some 2 million pairs breed on the islands, and the king penguin, home to 700,000 breeding pairs; half the world’s population. The eastern rockhopper penguin also can be found, and there is a small colony of gentoo penguins. There is also an endemic subspecies of the duck Eaton’s pintail. Other birds include black-faced sheathbills, petrels, and albatross, including the wandering albatross.
Mammals living on the Crozet Islands include fur seals, and southern elephant seals. Killer whales have been observed preying upon the seals. The transient killer whales of the Crozet Islands are famous for intentionally beaching (and later un-stranding) themselves while actively hunting the islands’ breeding seal population. This is a very rare behaviour, most often seen in the Patagonia region of Argentina, and is thought to be a learned skill passed down through generations of individual orca families.
The Crozet Islands have been a nature reserve since 1938. Introduction of foreign species (mice, rats, and subsequently cats for pest control) has caused severe damage to the original ecosystem. The pigs that had been introduced on Île des Cochons and the goats brought to Île de la Possession—both as a food resource—have been exterminated.
Another on-going concern is overfishing of the Patagonian toothfish and the albatrosspopulation is monitored. The waters of the Crozet Islands are patrolled by the French government.
In popular culture
A 2012 French film, Les Saveurs du Palais, begins and ends with scenes in the Crozet Islands. The film’s protagonist, a grandmotherly chef from the Périgord region of France who signed on as cook for the research station, had once been the personal chef to President François Mitterrand.
In the 1978 novel Desolation Island, the fifth book in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series, the fictional frigate HMS Leopard is severely damaged in battle in the southwestern Indian Ocean. The crew attempts to make landfall for repairs on one of the Crozet Islands. But they miss the island and continue to drift towards the east, unable to reverse direction.
Noon Position: 46 45S 47 02E
Sail: Big Genoa, poled out (damn but it looks huge)
Cabin Temp: 57
Water Temp: 45
Miles last 24-hours: 159 (I set ships clock back an hour, so this was a 23-hour day)
Longitude Miles Made Good: 147
Miles since departure: 12,770
Yesterday, Valentine’s Day, my wife posted an article on this site remembering warmly how things began for the two of us and what we have in common, even when proximity is not one of those things. Meanwhile, from the other side of the planet, her adventuresome husband posted an article about … the weather.
I have made the Figure 8 as public as possible, yet I still struggle with the sharing of things I hold as private, especially those things that are difficult and private, like my feelings about being away from my wife so frequently and for so long.
She’s earned the appellation “Best Wife in the World” for letting me go because it’s the one thing no cruiser I meet can comprehend, that I am off on a solo sail *and* am happily married to a woman who is not with me. When I tell the story, I credit that we met later in life (I was 40); we had our careers and our passions in order, that we don’t have the responsibility of children, that Jo comes from a sailing family, so understands (though does not share) the desire to explore exotic places by boat, and that I talked about my blue-water inclinations on the first date.
But the other half of that story is that my wife is an enabler. For some reason I can’t explain, she believes people *should* pursue their passions, and she is quite happy to push them over the starting line–shove in some cases–even when it appears to be to her disadvantage. Who knows if I would have quit a good job in San Francisco to cruise the Pacific if Jo hadn’t, on one of our hikes, said, “Do it–or quit talking about it! ” Or if, later, I would have launched from Mexico for Tahiti-and-beyond instead of Hawaii-and-home if, when I proposed the plan that would have me gone an extra year, she hadn’t said, “I think you should do that.”
So lucky me…I get to go. But when I go, I’m gone, and there’s the rub. Some of it is a sense of guilt for abandoning my manly responsibilities–delivering morning coffee, taking out the trash, weeding the yard, cleaning the gutters, unstopping the plumbing, jump-starting the car. But mostly it’s the company I miss, our walks, our long conversations at the dinner table, and the life we have built together that is put on hold when I let go the dock lines.
What I want to to express is simply that adventuring, for me, is emotionally complicated. I am fortunate beyond measure to be able to do what I’ve dreamed. Do I wish, at this moment, that I was at home mowing the lawn instead of watching a Storm Petrel dance at wave-top at 47 degrees south? No. Do I question my motives when there is a big blow bearing down on Mo and me that I’m not sure how to manage–when the risks of this reward loom? Yes.
And when the sea is its obsidian-blue and crashing, when trains of waves roam like immortal giants, when Orion rises right over the mast and the Southern Cross is still there to starboard, when the wild albatross glides in from afar, when the horizon is open and flecked with white in all directions, seemingly to infinity, when a day on the ocean feels like I am seeing the world truly and for the first time … do I still miss my wife? Yes.
Mail service being spotty mid ocean, I woke early on Valentine’s Day and pulled a card from my stash, composed a brief note, took pictures of the cover and the note, and emailed these to Jo. It was bitter-sweet, expressing affection for this woman I will not see for another six months. It heightened the sense of seperation rather than a sense of connection. But it also gave me pleasure to think she might feel warmed by the thoughts, and it fulfilled a duty that I enjoy fulfilling.
And then I utterly forgot to tell you about it.
Noon Position: 46 33S 43 26E
Sail: Twin headsails poled out
Cabin Temp: 54
Water Temp: 42
Miles last 24-hours: 176
Longitude Miles Made Good: 162
Miles since departure: 12,611
The difficulties of the night have been balanced out by the joys of the day. In the night, wind came into the middle 30s, and I struggled to get the twin headsails reefed right down without putting undo strain on sheets and the poles. When I went to bed, it was with the feeling that things still weren’t at their best.
But the morning came on clear and sunny. And the wind had eased. I unfurled our wings and we flew. By noon Mo had turned in another solid days run of over 170 miles and nearly 4 degrees of longitude.
Then I had a change of heart and turned Mo’s head due east…because of Rio de Janiero.
Have I mentioned, I hate Rio. I’m sure the city is lovely, but the expanse of sea just off its coast produces all the bad weather we have experienced since Ushuaia. Small, inoffensive lows that quietly sidle their way into the larger ocean pick up steam as they make their southing, and by the time they get below Cape Good Hope, they’re big and tight and roaring mad.
The one I’m referring to is at moment looking coy at 43 48S and 12 28E, but by they time it gets to my position of two days ago, winds near the center are forecast to be 50 plus. Add ten to that number is my experience.
My plan has been to make rapid northing. The target until noon was 46S and 46E at which point I’d turn east and push hard to make the top of Isle Crozet before the strong westerlies arrived. Being over the islands would allow me ample sea room to run off to the northeast if needed. It also meant that I’d get less powerful winds.
Complication. I was studying the islands this morning and the words “Antares Bank” caught my eye, an expanse of shallow water that extends a full degree north of the group. Pause for thought. Deep sea banks can cause large seas to pile up and break dangerously. One of the most famous of such banks is off Cape Horn where water shallows from several thousands of feet to a few hundred in the space of a few miles. Seas that have had the entire Pacific in which to roam are suddenly fenced in from below, and they react by shooting skyward and falling in on themselves. There is a now famous story of Miles and Beryl Smeeton who were attempting to round the Horn in their Tsu Hang and were pitchpoled due to such seas.
So, I’ve decided to go under the Crozets. The target now is some 370 miles east and just past an inconvenient shallow spot southeast of the most easterly island. If I get (and use wisely) the forecast winds between, there’s a good chance I’ll be well beyond the islands before this gift from Rio arrives.
We were both working at OpenTable. I remember turning to Andy and saying “Wait! You have a boat? Team building activity!” Poor Andy, I was his new boss, and I don’t think he knew the tornado of energy that had descended into his life. Fortunately for both of us this tornado also understood that while I had been brought up on boats also defiantly entered a junior racing week even though I hadn’t taken a lesson or soloed a boat in my life, that other people would be on the boat and we really should have someone other than Andy to make sure we got back to the dock. This tornado was not a good backup plan if something went awry.
Who knew that bashing about the San Francisco Bay with a boat full of slightly tipsy, boisterous and bold women would manifest a date with a quiet, reflective, thoughtful and curious sailor and a loud, industrious and energetic woman.
I know we didn’t.
Heck, I know many people around us thought this was an odd match.
At the beginning, we nearly didn’t make it. At the beginning the struggle between who you wanted to be (or thought you did at the time) and who I wanted to be nearly kept us apart.
But as much as we were different there was a long list of items we both loved. Everything from the muddy trails and white sands of Kauai, to the boat that was as close to home as a boat can be. I still miss Murre. She is a part of our story.
And here we are today. It’s valentine’s day, and we’re nearly 12,000 miles apart. I checked we’re as close to the other side of the planet from each other that we can get.
Such a poetic and romantic example of why our love story works. It’s our apart that makes us work.
Happy Valentine’s Day Randall!
Noon Position: 47 18S 39 28E
Wind: SWS 15-20
Sail: Full working jib
Sea: SW8, steep
Cabin Temp: 50
Water Temp: 38
Miles last 24-hours: 169
Longitude Miles Made Good: 155
Miles since departure: 12,435
This morning at 8 o’clock we passed beneath Marion Island, the larger of two in the Prince Edward Island group. When I came into the pilot house early, it was evident that something had changed as bird numbers were way up, especially prions, of which there were so many one had to think in terms of flocks. At our closest we were 45 miles south of the island, so no land was visible. The day was murky; we would have had to be close-in to spy it in any case.
The increase in birdlife around us is explained by an excerpt from Wikipedia, generously supplied by David R Kelton and waiting in my inbox when I first logged on for the morning’s weather:
“At least twenty-nine different species of birds are thought to breed on the islands, and it is estimated the islands support upwards of 5 million breeding seabirds, and 8 million seabirds total. Five species of albatross are known to breed on the islands, including the wandering albatross, dark-mantled, light-mantled, Indian yellow-nosed and grey-headed albatross. The islands also host fourteen species of petrel, four species of prion, the Antarctic tern, and the brown skua, among others seabirds. Four penguin species are found, including king penguins, Eastern rockhoppers, gentoos and macaroni penguins.”
Those numbers seem fantastic for islands, the largest of which is barely six miles across, but breeding sea birds are not usually particular about square footage.
Some of the first surveys of sea birds on these and many of the Southern Ocean islands were conducted, not by government or a university, but by a private citizen named Gerry Clark, this in the late 80s and in a small boat he built himself.
“I love the sea. I love birds. I love adventure,” writes Gerry, “In what better way could I indulge myself in my latter years than to undertake an expedition in the great Southern Ocean,” an expedition called THE TOTORORE VOYAGE.
Gerry owned an apple farm in New Zealand, where he built his 33 foot TOTORORE and set out, at the age of 55, to establish a base-line of seabird populations, then unknown, on the little-explored, remote and practically inaccessible islands of the Southern Ocean. The story is harrowing and brave and includes two dismastings, severe boat icing, and many other survival situations. It must rate as one of the most daring small boat voyages ever to succeed.
I switched to the twins at noon, as wind has come more into the west, and spent much of the afternoon “tuning” them in an ever increasing wind. We race tonight in winds touching 30. Mo hums when she surfs down the short, steep swell. Feels right on the edge.
Noon Position: 48 11S 35 41E
Sail: Working jib out full
Cabin Temp: 47
Water Temp: 39
Miles last 24-hours: 171
Longitude Miles Made Good: 163 (We made 4 degrees of longitude–only the second time so far.)
Miles since departure: 12,266
Mo’s motion woke me at dawn. Winds had backed into the southwest, driving the boat north and Mo lurched and shoved her way into a sea leftover from yesterday’s blow. I gybed to the northeast and that eased things.
I had thought to return to my bunk but was awake though it was just 5am. The day came on clear and sunny. I had a coffee and then another and then began to lay out into the cockpit my ever increasing collection of wet things, gloves, socks, shoe insoles, hats, fleeces, galley towels, floor mats, even my sheepskin boots that “never go on deck” needed airing. The sun was strong and wind was strong, but the cold (the cabin never got above 48 today) meant things dried slowly. Then a sneaker wave slapped Mo’s flank, sending spray over the entire aft half of the boat. Everything was soaked. My second layout out of wet things was more strategic.
Winds had eased some by mid morning, so I went to full sail and we flew, dancing on the edge of control but never quite sliding out of it. Monte gave me a wink. We were all having fun.
All morning I worked on deck because I could; and I went without my foulie jacket because I could, but when I finally came below for a pot of oatmeal, I was on the verge of shivering. My hands tingled from the cold.
Yesterday was our 30th day at sea since departing Ushuaia on January 12th. I’d like to say that after 30 days sailing at 47 degrees south and below, I am finally comfortable and in the groove. But I am not. There is too much raw power down here for one to settle in. One is constantly anticipating future days and weathers or cruising the deck for gear that is on the verge of failure.
Today the lashings on Monte’s control lines let go without warning, this after 10,000 trouble-free miles. The cover on the main halyard has chafed where it rubbed against the running backstays during the last blow. The poles have begun to work back and forth in their mast socket, and thus far I’ve not been able to stop them. The use down here is hard use; the lows are one after the other.
At times one can resent the birds that are so perfectly adapted to this environment. Even the tiny storm petrel, hardly the size of a mouse, is running at wave-top during the heaviest of weathers, while I and my tank labor on.
But that resentment is balanced by the fact of seeing them at all, and with my own eyes, of watching Mo crest a wave beyond imagining, and another, of experiencing this inconceivable world.
Noon Position: 48 55S 31 41E
Wind: W30, gusts to 40
Sail: Storm Jib
Cabin Temp: 50
Water Temp: 41
Miles last 24-hours: 150
Longitude Miles Made Good: 141
Miles since departure: 12,095
The front, dark and heavy, moved through with rain, but not much more wind than we’d had. That was at 6pm. Two hours later I put the storm jib back up. Winds had moved to a steady 30 knots and the barometer was still dropping. By midnight you could feel that the weather was on us by the roar in the rigging. The wind gauge oscillated 20 – 40 knots, due west. A note in the log fron 1am says, “Wind ranges are stunning. Blowing 17 to 45 now but the running average is 35-40. One gust to 50 so far.” At 2am I thought I’d seen what this blow had in mind. I’d not touched the storm jib sheet or Monte’s control lines in several hours, so I hit the sack.
The morning came on clear and wind howled. The sea, now mature, ran high from the west with smaller trains from the southwest and northwest. Mo got shoved around as if she weighed like a bird.
In the late afternoon, the wind began to ease, and then the swell stood up and started to break. This is the dangerous time, and I was keen not to repeat the knockdown Mo and I experienced in the Pacific back in December at a similar point in that gale. That event happened at night, so what the dynamics were, in fact, are not to be known, but I think I was pushing a course that put the boat too beam onto one of trains.
Here we had a dominant west and a smaller northwest swell, and the later was again beam on. I adjusted Monte as best I could, trying to take the west swell a little to port without being even with the northwest train. This mostly worked. A few seas caught Mo just out of step but only one broke bodily onto her, pushing her over and (somehow) opening a galley cupboard. The contents, dishes, flatware, and that evening’s beer, flew toward the head. The can of beer exploded against the bulkhead. One dish fragmented into a million pieces; I know because I had to lift them from the floor by hand, having misplaced the dustpan. No water in the boat.
Now it is evening and the sea is down. The working jib is out and pulling and we make a happy 7 knots in a 25 knot breeze.
Noon Position: 49 22S 28 14E
Sail: Staysail and main
Sky: Drizzle and Fog
Cabin Temp: 51
Water Temp: 40
Miles last 24-hours: 109
Longitude Miles Made Good: 83
Miles since departure: 11,945
South, south the wind keeps pushing us until we bottom out at 49 23S at 10amf. The fog is inescapable, and even the birds have given up and gone elsewhere. Not a soul down here but us.
Then ever so slowly the wind turns into the north and hardens, first to 20, then 30, then 35.
We are still close hauled to make a little better than east. I reef the main once, twice, three times; then the jib. Finally I change to the small orange staysail and main with three reefs. That is comfortable and fast.
Seas are steep and break readily. Water everywhere. When on the foredeck on all fours letting go the staysail gaskets, I break a cardinal rule, which says never stick your leg out toward the weather rail. A sea climbs aboard and into my foulies to the knee, then back down into my boot. Lucky–left leg only. Another time a sneaker wave throws me bodily against the shrouds. Water down my front. I’m wet all over.
By 3pm I’ve seen 38 and 40 on the meter where the forecast calls for a flat 30. We are too fast at 8 knots and I don’t know where this wind is going. I drop the main and button her up for a blow. This is a task in a big sea, dropping the heavy boom to its crutch without losing control, lashing the cradle cover where the main likes to blow out in higher winds. It takes a solid hour. Now we are running under staysail only.
As reward for our hard work, winds drop to 25 and the sky is clears. Our speed, 4 knots. We wallow.
I am beat. I have lunch, a can of tomato soup with a can of whole fish bought in Ushuaia. Then I go back on deck, drop the staysail and let out half the working jib and again make a course east at a respectable speed.
The sun makes the sea sharp and clear. Above it, now, are Albatross, count them, six, eight, ten. Black browed, gray headed and Wandering.
Sail set, I go below, change into dry clothes and nap lightly for two hours.
Sundown. Winds are easting a bit and have pushed a little south into our course. To weather, a dark mass. Phase two approaches…
Noon Position: 48 29S 26 12E
Sail: Main and working jib full
Sky: FOG. Can see maybe 30 feet past the bow.
Cabin Temp: 51
Water Temp: 39
Miles last 24-hours: 144
Longitude Miles Made Good: 138
Miles since departure: 11,845
On deck this morning, another sprinkling of critters, maybe fifty from bow to stern. Mo ran all night with wind on the quarter and then the beam and took a fair bit of water over the cabin, which deposited these shrimps liberally over the boat’s supposedly non-wetted surfaces. As a measure of how high the spray got–I found one stuck at arms length up the working jib. Like being shot from a cannon and ending up stuck to the top of the circus tent.
This afternoon I got out the macro lense and was amazed at the detail. A body and appendages that could be made of spun glass they are so clear and delicate. Big, black but blank eyes that appear to be designed to distinguish one thing–light concentrations. And overall, more the body form of a grasshopper than a shrimp.
What are they? Why are we seeing them here, on the Atlantic side, and not on the Pacific? What do they eat and who eats them?
Species distribution is interesting to contemplate. Why is the Albatross prevalent here and not in the northern part of the south Pacific or anywhere in the Atlantic? Likely because the wind is here and these waters produce more food. Too far north and a gliding bird runs into the Horse Latitudes, where it would be reduced to paddling like a duck and dunking for flying fish.
But the flying fish, for example, is a different matter. Why is it limited mostly to the tropics and not here and why is this shrimp not there?
Lacking access to facts, the contemplation typically ends right about there.
Tactics. We carried on to the east until 10am, and I thought maybe we’d skirted the area of calm in the forecast altogether. I smiled. Lucky us. But then the wind began to veer itself in that direction and drop right away, and it was decision time again.
One thing singlehanding provides is a wealth of decision-making opportunities and an unambiguous delegation-of-responsibility flow chart.
After poling the various stakeholders and checking-in with the board, I’ve decided to break with protocol and make the decision myself. I’ve chosen to follow the wind down and down until it comes back at first into the north and then northwest starting tonight.
Was that the right decision, asks a still small voice. We’re almost to 49S now.
My sense of increasing vulnerability the further south we get to one side, the weather forecast for the next week shows very similar wind velocities between 47S and 50S and plenty of opportunity to work north later in the week.
But shouldn’t we tack north now, says the voice. The wind will veer sooner to our favor up there.
No. See that swell from the north. The moment we come about, we’re nose into it. We’ll go nowhere with 10 knots of wind true.
But what if the wind goes due east; should we tack around then?
Worry about that if it happens.
As I type wind has backed from 80 degrees true to 50 degrees true. Let’s hope that’s the sign the change is coming.
Opened my first jar of Branson Pickle today, a delicacy first discovered aboard Arctic Tern, on which I was crewing the Northwest Passage in 2014. Thanks to Les and Ali Parsons for the introduction and for teaching me to bake bread on a boat.
Ate the last San Francisco orange today. Brought aboard on October 28, 2017 and still delicious.
Noon Position: 48 00S 22 49E
Wind: NNW 25
Sail: Main and working jib, both with two reefs
Cabin Temp: 52
Water Temp: 38 (!)
Miles last 24-hours: 174
Longitude Miles Made Good: 170 (4.24 degrees of longitude–best day by far)
Miles since departure: 11,701
Midnight. It is raining. Total darkness except for the glow from running lights. The white steaming light is on too, illuminating the foredeck and the working jib, half rolled in and pulling hard.
I am standing in the cockpit and have been for some time now. I’m trying to figure my next move. One forecast calls for the current 25 knot winds with some gusts to 30 to hold for a time and then diminish. Another says winds are going to mid into the 30s. In the latter scenario, I want to fly the small orange staysail; in the former I’ll stay with things as they are. Mostly what I want is not to be on deck again in three hours. The set I decide should last the night. I look into the darkness and feel for the wind to tell me what it will do. Its only hint is that it’s not changed much since sundown. In the south, that’s not much of a hint.
The boat lights throw themselves bravely into the darkness and are quickly consumed. But sometimes they bring back a breaker or two, a pale swoosh as Mo heaves. Then my eye lands on something close in and too small to be a breaking sea. As we approach, it resolves into a gadfly petrel perched on the water, presumably sleeping. Mo rushes by, her gunnels missing the bird by but a few feet.
With a start, it spreads its wings and is immediately over my head. It hovers there gray and white against the black, it’s quick, broken movements suggesting rebuke, as if I am Acteon “who discovered the goddess bathing and his hounds tore him.” Then it backs away and is covered by the night.
That’s it. Nothing more happened. I decided to leave the sails as they were. I went below and to my bunk and to sleep. But for one brief moment that night I saw something; I caught glimpse of a secret.
Two nights ago, northerly wind pushed us below 48S, a magic line I was hoping not to cross again until the approach to the Horn. All day the wind has been veering north and tonight it will continue to veer east, pushing us even further south. How far I do not know but I think on it with a certain dread. It is as though the southern ocean is a giant whirlpool sucking us slowly, ineluctably to its center. The old whalers talked of this, of encountering cruel winds that pushed them further down and down until the days began to grow dark and ice formed on the rigging. Some never came back from that. It’s a very Kurtzian place, the south.
Noon Position: 48 02S 18 35E
Wind: NW 15-25
Sail: Working jib full, wind on port quarter
Cabin Temp: 53
Water Temp: 42
Miles last 24-hours: 163
Longitude Miles Made Good: 155
Miles since departure: 11,527
Yesterday. A half day of open blue sky and sparkling blue ocean. At 47 and a half south. If I had not seen it, I would not have believed. I spent the entire morning shooting video (below), whose images I loved so much I could not edit any out, but instead am presenting a full five minutes of boat on ocean from various angles.
The night before had seen one squall after another taking winds to 30 and requiring I run the twins reduced so I could sleep. That made the hours of uninterrupted sun the more surprising.
In the afternoon the world reverted to its mean, cold self. Cloud came in heavy and wind increased to the low 30s, due west. I rolled in the twins, then rolled in more. Then more.
Overnight I ran with just a scratch of a working jib, and we flew.
And in the morning, on day 26 of our departure from Ushuaia, we passed under Africa, or, to be more specific, under the longitude for Cape Town, after 3,567 miles of easting.
This circumnavigation around the south is variously known as a “passage via the three great capes” or “the five great capes” or just “the great capes passage.” But however it is called, Cape of Good Hope, at the southern end of the continent of Africa in longitude 18E, is one of the biggies. In our case, though, the title is appropriate in name only as said cape is a full 800 miles north.
For me its a first big step. If the the story of our time in the south has three chapters, this concludes chapter one (Cape Horn to Cape Good Hope) and will see us, in a few days, pass from the South Atlantic Ocean into the Indian. The next chapter will conclude when we pass under Cape Leeuwin in longitude 116E, which defines the southwestern tip of Australia and is just over 4,000 miles further on. The last will be the return to Cape Horn.
No formal blog tonight. An active weather system is moving in during the time I usually write, and I need to be on deck.
Spectacular day. Blue sky for its entirety and a nice fast wind. Also our best run in a while: 171 miles over the ground noon to noon and 165 longitude made good miles. That’s 4 whole degrees of easting in 24 hours. Need many more of those.
Noon Position: 47 26S 10 46E
Sail: Twins, two rolls
Cabin Temp: 50
Water Temp: 42
Miles last 24-hours: 142 (Another 23-hour day due to setting ship’s clock back.)
Longitude Made Good: 133
Miles since departure: 11,192
In the morning, the working jib woke me. Rattling and banging against the shrouds, it confirmed my bet had been a poor one. Wind had not built overnight. Rather, it had gone to calm, and my decision to run conservatively–jib only–to follow the forecast rather than the hint of an evening breeze already on the wain had cost us miles.
I rose and launched the twins before coffee. Too much day has already been wasted, I thought. But this too was a mistake. Usually I play it slow in the morning, deferring major deck work until the wake-me-up hot drink and, if it’s cold and wet, a hot breakfast. We’re in a hurry, but we’re not racing. Without my usual jolt, lines became tangled and I, confused. The work was slow.
First it drizzled; then it rained. All morning the hefty swell shoved at Mo like a bully, and by way of proclaiming this an insult, she slapped her sails and jerked at lines in their chocks. I was on deck frequently trying to tune out this chafe-making, and each time I came below, I brought with me more wet. Boiling water for another coffee fogged the windows. The ceiling dripped with moisture. The little rug in the pilot house was visibly saturated. I was already cold and it was only 6am.
All the while we made a measly 4 knots.
I had expected another good mileage day. Two in a row! But no. We wallowed.
The swing between confidence and its lack I find difficult to manage. One day we make good miles and I am happy; the next is like today, and I sink. We have so far to go, I think, as many miles back to Cape Horn as we have already come from San Francisco. And in this ocean I feel exposed. A rank novice in a realm that eats novices like candy. So much I don’t know. So many mistakes already made. So so far… Am I like Santiago? Have I gone too far?
But I don’t want confidence or its lack, I think. Both are an annoyance, a distraction. Did you ever want of confidence in the Pacific? No, you just sailed. You did not think.
What I want is to be here, to figure out this groove, to ride that swell, to catch today’s wind in the sails just so. To solve this problem knowing that tomorrow there will be another. To watch that albatross and know that I am privileged to observe his absolute grace. To learn how to survive in this wild place. That’s the dream. That’s the plan.
But one does not simply divorce oneself of emotion overnight.
In the afternoon, a break! Wind has been building. Mo is making time again, wings spread wide. And then like a curtain being drawn, the sky clears. Puffy clouds and blue. I stare up as if seeing something for the first time. The log says this is our fourth short burst of sun since departing Ushuaia twenty-four days ago.
Then it hits me. Sun! I dash below for all the wet things I can lay hands on and spread them in the cockpit. I open hatches. I mop up the floor; wipe the ceiling.
Then I sit on deck with my boots off.
A black-browed albatross plops in the sea next to the boat and watches as we pass.
I am in the heaving cobalt blue southern ocean, and I get to lock eyes with an albatross.
Noon Position: 47 40S 7 32E
Wind: NW 15 – 25
Sail: Working jib out full
Sea: NW 8
Cabin Temp: 53
Water Temp: 41
Miles last 24-hours: 163 (moved clock back, so this mileage from a 23-hour day)
Longitude Made Good: 156 (best day for easting since started tracking LMG. This constitutes 3.81 degrees of longitude and brings our average LMG since Ushuaia to 136 miles a day. Up from 133. Goal is 150.)
Miles since departure: 11,050
We’re riding over a large low pressure system, which has backed off a bit this morning. So, I’ve taken the opportunity to do a small chore on the list for a while, that is, change out the starboard working jib sheet.
See video for the rest…
Noon Position: 47 21S 3 43E
Sail: Twins poled
Sea: NW 4
Sky: FOG FOG FOG
Cabin Temp: 52
Water Temp: 42
Miles last 24-hours: 142 (I set ship’s clock back one hour yesterday; so this represents a 23-hour day. Still disappointing.)
Longitude Made Good: 123
Miles since departure: 10,887
Busy day, both from the standpoint of sail management and from that of chores in prep for our next series of lows.
Wind did a one-eighty on me again last night. Came on deck at 3am to find our easy and fast reach east under double-reefed main and working jib had described a gentle but rapid curve to the northwest without spilling a drop of wind. Ran out the poles, put us back east and then returned to bed. Mo rolled in the fresh swell and sleep was illusive.
I know these wind shifts are coming, but their actual arrival is never quite what the forecast suggests. In this case, from below the only indication we had changed course was that Mo started to pound as she turned into the north swell.
Winds went soft in the middle of the day but are building again and are increasingly northwest with more north forecast overnight. I gybed the poles after lunch–what a mess of cockpit lines that exercise makes!–and am now waiting to see how long I can carry the two headsails before having to shift back to main and working jib. I’d be pleased if the weather decided that before my sleep cycle began, but am not ever so optimistic.
A cold dry fog all day, so I’ve been happy to have the sail work and chores to keep me warm.
The chores are items I’ve wanted to get banged out before the next lows and include putting a few more wraps on the large genoa furling drum; I also lowered the line’s entry angle so that it won’t chafe on the upper lip of the opening when the sail is reefed (#fail; still chafes).
I havn’t fixed the aft compartment manual bilge pump yet (ugly job to get to it) but did bail a few gallons out with a portalbe electric pump I keep for just such occasions. The pump has about 20 feet of hose attached and a length of electrical wire nearly that of the boat so that I plug the pump into the battery bank and still get it to any compartment that may need drying out in a hurry.
The water is getting into that aft compartment via a pipe elbow near the transom used for the passage of electrical wire, now plugged with silicon. This is one of the many items in the category of “It Just Never Occurred to Me”–forgivable in many boats, but not one headed to the south.
I’m also moving the ship’s clock back an hour each day until we get to Greenwich Mean Time–yesterday, today, and tomorrow–so it’s already 5pm as I type and is starting to get dark.
Found cans of chocolate stout in the bilge a few days ago. Nice way to end a cold day. Click send. Open can. You see my motivation to finish.
Noon Position: 47 24S 0 40E
Sail: Working Jib and Main out full; wind abeam
Cabin Temp: 51
Water Temp: 42
Miles last 24-hours: 160
Longitude Made Good: 145
Miles since departure: 10,745
Today’s post is a video log. Enjoy.
PS. In the video I reference then current wind conditions as north at 10. By way of update, the Southern Ocean is now producing north winds at 25. Were on a close reach with two reefs in everything and headed SSE.
Noon Position: 47 34S 06 23W
Sail: Working jib, full; wind on starboard quarter
Sky: Fog, then high cloud
Cabin Temp: 53
Water Temp: 40 (note much colder)
Miles last 24-hours: 142
Miles since departure: 10,428
The Southern Ocean is working me today.
The forecast called for wind to do a 360 overnight as the center of a low rolled over us, and given there was little advantage in tacking through it, I planned to let Mo ride all the way around. But at 2am wind did a 180 and never completed the circle. I had to tack around anyway, an eerie and disorienting exercise in pitch dark and fog.
When we had daylight, I rigged the twins and anticipated canting them so that the southwest wind would drive us east. Success…for a few hours, but wind soon built to over 30, at which point I couldn’t reef the inner sail enough and still catch the winds. So, down came the poles. We rode the afternoon on the working jib free, wind on the starboard quarter.
In the late afternoon wind came on from the west. I poled out the twins but again wind built as the sky darkened and as I type we have 15 – 33 gusting 38. The twins are deeply furled, and all would be well except for the short but steep swell that keeps knocking the stern around. Poor Monte has his hands full as we teeter on that sharp edge between balance and wipe out.
Noticeably colder. The cabin says 48 degrees, but on deck, where I have spent most of my day, it feels arctic. Recently I said that my fingerless wool gloves allowed me to work on deck “indefinitely.” I would like to amend that to “definitely longer” than bare hands but not indefinite.” I’ve had four cups of coffee today and two of cocoa and am looking forward to boiled soup tonight.
The To-Do list got a chunk of fresh inventory this morning. The aft bilge pump has lost suction. Don’t know why as it’s new. The key that holds the pintle of the Watt and Sea in place is missing, though it was lashed to the rail with a keeper line. When I lifted Wattsy this morning, he came clean out of his bracket. And the furling line on the big genoa needs a few more wraps. This is disappointing as I’d thought I’d thrown too many on the spool to begin with, but the much stronger winds of late have shown that to be an error.
Noon Position: 47 22S 09 27W
Sail: Big genoa, full main, close reach
Sea: N3, S4
Sky: Just gray. Gray everywhere
Cabin Temp: 53
Water Temp: 47
Miles last 24-hours: 135
Miles since departure: 10,286
How good it is to have slept well.
Just after last night’s post, I suited up, went back on deck and lofted the starboard pole. Wind had dropped to 10 knots, and the sail emptied and filled on the low, slow swell with a slap that sounded like rifle fire and shook the boat to its bones, a problem the pole solves.
Then I had a beer, cooked up a pot of shepherd’s pie (there were carrots in the forepeak–I’d forgotten!) and went directly to my bunk. A quite night in the Southern Ocean, what a gift; must take advantage.
Mo coasted easterly on a mostly flat sea. As I slept in my luxuriously mostly flat berth, the twins growled and grumbled for want of wind, but the complaints were not serious. I let them go. Each time I rose, the north wind that was due in the wee hours and would require sail changes had not arrived. I returned to the delicious, full-body warmth of the bag and dreamt.
At 4am I found Mo headed SSE but at 3 knots. The northerly had arrived, but it was gossamer yet. I opted for two more hours of sleep.
At 6am I took the poles down and put Mo on a reach with the big genoa leading the way and the main backing her up. We immediately went to 7 knots. Then there came a twang of guilt. That two extra hours of sleep cost us several miles of easting. One morning of laziness, no big deal, but make a habit of it and it could cost us days; it could cost us the Horn.
But I had slept! A new man was I. I could fill Mo’s sails with my own lungs.
So forget it!
Wind has come lightly from the north all day. With our big sails up, we have pushed on it good fashion, first in heavy fog, then drizzle, then just plain gray.
With the boat so still, I decided to make an egg scramble for breakfast. Onions, sausage, cheese, four eggs. All was well until I went on deck to tweak Monte’s control line and got distracted by a pod of white-sided dolphins racing Mo’s bow wave. When below again, I found I had burnt the eggs and filled the cabin with burnt-egg smoke. Even with hatches opened, the smell persisted and could only be eradicated, I decided, by baking bread.
Lunch was fresh bread with peanut butter and apricot jam. I had to stop myself after four slices.
In about three days we will reach the prime meridian, that line of zero degrees longitude that passes north/south through Greenwich and is, for all practical purposes, where time begins. In a week or so we should be below Cape Good Hope. In another 40 or so days, we’ll begin to pass under Australia. Another 40 or so days, Cape Horn.
But today I don’t have to worry about all those miles. I slept well, have fresh bread, and Mo flies on a flat sea.
Noon Position: 47 10N 12 32W
Wind: W15 – 20
Sail: Twins poled out
Cabin Temp: 57
Water Temp: 45
Miles last 24-hours: 137 (Low mileage due to light wind and that I set ship’s clock back an hour.)
Longitude Made Good: 129*
Miles since departure: 10,151 (Wow, in raw miles we have completed one quarter of the Figure 8!)
*For the Southern Ocean loop, I have begun to track Longitude Made Good. Essentially this is how much easting we’ve made in the previous 24 hours at an assumed latitude of 47S. So, 15 40W (yesterday noon) – 12 32W (today) = 3.17** degrees of longitude times 40.9 (miles to a degree of Longitude at 47S) = 129 miles of longitude made good. We are averaging something like 135LMG per day since departing Ushuaia. The goal is 150.
**Minutes of longitude need to be converted to base 100.
Today’s addition to the encyclopedia of sail handling technique: running on two headsails with one pole.
This may cause some to wonder, “Isn’t that a little like wearing one sock?” Such a thing could be seen as a fashion statement (on Robert Deniro, not on Randall) or as the height of practicality (saving the other sock for a rainy day), but most likely the wearer of one sock is just a goober.
Or Captain Goober, in my case. My niece, Sophie, sussed right away that I dislike the sobriquet, “goober,” bestowed upon me lovingly by my wife. My wife means to say “peanut.” I hear “booger.” As in, “Hey booger, nice sock.” Sympathizing with this dislike, Sophie appended “Captain” to the fore part, and I have been Captain Goober ever since.
But I had my reasons.
Up at 4am today to run out the poles. The night gave me good sleep in two-hour shifts from about 10pm and during which wind softened. By 2am it had backed due west, but I opted for one more sleep cycle and for light before having at an exercise that isn’t complicated but does require some concentration. Even with clear skies and an early sun, I was a bit groggy, and my sail handling suffered. At one point I grabbed the wrong “lift” line and managed to heave the starboard pole smartly down upon my head. Which woke me right up.
We ran on poled twin headsails until noon, but by then wind had begun to ease into the northwest. I bent the twins around with it, but by early afternoon, they could bend no more. Winds were too light to run on but one headsail, so I simply dropped one pole and sheeted in the starboard twin.
I’ll grant you it looks odd, but the windward sail does have the effect of dampening the boat’s roll, and we’ve been averaging 7 knots.
At 10am I saw a seal. Flippers straight up in the air and a belly, to be exact. Glossy brown. About four feet long.
Once when making for Sitka, Alaska, I was 600 miles south of Seward when I saw a sea otter. It was a similarly gray morning and as the boat passed a large clump of kelp, there it was, dog-faced and furry, staring back at me. What an amazing thing to see so far from shore. My naturalist friends agreed, saying that sea otters, like sea gulls, do not willingly go to sea, and in the case of the former, are never seen more than a mile offshore. More likely the sighting was of a seal, they said.
Looks like they were right. So far today, I’ve seen three. Same posture in all cases, flippers in the air for warmth.
But from where? My friend Jessie suggests Fur Seals from South America, but north of me by about 500 miles are some rocks known as Tristan de Cunha and Gough Island. Could that be their origin?
During the sunny parts of the day, another unusual sighting, multiple Wandering Albatross. Wanderers have thus far been few and far between and never approach Mo closer than 50 yards. But today, three traveling in company, and many times during the course of several hours (but never when I had the camera) one glided in to inspect Mo and her strange occupant yelling, “Hello.” Close enough I could see the blacks of their eyes and the yellow around the mandible. Not close enough I could hear the air move over their wings.
(****FREDDY albatrtoss photo here)
Such an animal!–to so expertly extract so much energy from moving air that one can appear to be embedded in it. This while Mo and and I gyrate and flog to make a fraction of their speed with no similar grace.
I would like to ride on the back of an albatross, if only to get a feel for what muscles move what parts of the body when the bird surfs over wave-tops, when it banks in high arcs, for from all outward appearances it moves not at all. Albatross could be carved from blocks of wood.
Fog and drizzle coming in as I type. Wind is easing. Now about 10 knots. The sails slap a the tops of waves. I want an easy night and sleep, which requires an easy, consistant wind. But wind is due to go north in a few hours, requiring that I drop the port pole and raise the main before sunup.
Noon Position: 47 09S 15 40W
Sail: Storm Jib
Sea: W and SW, steep to 15
Cabin Temp: 55
Water Temp: 49
Miles last 24-hours: 165
Miles since departure: 10,014
Our “little low” (my words, now eaten for breakfast and lunch) came on to blow last night. The forecast called for winds to 30 that, at 1am, went 40 gusting 45. Or, more precisely, wind went 18 to 45–the typical southern ocean spread. I had to bring in the working jib, which felt as if it was going to make Mo airborne or burst; neither are allowed.
By morning the sea was the steepest I’ve seen with a train from the west and southwest crashing and mushrooming heavily. Wind had dropped to 25, but I left Mo on storm jib until noon thinking that going slowly in such a boulder garden a good idea. It is difficult to go slowly when we have so far to go, and I looked forward to the sail change.
There was some sun, so I set the solar panels and rigged the genoa poles for the west wind to 25 called for in the forecast.
After the noon log, I set about making sail changes, but suddenly winds went 35 gusting 40 from the southwest. The sky came in dark and a sea laid Mo over and knocked down both solar panels. While I was switching back to Monte’s “heavy wind” air blade, a wave pooped the cockpit entirely and put several gallons of water down the companionway hatch, which I had left lowered for some much needed fresh air in my otherwise unventilated living quarters.
Below boat motion was such that when you returned the coffee container the cupboard, it flew back at you along with the jar of curry paste and the peanut butter before you can shut the door.
By late afternoon, I’d had it and started yelling at inanimate objects that failed to follow my orders.
The frustration is due, at least partly, to lack of sleep. With this active weather cycle, I’ve been up more frequently than usual. And it’s been rough. Mo’s berths have lee cloths for protection against being thrown to the floor, but they don’t keep one from flopping around as the boat heaves and rolls. I use extra cushions and pillows to create full-body wedges, but the result is not always satisfactory. Nights have been broken up due to this and being on deck. And for some reason, naps of late aren’t producing any actual napping.
This “boiling over” is now something I watch for as a cue that I’m beginning to run tired.
Not that I have an immediate solution, except to note it and be extra careful.
On the bright side, we are making miles (165 yesterday) in the right direction and are now closer to the Cape of Good Hope than Cape Horn.
I’ve also discovered that my fingerless wool gloves do an excellent job of keeping hands warm even when sopping wet. The hand warms the wet wool which acts as an insulation against both wind and hand contact with cold metal rails, and such. I can now go indefinitely without needing to take a break for a hand warm-up.