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July 8, 2018

Day 190/20

Noon Position: 38 07N 123 30W
Course/Speed: ESE7
Wind: WNW15-25
Bar: 1019, falling
Sea: NW7-10
Sky: Clear
Cabin Temperature: 62
Water Temperature: 51
Sail: #2, full

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 161
Miles this leg: 2,741
Avg. Miles this leg: 137

Wind came on fresh after dark. By midnight I had three reefs in the main and two in the working jib. We took the short, steep, bullying sea between port quarter and beam on, and Mo steered heavily. Deep reefs and still too much sail, but I wanted the speed.

By early morning, winds were steady in the low 30s; the knocks were laying Mo over, putting the boom end in the water. I hauled in the main and went to jib alone. “Absolute dark. Terrible boat motion,” I wrote in the log. I barely slept.

Wind continued to build after sunup. Now 35 was common. I tucked in a bit more of the jib. The sea crashed loudly all around. Mo raced on.

The route into Drakes Bay crosses the north-bound shipping lanes out of San Francisco, and given the murk, I’d run the radar all night. Now the batteries needed topping off, so I lowered the Watt and Sea hydrogenerator. A snapping sound and the downhaul went limp. I peered over the transom. There the unit drug in the water like a dead fish. It had slipped its track. At least the timing was good, I thought.

By 11:30, land ho! The high headlands to the north of Point Rays floated black above the haze.
But only haze and fog ahead. Then, as we closed the coast, the sea exchanged its blue for an emerald green and became confused. Mo heaved. Two ships in rapid succession. Both veered slightly to accommodate the tiny, wild beast at their bows, for which kindness I was grateful.

At nine miles off, slowly the high, kingly rock of Point Reyes emerged from fog. Bold, proud, immense, its three-story lighthouse a tiny speck near the summit. Here the water turned milky. Murres, Cormorants, and the red-footed Guillemot became thick, as thick as the Prions, Petrels, and Albatross at the entrance to Cook Bay so many months ago, and for the same reason–to celebrate the surging of water from below.

And then it happened, the thing so dreamed of. We rounded the sea buoy and turned north into the calm, flat water of Drake Bay, in past Chimney Rock and the old lifeboat station where I furled the jib, rigged the anchor and weighed below the familiar sandstone cliffs. The smell of land, of drying grass and warmed earth, of chaparral and pine.

After eight months and some 27,000 miles, Mo was home.

The wind howled all night. In the morning, fog dripped from the rigging. I weighed at noon.

3pm. I make a course south along the cliffs, along Drake’s Estero pouring out, along Limantour and that lone Eucalyptus, the sentinel of Coast Camp; by white and gleaming Stormy Stack, along Palo Marin. Here the south tower of the Golden Gate emerges. Twin Peaks is visible.

4pm. Past the ragged and broken red walls surrounding Tennessee Cove and Rodeo Cove. Then we round Point Bonita. Now sun. Wind is light. I angle Mo well over toward Mile Rock to ensure we cross our outbound track emphatically on the westward side of the bridge. I don’t know why this is important.

6pm. Under the mighty Golden Gate and on to Cavallo Point, where my sister-in-law, her husband and two children are waiting on a rocky ledge with Joanna, my wife.

Here, on October 28, 2017, Mo and I departed for a Figure 8 Voyage around the world. Last-minute chores and well-wishers had interrupted final goodbyes between Joanna and me–a quick hug, then slip the lines. Out of Horseshoe Cove, I raised sail and flicked off the engine. I had left many times before, but this departure put in my chest a tightness, a concentration of loneliness, apprehension. What were the challenges before me? Could I get there and back? Or, would I be the man who, like Santiago, went too far? I turned for one last glimpse of Joanna on the quay. One last wave. But the fog had taken her and the point and the hill. Before I felt quite ready, she was gone.

Today, no such injustice. It’s a bright, warm evening in San Francisco, and we wave like mad. We wave and wave as the everlasting tide embraces Mo, drawing her deeper and deeper into the bay.

 

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As those who follow Randall and Mo on Facebook and the Tracker will know, Randall is in. Mo sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday afternoon. But the posts are not quite home yet. There remain two to complete the story, and this is the first of those…

July 7, 2018

Day 189/19

Noon Position: 39 01N 126 47W
Course/Speed: ESE7-8
Wind: NNW17-21
Bar: 1025, falling
Sea: NW6+
Sky: Overcast
Cabin Temperature: 69
Water Temperature: 59
Sail: Working jib, one reef; main, two reefs; reaching

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 128
Miles this leg: 2580
Avg. Miles this leg: 136

Unmitigated sun yesterday. A sky clear to all horizons save aft, where an indistinct line of cloud sat, unmoving.

I prepared for the joy of a starry night, only our second since departing Hawaii, and some sextant work. Then as the sun sank lower and lower, so the cloud astern approached until it took the sky just as the day ended. I saw Venus for a moment, winking on and off through growing obscurity as if signaling for help.

Then the wind died.

There is no justice at sea. None at all.

Today the sky remains gray and threatening, but there is no shortage of wind. We have finally reached the edge of the northwesterlies, which are, here, a compressed tongue of air 200 miles wide and pushed southward as if being squeezed like a watermelon seed. What is doing the squeezing I can’t say. But slowly since morning winds have built and are building still. 25 to 28 is now the norm. We take this wind just aft of the port beam and with two reefs in both sails. Mo makes quick work of a boisterous sea.

This will be our last race. We are 150 miles offshore and should be anchored by nightfall tomorrow.

Yes, anchored.

It is a tradition of mine that after a long cruise home I anchor for the night in Drake’s Bay, a sweeping crescent behind Point Reyes, before sailing the additional twenty miles south to the Golden Gate Bridge and into that bay by a city. What is now called the Point Reyes National Seashore is a vast stretch of open land, brown grass hills toward the sea and forest further inland. It is domesticated only by cows on the rangelands; the rest is wild.

One story has it that Sir Francis Drake anchored here and careened his Golden Hind up what is known as Drake’s Estero. Impressed by the white cliffs so similar to those of his homeland, he called this land New Albion.

Drake was not the first to sail around the globe, but I believe he was the first to survive the voyage (Magellan did not) and write up his tale in a volume called The World Encompassed. In this way, a stop in homage to Drake seems a fitting close to Mo’s own world encompassing voyage (would that I had found half as much gold!).

My reasons for stopping here usually have to do with softening the blow. Coming in off the sea and being driven home on a six-lane freeway is not a transition to be taken lightly. And too, Joanna often makes the trip out from the city. We have a picnic on the beach and get to know each other again in a quieter world.

This time, however, the reasons are more practical. My sister-in-law, her husband, and two wee ones are visiting from the east and would like to watch Mo sail under the bridge. But if I continued on, my bridge entrance will conflict with an appointment the wee ones have at San Francisco’s Ice Cream Museum. And I am well aware of the penalties that accrue to him who gets between kiddos and their ice cream.

I will not dare it.

So, we have set a course for a quick commune with Drake.

Slow

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July 6, 2018

Day 188/18

Noon Position: 39 51N 129 16W

Course/Speed: SE3

Wind: WxN4 -6

Bar: 1026, up sharply

Sea: W4

Sky: Heavy overcast in morning, clear and sunny now

Cabin Temperature: 70

Water Temperature: 61

Sail: Spinnaker and Main, rund dead downwind

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 113

Miles this leg: 2,452

Avg. Miles this leg: 136

Dawn delivered a heavy, hurricane sky from the west.

I ran the twins polled out overnight and Mo made 4 and 5 knots in a decent breeze aft. Stars for a time. Scorpio. The Dipper. I almost grabbed the sextant. But the sun sets late now and the great helpings of three-day-old beef stew and red wine I’d taken on before the night began did not lend themselves to arithmetic, even fourth grade arithmetic. I watched the stars for a time. Even noted the Milky Way. And went to bed.

The morning sky bore no hurricane and instead killed our faithful little wind.

I let us drift slowly most of the morning while I worked chores. I’ll motor in the afternoon, I thought. One last day under power should push us into the northwesterlies, but let’s wait until it goes flat calm.

The last spinnaker run was in heavy rain, and the sail had been stowed sopping wet. So right after the noon shot for latitude, I hoisted it for an hour. A final hurrah for Big Puffy before he’s put away for a month or two.

And then the gray deck burned away and a light wind filled in. With the main attendant and the spinnaker full, we make 5 and 6 knots in 7 to 10 of true wind.

An utter marvel, this spinnaker. Its cut and weight are unlike any other sail I’ve ever owned, and the perfect curve it describes, hanging there white and still…it’s like flying a cloud from the bow. Not to mention the rolling just stops.

Don’t get me wrong, the twins poled out are a perfect combination and have a much wider wind range. I’ve carried the twins in 30 knots and been quite happy. But for light wind work, they are just too heavy.

Still, we are making slow way. In the last day, but 113 miles and at noon, 332 miles remain between us and the Golden Gate.

I am impatient to be home, and yet already miss my private ocean wilderness.

SUN

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July 5, 2018

Day 187/17

Noon Position: 40 31N 131 34W

Course/Speed: ESE4-5

Wind: W6-12

Bar: 1017, rising

Sea: W4

Sky: CLEAR

Cabin Temperature: 68

Water Temperature: 62

Sail: Twins poled out

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 150

Miles this leg: 2,339

Avg. Miles this leg: 138

Miles to San Francisco: 445

The low gave us a good push overnight. And with just the working jib to pull us along, it was a gentle ride. The gray sky and a boulder-ridden sea crashing a kind of ice blue reminded of the Southern Ocean in a tempest-in-a-teapot sort of way. It was pleasant to feel the power of wind on water, to feel Mo shouldering her way resolutely through steep 8 and 12-footers, to take that slapping break against her windward quarter and to swing right back.

Wind was steadily in the 30s all night. Emphasis on steady. I slept well.

Today we’ve been working around the bottom of the low, or what remains of it. Winds have gone from N to W over the course of the day, but their strength has drained away. Now we run with the twins poled in 10 knots astern. A bumpy ride in the leftover slop. A yank and bang kind of ride. One of the least pleasant kinds of sailing. Chews up the gear as you go nowhere.

The real news, though… SUN. And, for a time at least, almost no cloud. This is the first time since the 22nd of June we’ve seen unfiltered sun. Almost two weeks of cloud, rain, and fog. Endless fog.

Squalls are at our back now. We’ll see what tonight holds, but I’ll bet it’s not much in the wind department.

445 miles to go at noon. Still 429 as I type. Slow.

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July 4, 2018

Day 186/16

Noon Position: 42 15N 133 57S

Course/Speed: SE7+

Wind: NxE18-20, by 1300, NxE25-32)

Bar: 1011, steady

Sea: NE8

Sky: Low, gray, rain

Cabin Temperature: 67

Water Temperature: 59

Sail: After 1300, main, three reefs; working headsail, two; broad reach on port

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 138

Miles this leg: 2189

Avg. Miles this leg: 137

I thought we’d skirted the core of it or that the forecast was just wrong, but a building wind this afternoon went from high teens to low thirties in an instant, and suddenly the low was upon us.

A second reef went into the main immediately and then a third. The headsail is rolled to its official max. Those two carry wind just aft the beam, and on them we scoot along at 7 and 8 knots in a short and steep sea from the N.

Our course is SE, a line that puts us below San Francisco, but my read of the forecast says the center of the low is due E of us and I need to go S to get around the bottom or risk, first, no wind, and then the southerlies on the back side.

I still can’t grok that we are dealing with a low that has formed right here at 41N and 133W, in July.

584 miles to San Francisco at noon today. Making good time.

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July 3, 2018

Day 185/15

Noon Position: 43 48N 136 58W

Course/Speed: ESE7+

Wind: WSW17-20

Bar: 1025, falling rapidly

Sea: SW5

Sky: Rain most of day, sometimes heavy

Cabin Temperature: 63

Water Temperature: 57

Sail: #2 poled to starboard, main to port, broad reach on starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 137

Miles this leg: 2,051

Avg. Miles this leg: 137

Miles to San Francisco: 680

I can’t fathom today’s weather. You are thinking hot dogs, cold beer, and fireworks on a warm summer’s evening. A mere 700 miles NW of San Francisco, I’m plowing through low cloud and freezing rain. I’ve gone back to thermal underwear and a fleece hat. Two weeks ago I was sleeping without a cover; now I’m in the down bag.

By forecast, we should be on the W side of this building low and experiencing strong NW winds that increase and veer rapidly N and even NE. And yet our brisk wind is W and a touch S with a tendency to go SW. It’s been like this for 12 hours. I can only guess that we are actually on the S and E edge of the low and not where the forecast puts us.

Where ever we are, the low is coming, and it could give us a swift kick in the pants. The barometer has dropped from a noon high yesterday of 1037 to, as I type, 1019 and is down 6 points since noon today. Our winds have been a happy 15 – 20 most of the day and steady. But the barometer says, “be wary.”

I rode the spinnaker all night, a first for me. Good for speed, not great for sleep as I was up every hour or to make adjustments to a sail that is not designed to be left to its own devices. It’s like a dog that will do exactly as instructed as long as you are in the room. Once you leave, all bets are off.

By mid morning and with winds at 20 we were teetering on the edge of control, and I was rehearsing in my head the steps for getting the big sail down without disaster.

The I heard, “POW!!”

The starboard side sheet had popped out of the clip holding it to the end of the spinnaker pole.

Suddenly 1500 square feet of cloth that had formed a lovely, solid balloon shape most of the last 24-hours went to looking like a dancing octopus. Within moments it had wrapped the furling headsails and caught itself on the only jagged edge on the whole mast (one of the tongs from the radar reflector I had to hacksaw off after Hobart–I flattened it as best I could).

For a time I just watched as it fought the confines of the jagged edge and the furlers. Then, miraculously, it freed itself, and I was able to haul down the sock without further ado. No damage to the sail. Lucky me.

The stolid and predictable, not to mention much smaller, #2 went up next. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

680 miles to San Francisco. Making great time, but winds over the next several days look to be of the you-can-have-anything-except-what-you-want variety.

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July 2, 2018

Day 184/14

Noon Position: 44 45N 139 11W

Course/Speed: ESE5-6

Wind: WSW8-10

Bar: 1037, steady

Sea: SW <1

Sky: Overcast. As in NO FOG.

Cabin Temperature: 74

Water Temperature: 56

Sail: Spinnaker poled out; main other side, running.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 109

Miles this leg: 1,914

Avg. Miles this leg: 137

Note the above reference to the highly unusual absence of FOG, which has finally cleared after nearly a week. Cleared to a heavy, dark deck of cloud, but this is a positive step. We are not trapped under a dome after all; we did not end up in Minnesota. Amazingly, it’s just the ocean we’re on. Just.

Been flying the spinnaker most of the day and with the main as opposite side accompaniment. The two together loft a whopping 2,000 square feet of sail, roughly the same number of square feet as the average America home. As such, am on deck often to adjust the sheets and guys as our light winds waft now from WNW and then WSW. We make a respectable 5 and 6 knots on 8 and 10 knots of wind, which is pretty damned handy for a battleship.

The seas is flat, the sails, motionless. Now and again, a storm petrel. At noon, I lifted the sextant to my eye and began racking down the sun. Suddenly a geyser in my telescope, a whale blowing stacks. There is only one noon. I had to stay focused. After the shot I looked and looked and never saw the whale blow a second time. At least my latitude was spot on.

When not on deck, am at maintenance chores below–polishing the contacts on my headlamps, for example. Everything gets wet, or at least damp, in the south, including sealed devices like headlamps. I have three due to their being essential kit, and all three have gone temperamental this last month. The contacts show signs of corrosion; to wit the pensil eraser, mentioned in a previous post, has turned out to be the perfect solution, and now two of three lights are back online and functioning normally.

It’s too early to be counting miles, but I’m counting anyway. A rhumb line to the Golden Gate Bridge was 872 miles as of this morning. Add 15% for not sailing a rhumb line and that comes to 1,002. At an average of 110 miles per day, we arrive in nine days. At 120, 8.4; at 130, 7.7; at 140, 7.2. So, figure somewhere between a week and that plus two. Sadly, I’ll miss out 4th of July fireworks.

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July 1, 2018

Day 184/13

Noon Position: 44 54N 141 43W

Course/Speed: ExN3-4

Wind: SW7-9

Bar: 1034

Sea: SW2

Sky: FOG, heavy

Cabin Temperature: 74

Water Temperature: 55

Sail: Spinnaker, poled to port. No main. Not enough air.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 117

Miles this leg: 1805

Avg. Miles this leg: 139

We motored all night, a good choice as the foretold wind never rose above 5 knots dead aft. I’ve edged up to 45N to get a leg over the fence that is this high pressure system, and each mile we travel north, the high happily obliges by rising to meet us. Last hour the barometer had risen to 1035. 1035!

This is my fourth leap home across the Pacific and is, without rival, the winner for unsettled, fluky weather. Mo has 50 hours on the engine in the last 12 days. Compare that to something on the order of none on the last three trips. And in two days, we’ll be overtaken by a near gale from the north. And then flat calm again.

At dawn, finally wind enough to fly the spinnaker and shut down the Bukh, and that’s how we sail even as I type, ghosting along…

Ghosting. The idea has haunted my day. Mo glides silently through the water with no apparent effort and from no apparent aid, for the spinnaker is engorged and immobile, but on what wind? I climb into the cockpit, and I can feel none on my face. The meter says true wind is 8 knots. Another meter says we are traveling with it at 4 knots. I should feel 4 knots on my face but do not. Possibly the meters conspire, even with the meter that shows our course. They have their own destination in mind.

Then, in the afternoon of the sixth day of this low and creeping fog, fog thickens. Visibility, five boat lengths. We are sailing under a dome of cloud whose speed and direction match our own. We turn; it turns with us. Because, you see, it appears there is some agency to the fog; some malicious intent. As if, at the direction of Aeolus, we are being led blindly away from our goal. The fog will lift on some future day and find us passing too close to Scylla or Charybdis or on the hard in a Walmart parking lot in suburban Minnesota. Then all the gods will have a good laugh. Oh, ha ha ha.

The wind is dying. The spinnaker goes limp. Visibility two boat lengths. Still, we are ghosting.

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June 30, 2018

Day 183/12

Noon Position: 44 22N 144 48W

Course/Speed: ExN5

Wind: SSW4

Bar: 1030, still rising slowly

Sea: SW1

Sky: Heavy fog in the moring give way to overcast

Cabin Temperature: 68

Water Temperature: 56

Sail: Motoring

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 114

Miles this leg: 1688

Avg. Miles this leg: 141

NOTE: I’ve shut down the high tech Fleet Broadband 250 satellite unit and am switching to the Iridium GO! for the, hopefully short, duration of this cruise. The bandwidth of the GO only allows for low resolution photos and only one or two.

By 5am the headsails, both on poles, were waving about like so much laundry on the line, and I’d about had it with the racket this creates below. Blocks slapping, sheets whipping against the rigging, the sails popping like the tip of a whip on each roll. We were motoring before 6am. Motoring again. Mo not alive on the water like a great bird, but chugging along, plodding. All the sex appeal of a choochoo train.

This did, however, give me the chance to do serious debris hunting. But up at this latitude, all I found all day was one plastic bottle (lid on, floating high–date stamp, April, 2017) and an ancient fish float, so thoroughly encrusted with barnacles that the float itself appeared but the bald pate of a monk bobbing at water top. I tried to fish him out, this waterlogged monk, but when I dug the gaff into the side of his head, all he gave back were gooseneck barnacles of every size imaginable. Two passes and I gave up. Science will have to wait a boat with a better hook or a larger net.

Wind built in the afternoon from an average hovering near zero to a respectable nine knots … until I raised the spinnaker, and then it immediately went to four. The spinnaker is an ingenious body, but even he needs more than a whisper to be invigorated.

The question is … now what? Wind by morning says the forecast. Then in three days a quick, hard blow. Then, and just as we close the coast, wind evaporates. We’re looking at 500 miles of blue (windless) blob. Save the fuel for that last push or push on tonight under power?

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June 29, 2018

Day 182/11

Noon Position: 44 01N 146 58W

Course/Speed: ExN7

Wind: SW17-20

Bar: 1024, rising

Sea: SW6-8

Sky: Fog, low and heavy fog

Cabin Temperature: 67

Water Temperature: 54

Sail: #1 full free, #2 full and poled; broad reach to starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 142

Miles this leg: 1574

Avg. Miles this leg: 143

Winds came on strong overnight and were a steady SW20 – 25 when I climbed into the pilot house at 5am. I had left both headsails polled out and full as the wind built, and we creamed along, cutting a perceptible path in this interminable fog, just barely under control.

Sadly, the wind diminished as the day matured. As I type twelve hours later winds are down to 8 and 10 knots, and we heave and bang on the leftover sea.

The story for today is that we’ve turned E and for home. Don’t get too excited, at 1500 miles under our belts this leg, we are well over but *just* well over half way from Hawaii to San Francisco, and the forecast shows plenty of calm between us and crossing our outbound track, which I believe will be right around the Golden Gate Bridge.

Think on it. Early in July I’ll be home for the first time since October of last year. In the interim I will have sailed solo around the world via the Southern Ocean in three stops. Nothing historic. Not the Figure 8. But something.

At the very least, I will have seen more water than the average Joe, and can sympathize with the naturalist who once said, “Given what covers most of Earth, it’s a wonder we don’t call it planet Ocean.”

Fog. It has been overcast with drizzle since the 24th and “Fog” and “Heavy Fog” and “Dense Fog with Drizzle” decorate the weather section of my log since the 26th. Amazingly, the fog has often been thin enough overhead to allow a wan sun, and my sextant shots are still within a couple miles.

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June 28, 2018

Day 181/10

Noon Position: 42 28N 149 26W
Course/Speed: N5
Wind: WSW10
Bar: 1027, steady
Sea: SW3
Sky: Overcast, fog
Cabin Temperature: 67
Water Temperature: 56
Sail: Motoring sailing for a few hours to charge batteries.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 138
Miles this leg: 1432
Avg. Miles this leg: 143

Wind went aft and died right away this morning. I started to motor just after breakfast, largely to charge batteries. After lunch we were sailing again on poled out twin headsails, though winds remain light and the sails whip themselves to ribbons. It’s deeply aggravating to see one’s excellent sails–needed for another  40,000 miles–abused by a wind disinterested in blowing and a rolly sea .
During our hours of slow motoring, I saw some interesting debris and was able to bring some of it aboard. An Asian-labeled water bottle with the lid on, floating high and carrying only two barnacles; a Head and Shoulders shampoo bottle (just my brand!); and a Ramen Noodle bowl. The last two were submerged and covered in barnacles. Pictures below…

Deep fog in the morning cleared to high cloud and has now descended again to deep fog. I joke with Monte that we must be near home because we’re under an interminable marine layer. He’s shivering at his post and grumbles that this must be my fault, that I must have said untoward and this is our punishment.

“Because this is not summer, Senior. Almost it is July; this is not right. Did you say something against nature, even think it? (Monte is not ever so familiar with North Pacific weather.) “Because, Senior, back in my village one must do 407 Hail Marys and 328 Our Fathers and then sweep the priest’s front porch every Friday for six weeks–sometimes just the latter will do–if his thoughts or actions bring on weather like this.”

 

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June 27, 2018

Day 180/9

Noon Position: 40 49N 151 38W
Course/Speed: NE6
Wind: WSW10-15
Bar: 1024, steady
Sea: SW5
Sky: Fog. Still dense fog.
Cabin Temperature: 70
Water Temperature: 57
Sail: Twins still polled. Still running.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 142
Miles this leg: 1294
Avg. Miles this leg: 144

Miraculously, winds are holding and we continue to make solid, if not record, progress in the right direction. That’s the good news. The bad news is the long range forecast suggests Mo and I will have to round the mark at 45N–the mark being a blob of still air–before we can turn for home. That’s essentially a visit to Portland, Oregon before we see the Golden Gate Bridge. Could be worse. On my first passage from Hawaii to the home, we were blown all the way to Tofino, a small town half way up the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Two ships in the night. The Cosco Antwerp and the Greenlake, the former headed to Los Angeles, the latter to Japan. We are crossing over shipping’s Great Circle route between Asia and North America. The first passed within a mile just after midnight. Unseen. I looked long and hard. Fog has been heavy for two days. The second passed an hour after sunrise as a featureless dark hulk on a horizon of featureless gray. Neither said a word.

More questions from my friend, Kelton. And by the way, if you have a question, feel free to post it in comments. I’ll be happy to get to it as the passage allows…

Question: Can you mention a few things you wish you’d brought but didn’t and will be sure to have for the Figure 8 2.0 in the fall.

Answer:

1) Storm Windows. They were on the to-do list before last October’s San Francisco departure, but that list was very, very long, and some items had to be de-prioritized. Why de-prioritize such an essential piece of safety kit, you ask? Well, I’m the boat’s fourth owner, and all previous owners have taken Mo into harm’s way. She’s been three times around Cape Horn, twice to Antarctica, twice through the Arctic’s Northwest Passage. No previous owner has broken a window. Therefore.

In hindsight, clearly and dangerously wrong. I have them now. Kindly made for me by Daryll Ridgeway in Hobart, Tasmania.

2) Watch Pintles. I have and use two, inexpensive Timex watches. $50 each, if I recall. They are good, solid kit, simple, small, and practical. In particular, I like that by pressing the crown, the entire face lights up, and in the dark of night, gives an unambiguous readout for tired eyes.

But what I failed to realize is that life on a boat is a rough enterprise, and even small watches get caught on things. Well before Cape Horn, I’d popped the pintles (no, I don’t know what watch people call these) several times. At first they fell luckily–into the cockpit well, into the gunnel, even into the fold of a sail. But eventually my luck ran out. I lost two overboard and was, thus, down to one watch. I replaced these pintles in Hawaii and now have spares.

3) Bed Sheets and Pillow Cases. I brought two sets of fitted twin sheets for the bunks in the main salon on which I sleep and two pillow cases, thinking that…well, I wasn’t thinking. It’s not as though its convenient, ever, to wash sheets and pillow cases while at sea, nor could I ever spare the water, nor would they ever dry if such was attempted in the south. I’ve actually not used sheets at all in months. The bunks are covered in Sunbrella fabric, and this, at least, protects the upholstery. I pull a sleeping bag over me at night and call it finished business. But it would be nice to freshen that top layer occasionally. But how many sets to bring?

4) Pink #2 pencil erasers–on their pencil sticks. (This is the suggestion of Kelton, the author of this question.) Everything gets damp on a boat, even things protected by watertight caps, like the AA battery bay on my LED headlamps. I carry three such lamps, and all three have, at one time or another, decided to fail.

Some things are essential, and for working the deck at night, a headlamp is one of them. Why the lamps are failing is not entirely resolved, but one thing is certain, the battery contact deep in the battery bay is corroded.

How to polish it? Not sand paper. I’ve tried Scotchbright-type pads cut into tiny pieces. #fail. But the abrasive of a #2 pencil eraser, says Kelton, is soft enough to brighten the contact without injuring it, and the pencil is the perfect length. Bought a six-pack in Hawaii.

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This post dedicated to Pam Wall, who consulted with me on Mo’s suit of electronic navigational equipment and who will know, intimately, the foibles of manual navigation.

June 26, 2018

Day 179/8

Noon Position: 39 22N 154 00W
Course/Speed: ENE7
Wind: SW15-20
Bar: 1023, steady
Sea: SW6+
Sky: Fog, drizzle, then more fog
Cabin Temperature: 69
Water Temperature: 59
Sail: Twins, poled out, running

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 165
Miles this leg: 1,152
Avg. Miles this leg: 144

Since departing Hawaii, my morning and afternoon sun sights have been way out, like 20 miles out. These are the sextant shots that are timed to the second and that, in concert with the noon sun shot for latitude (not timed), can produce a running fix of one’s latitude and longitude.

Early on I attributed this grand error to the sun itself. Oahu lies at roughly 21 and a half north latitude, and when Mo and I departed, the sun’s own celestial latitude (called declination) was roughly the same. Essentially, we were sailing under the sun in the first few days of our cruise.

The effect of this on one’s sun sights is that the resulting morning, noon and afternoon shot lines don’t cross on the chart in an “x marks the spot” fashion. The noon latitude line runs east to west and the morning and afternoon lines run north and south, creating not the expected cocked hat but rather what looks more like a tic-tac-toe hash, inside of which somewhere one may be.

But in the last week we’ve sailed quickly north, and since June 21, the sun has begun its slow retreat south such that by now my sight workings do produce a cocked hat, of sorts, and it’s still 20 miles wrong.

How could this be? Finding the answer has consumed me.

The February knockdown in the Indian Ocean that broke one of Mo’s pilot house windows also drowned most of her electronics, including the Single Sideband Radio I used for WWV GMT Time Signals. I set my wrist watch to these accurate-to-the-second pings. Since the knockdown I’ve set my wristwatch to the GMT clock on the chart plotter, but I’ve noticed it sometimes skips a beat, and worse, is three to six seconds different from the GMT read-out on one of its other screens.

I factored these differences into my sun sights and it “corrected” my workings a mile or two, but nothing near the 20 miles needed.

So, maybe it’s a problem with the sextant, I reasoned. I did true-up the mirrors in Hawaii. Possibly I did more harm than good. Or maybe it’s that on Monday the weather was really rough, and I couldn’t get the sextant still enough for a good shot–actually, I could barely keep from being washed overboard. Or maybe the overcast of yesterday and the indistinct, “fuzzy” sun are to blame. Or maybe it’s that the fog we have today means the horizon is too close.


All good, all well reasoned, all possible…except that on each of these days my noon shots for latitude were spot on (respectively, out by a mile; out by 2 miles, and today, out by .1 miles…in fog and with an indistinct horizon). So, the problem is not with the sextant or my shooting.

It could well be that my arithmetic in the workings is wrong or maybe the look-ups themselves found the wrong page or the wrong column. I am prone to the simplest of simple errors: adding when I should subtract, carrying a non-existant one, going to the “Contrary” page when I want the “Same” page. But I’ve double and tripple checked for this. Besides, for the 20 mile error to be consistent day to day, I’d have to be making the same error consistently, and it would have to be a whopper.

No, the only answer is that it’s a problem of time. There’s just no other conclusion. But how could the chart plotter be reporting GMT so inaccurately? After all, it uses time to establish my position.

I hold my wristwatch up to the chart plotter and check it against the GMT readout, a thing I have done at least once a day since discovering the problem.

And then I see it.

Well I’ll be hornswoggled with watery grog but if the *minute* hand on the watch isn’t a *full minute* slow!

When I reset the watch in Hawaii, I must have been careless and missed the exact minute of set. All my readings have been a minute off since then.

I quickly redid the day’s shots, incorporating and correcting this error, and I found Mo’s noon position to within a mile.

And there we have a stunning example of the principle of Occam’s Razor, unemployed. The problem wasn’t that a perfectly good sextant had gone out of tune or that time, as managed by a network of satellites, had succumbed to chaos. No, the problem was simpler than that; its source was a $50 wrist watch, and more specifically, its wearer.

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June 25, 2018

Day 179/7

Noon Position: 37 13N 156 00W
Course/Speed: NNE7+
Wind: SSW17-20
Bar: 1026, steady
Sea: NE/S3
Sky: Overcast, frequent drizzle
Cabin Temperature: 72
Water Temperature: 63
Sail: Twins poled out full, running
Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 169
Miles this leg: 987
Avg. Miles this leg: 141

Mo is not a racehorse, but she can keep up when the wind is right. Yesterday it was fast on the beam, and Mo turned in a 7-knot average day giving us nearly 1000 miles on the week. By my calculation (best guess of a route) we’re 1800 miles from home. That’s about thirteen days at 130 miles a day.

Debris hunting has been good the last few days. We’ve not found what we came to find, deposits large enough to warrant a satellite tracker, but the field has been “rich” in other types of debris.

Over the last week, I’ve set aside several hours each day where all I do is observe and collect debris. And I’ve started counting using a rudimentary classification system: 1) SUP (small unidentifiable plastics) from minute up to 1 sq ft; 2) LUP (large unidentifiable plastics) from 1 sq ft and up; 3) IP (identifiable plastics of any kind and of any size). These three sets I apply to two buckets: a) things seen within 30 feet of the boat; b) things seen in excess of 30 feet from the boat.
Here’s how June 22 looked using that system:

0730 – 1000

SUP 0-30ft = 10; 30+ft = 0
LUP 0-30ft = 1; 30+ft = 1
IP = 5
1) Fish buoy, 1/2 mile distant.
2) Plastic lid; e.g. for milk bottle, near boat.
3) Square, five gallon bucket, broken, near boat.
4) Trash can lid, near boat.
5) Skien of orange ship mooring line.
Fifteen sightings in two hours.

By way of comparison, here’s June 23:

 

0900 – 1200

SUP 0-30ft = 27; 30+ft = 2
LUP 0-30 = 1; 30+ft = 4
IP = 11
1) Large black fish buoy.
2) Bottle, e.g. shampoo.
3) Fish Basket (retrieved, catalogued).
4) Bottle, e.g. clear squeeze bottle.
5) Bottle, e.g. dish soap.
6) Small orange fish buoy.
7) Bottle (2), e.g. for pills, white.
8) Rope, 3 feet, approx 1″.
9, 10, 11) 3xfish buoys, one orange, one yellow, one small and blue.

That’s 45 items of plastic seen from Mo in three hours time of steady looking and is the busiest day of finds we’ve had so far.

At other parts of the day, I’ll collect debris using a net I’ve rigged to a 15-foot pole or a metal hook rigged to a pole that’s even longer.

Likely the two most significant hauls so far are a large white calk tube made for a calk gun (similar to what’s sold at Home Depot for Liquid Nails and Silicon in 10.5oz size). On it the word “Shinjia” and two asian characters; inside was a crab and an “eel” type animal. The next day I brought up a whole fish basket decorated with large barnacles and crabs. Inscribed on its side were two asian characters.

Remember the goal: to help ascertain if Japanese marine species have been colonizing ocean plastics. Am hoping the above two specimens can shed some light.

General observations this passage vs 2012 (the year after the Japanese Tsunami):

2012: we encountered much more debris between 35N and 45N than we are this trip. Much of the debris was identifiable and floating at or above the surface: shoes, desks, chairs, a hard hat, tooth brushes, hair brushes, etc. Yes there were fish buoys and other SUP, but recognizable domestic items were common.

2018: almost all plastics are at or below the surface, making them very hard to see at any distance from the boat. The only items predictably floating on top of the water are the fish buoys. I have retrieved a piece or two that have been at sea so long, they are suspended below the surface (sinking slowly). Domestic items are less common while fishing industry items (fish buoys, fish baskets) are more common.
Today is dreary. We are running NE on the tail end of a passing low. Rain and a heavy sky…but good sailing. On my plastics patrols I’ve seen maybe a tenth of the usual concentration. I fear I may now be above the main body of the garbage patch.

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June 24, 2018

Day 178/6

Noon Position: 35 00N 158 20W
Course/Speed: NNE8 (must have a current with us)
Wind: SE14
Bar: 1030, dropping
Sea: NE/E8
Sky: Overcast, drizzle
Cabin Temperature: 72
Water Temperature: 67
Sail: All plain sail

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 159
Miles this leg: 818
Avg. Miles this leg: 136

Wind veered into the E and stiffened after sundown. We’d been pounding into a hard sea all day, a hold-on-with-five-hands, punch-you-in-the-gut kind of sea. I was worn down, so I put two reefs in the working sails and began sleeping right after dinner.

Around midnight, alarms started going off, first the VHF radio and then the chart plotter. Each device has its own loud speaker in the main cabin, where I sleep, and they are both purposefully obnoxious as hell. A person would have to be half dead to sleep through either. Both together are enough to make Beethoven’s ears bleed.

The reason for the alarms was a ship, the Manifesto, a tanker bound for Balboa, making a perpendicular course to our own and passing but a mile ahead. I could see his twin white lights at nine miles, and at 16 knots to our seven, his stern light within twenty minutes. Nothing exciting at all, and I was headed back to my bunk when the radio spoke.

It started with a blowing sound, “hoof, hoof.” Then, “Sailing vessel Moli, this is the Manifesto.” The voice came through clearly but quiet, as if respectful of the hour, and carried a gentle Spanish accent.

I responded quickly, by way of proof I hadn’t been sleeping.

“Yes, sir,” said the voice, “I just wanted to know if everything is alright on the Moli. Are you in need of any assistance?”

I thanked the officer of the watch for his concern and assured him the crew of the Moli were fine.

“Ok then,” said the voice. “Ok.”

And that was it.

Why the question? I almost rang up again to explore. But it is my experience that ships, solid and true of course, don’t know quite what to make of small sailboats that bob and weave on their scope as if drunk. That seems the likeliest reason for the call. I let it go at that and returned to sleep, thinking warmly of the politness of the officer and his professional concern for the less fortunate urchins of the sea.

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June 23, 2018

Day 177/5

Noon Position: 32 21N 158 35W
Course/Speed: N7+
Wind: ENE 17-20
Bar: 1028, steady
Sea: Lumpy and steep to 8 feet
Sky: Overcast
Cabin Temperature: 76
Water Temperature: 74
Sail: double reefed working jib; one reef in main, close reaching to close hauled

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 143
Miles this leg: 659
Avg. Miles this leg: 132

 

Herman, my friend the blackfooted albatross, swung near the boat just after dawn to say goodbye. He didn’t have to, of course. I knew the many visits of yesterday were a diversion while the wind was down. All night wind built slowly, and by the orange of sunup Mo was beating hard into a lumpy sea. Wind, real wind, meant Herman must get back on the job, back on the hunt, a hunt that will take him far and wide and at speeds Mo can only dream of. We’ve not seen another bird all day.

Now that we’re in the 30s of north latitude, it is beginning to cool. Temps are below 80 (76 as I type at 5pm). I must wear sleeves on deck and a light blanket over me at night. When was the last I did that? I can’t recall. For months getting into bed has simply required lying down. And to make the bed, I simply rise. Sleeping without cover of any kind seems uncivilized, primal–until you’ve done it for months. Then its the blanket that is cloying, heavy, unnaturally restraining.

My friend Kelton has asked to interview me on my blog. I can only suppose he thinks the Figure 8 story must be flagging, because he has submitted a list of twelve burning questions that I am to answer one at a time as the situation allows.
Today the situation allows.

Question #1
Which three foods brought you the most joy to eat on the voyage and which three foods do you crave that you cannot stock?

Answer

 

Starting back to front: It should be no shock that I miss fresh vegetables most. Without a fridge or freezer, the fresh foods I do stock on Mo don’t last long–a week or two for the highly perishable–a month or more for root vegetables and cabbages. One challenge is that the Figure 8 launches south and right into the tropics. I’d have better luck if I headed north first. Specifically, what I miss is the crunch of a good salad, say, a Ceasar or Kale salad; simple, steamed asparagus or green beans; roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and a balsamic glaze; barbecued corn; roasted summer squash.

And then contemplate this: barbecued peaches with clotted cream.

I’m not sure that “joy” is the right word for any of my foods, though they are all good, hearty eating. The no-kneed bread, fresh-baked aboard, has been wholesome and heartwarming, and my entrees–curried beef with rice; salmon and polenta; shepherd’s pie, chicken pasta, have really hit the spot.
More intersting to me is what has not worked. Two cases of canned Devon Cream (sweet cream in rice, an English specialty and quintessential comfort food). I’ve eaten one can. Canned hummus should be a winner, but I didn’t groove on the flavors of the brand I bought. Canned tuna. Not a fan. Why did I buy three cases?

And then there are the foods I like that still have gone unmade. Dishes calling for rice, for example. I brought upwards of 30 pounds of delicious, whole brown rice. Rice requires the pressure cooker. Not difficult to do, but just incrementally more difficult than polenta or dried mashed potatoes. So rice suffered.

Several of the cupboards that were chockablock when I departed are noticeably depleted. Soon it will be time to think through the provisioning plan again.

Devon Cream anyone?

 

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June 22, 2018

Day 176/4

Noon Position: 29 59N 158 29W
Course/Speed: N5
Wind: ENE6
Bar: 1024, steady
Sea: NE and W to 1; NW to3
Sky: Overcast with high squalls
Cabin Temperature: 82
Water Temperature: 75
Sail: #1 and Main, close reaching

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 117
Miles this leg: 516
Avg. Miles this leg: 129

The blackfooted albatross of yesterday has remained close today. Every hour or two, I’ll see him swing by and then land in the water just ahead. He’ll watch Mo as she passes from a comfortable perch on a flat sea and with a turn of the head that suggest intense curiosity.
Sometimes he’ll remain seated there until nearly out of sight. Sometimes he’ll take off as Mo comes abreast, paddling strongly with webbed feet while also flapping wings so long and narrow they look to fragile for that task. He’ll circle and then be gone on the hunt for a while. Just when I think that is the last of him, I’ll look up and there he’ll be, sitting on the water looking at me. I’ll wave or yell out, “H e l l o !” Typically he does not respond.

All day the pattern has been the same.

He must be young–no mature bird of the south would evince such attachment–or maybe he’s more gregarious than is typical of his type. Maybe this is his first foray into the wide ocean and he is wanting for company.
Whatever the reason, I’ve enjoyed the companionship. And too, I have by now enough association with the race of birds to know that at some point he will circle for the last time. It’s nothing personal; his world is large.

Other friends today included a trio of tropic birds. Their timing was perfect as today Mo

chose to flush for them, and in rapid succession, a school of flying fish and a school of squid. The tropic birds dove and dove, crackling their voices excitedly in between. Then, when they were almost too heavy to achieve the air again, they did their looping dance above the mast and were gone.

In the morning we found a skien of orange rope undulating on the surface–thick mooring line used in commercial shipping. A flurry of emails with my sponsors in Honolulu. Tag it or leave it? What is big enough drift to warrant an expensive satellite tracker? This one did not quite qualify.

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June 21, 2018

Day 175/3

Noon Position: 28 01N 158 30W
Course/Speed: N5
Wind: E5
Bar: 1021, rising
Sea: Less than 2 feet
Sky: Partly cloudy
Cabin Temperature: 84
Water Temperature: 78
Sail: Motoring (needed to charge batteries anyway)

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 115
Miles this leg: 399
Avg. Miles this leg: 133
Miles since departure: 25,803
Wind went very light overnight. Mo coasted on a flat sea while I slept. After morning coffee, I raised the spinnaker, which prompted the wind to die altogether. So we motored slowly for a few hours while I watched for debris.
It is in no way dense, the plastic we are finding, but it is here if you look. Sometimes you have to look hard. Then at other times you’ll see two or three or four things together. The line of things always runs east to west. Almost always the things are fragmented and unrecognizable. It is enlightening to contemplate that if a whole plastic thing–a mooring buoy, a laundry basket, a stool, a hair brush–is let ride in the ocean for years and years, the ocean and the sun will slowly break it to pieces. Just ocean and sun can do that; no rocks necessary. 
Also, deeply interesting to me is that any plastic piece the size of a saltine cracker and greater is home to something, sometimes many things. In quick succession I pulled three such sized items from the sea today, and each had a single fish using the plastic as a sunbrella. I put the fishes in a bucked of water while I photographed them and their abodes with the intention of returning them to the Big Aquarium after the session. But once separated from their residence, they up and died in a matter of minutes.  

I am waiting, sometimes patiently, sometimes not, for a Moli sighting. Moli, if you will recall, is the Hawaiian name for the Laysan Albatross. I bring this up now because we are well within their North Pacific territory and because I am seeing the black footed albatross. One followed the boat today, plopping in the water next to Mo as she passed, watching, then flying around and landing on the water top near Mo again. This went on for an hour. Then the wind came up and with that it flew away.

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June 20, 2018

Day 174/2

Noon Position: 26 08N 158 55W

Course/Speed: N7-8 (we must have a beneficial current)

Wind: E12-14

Bar: 1017, steady

Sea: NE4

Sky: Clear now; high overcast this morning

Cabin Temperature: 83

Water Temperature: 72

Sail: All plain sail.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 163

Miles this leg: 284

Avg. Miles this leg: 142

Miles since departure: 25,688

Wind has been E and steady since late yesterday afternoon, this despite the forecast. I rose every few hours overnight in anticipation of a change, but it never came. It came today in the form of a diminishing breeze but now even that is steady again.

Each time I rose I also noted our guests were resting peacefully, they being a trio of red footed boobies that perched on the weather rail facing to weather. Two were traveling companions and checked in around dusk; the other noticed what a good gig the first two had landed and decided to share in the amenities. They were quiet enough guests, whispering only after 10pm; and they checked out promptly at the appointed hour of dawn. But I could have done without the mass deposit they left on the deck by way of payment. Possibly this is, in some small way, my own fault, for I am the one who has developed a fondness for these animals without a sphincter. I scrubbed all morning and can’t get the white out.

Sun sights are challenging these last two days. Yesterday was too cloudy, and even though I got the shots in, the results were unsatisfactory because the horizon was too close. Today the issue was celestial. We have passed under the sun. Sure, that happens every day, you say, but that’s not what I mean. Over the last week, we’ve been catching the sun up; that is, the sun’s astronomical latitude (its declination) and our terrestrial latitude have been approaching. Yesterday we passed it; were directly under the sun at about midday. The practical effect of this is that in the sextant the sun was in view at noon no matter what direction I looked.

Debris is present but sparse and consists mostly of SWUP (Small White Unidentifiable Plastic). In the morning I saw a glass bottle, a pint ice cream lid, and maybe 20 other SWUP items during my two hours of consistent watching. They’d clump. I’d see three items and then not anything for fifteen minutes.

In the early afternoon, a clothes basket floating opening up and, as I lifted it on deck, it became clear that the six fishes inside had been trapped there, likely since birth. I have no idea what they were, but they looked exotic. I took some photos and returned them to their home without setting them free, as there was a large dorado circling, ready to invite them to lunch.

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June 19, 2018

Day 171/1

Noon Position: 23 26N 158 42W

Course/Speed: N5

Wind: S8

Bar: 1016, steady

Sea: N2 (chop)

Sky: Overcast/Squalls and drizzle

Cabin Temperature: 84

Water Temperature: 80

Sail: Asymmetrical Spinnaker and main, running dead downwind

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 121

Miles this leg: 121

Avg. Miles this leg: 121

Miles since departure: 25,525

The haul home has started with motoring overnight in winds NE to W at 2 – 4 knots. Not a very romantic beginning nor very hopeful.

At 5am I came on deck to find Mo had trapped a visitor in the cockpit well, a Tropic Bird. My initial attempts to help him back into the air were greeted with a sharp beak jab to the hand. Ouch. A towel thrown over him did no better. The bird would shake it off before I could attack. Finally I used Monte’s air vane as a ramp. Obligingly the bird climbed aboard; I lifted him up and off he took. Not even a squawk of thanks. Left me with the usual gratuity: poop.

With daybreak came wind enough dispense with the engine, but it has clocked the compass throughout the day, NE to S to W and back to NE as I type. I’ve cycled through every sail, except the storm jib, and by now am tuckered out by the constant change and by my second day job…debris hunter.

Early in the day, we passed through slicks whose surfaces were covered in a yellow dust. I’ve presumed this to be volcanic in origin, but have no idea specifically. Later in the day saw a suspended goo in the first two or three feet of the water column. Miles of it. Something between scum and snot. I retrieved a net full and a close inspection didn’t narrow the range. It was slimy and yellow or clear and not much else. It had no scent. I declined to taste it. Sorry. I take my job seriously, but I do have my limits.

We’ve also seen plastics on the order of a specimen every 20 minutes or so. Usually sightings are bunched together. Usually the item is small (postage stamp to post card sized) is white and unrecognizable. Once I saw a small water strainer, a bleach-type bottle and what appeared to be a table leg, all within yards of each other.

Late in the afternoon, I retrieved a barnacle encrusted fish float with two crabs calling it home. None to pleased to see me they were. I took some photos and gave it back to the sea.

Now wind is in the high teens from the ENE and Mo makes a handy 7.5 knots close reaching to the NNE. But who knows how long it will last. Squall clouds ahead.

Rain off an on. Cabin is closed up and hot as a sauna.

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June 18, 2018

Day 170/0

Noon Position: 21 27N 158 14W

Course/Speed: NNW6

Wind: NE9

Bar: 1017

Sea: NE1

Sky:Clear

Cabin Temperature: 84

Water Temperature: 82

Sail: All plain sail

For procrastinators, “departing is such sweet sorrow” would be better rendered as “departing will be better tomorrow.” In any case, that’s my relationship to making a timely exit from most any port.

I did exit the Waikiki Yacht Club more or less on schedule. On the Saturday, Mo and I motored 20 miles to the NW to Ko’OIina Marina, for that was the only spot on the whole island that sold fuel on a weekend. I had intended to put to sea immediately thereafter, but once Mo’s tanks were filled, the palm trees and the beech called, and besides, I knew the dismal state of the wind to the north where a big tongue of calm would be met just above Kauai. So I got a slip for the night … and then the next.

The disadvantage of the delay was offset by the reward of meeting my dock mates, John and Amanda Neal of MAHINA TIARRE III. We have crossed paths several times over the years but have never exchanged greetings until today. Very nice to have finally had a chat and to see the immaculate state of MTIII.

North Pacific weather has not improved. The tongue of calm remains, but by now I am tired of waiting. And as one cannot take a step without allowing his feet let go of the ground, so I have cut the dock lines and am back at sea.

As I type we are nearing the top of Kauai, some 40 miles to the west. Winds are light from the NE; the sky is clear, and the sea’s ocean blue is as stunning as ever. Maybe more so. How do people live without experiencing this blue? I breath it in as if it were super-charged with oxygen.

This is my fourth passage from Hawaii to the mainland, and while each passage has had its peculiarities, the strategy has always been the same; that is, sail due north, sometimes as far north as Seattle, and make a slow turn to the east as one rounds the top of the North Pacific High.

Departures for the three preceding jaunts have been August (2005), July (2012) and September (2016), and passage times have been 23, 26 and 20 days, respectively. In each case, the High has been well established. Not so this trip. Lows continue to sweep down from Alaska and leave great airless prairies in their wake.

Without a high to go around, I’m not at all sure of the strategy.

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Doctors Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Haffner enter the Waikiki Yacht Club promptly at the appointed hour. Maximenko is tall, clean-cut, in dress khakis and a pressed Hawaiian shirt. His stride is long and purposeful, but he is tipped forward under the weight of a shoulder-strung briefcase bursting with papers. Haffner, equal in height, is in jeans and a t-shirt. He carries only a camera and an air of nonchalance.

I’ve been corresponding with these men since 2012 when Murre and I made our solo leap to Alaska. On that 26-day passage, I collected marine debris and noted debris locations for Maximenko’s Pacific Research Center. I made daily reports; sent hundreds of photos.

As debris hunters, Murre and I struck gold when we located a half-sunk, panga-type fishing boat pumping in the swell at around 31N. Its submerged portions streamed long fronds of seaweed around which swam a school of Dorado. I circled for twenty minutes panting with excitement. The photos I returned were published in Maximenko’s findings.

I’ve not met either man in person.

We smile our greetings and shake hands.

Then an uncomfortable pause as we face each other. “Where shall we begin?” I ask.

“Let us talk for a minute,” replies Maximenko.

Three hours later, the entire contents of Maximenko’s briefcase have been spread upon the table in the club dining room. Maps of North Pacific debris by relative concentration. Maps of average winds over the summer. NOAA weather maps. White papers on debris distribution since the Japanese Tsunami of 2011 pulled 1.5 million tons of material into the ocean.

The conversation ricochets like a stray bullet. My questions: how much plastic is there? How does it get into the ocean? Where is it most dense? If there is so much of it, why can’t it be found via satellite?

“Randall, it is a sad, stunning fact that we know more about Mars than we do ocean currents. We have a general idea of the characteristics of the top few feet of flow, but beyond that, we cannot predict.

“It still amazes me that people think there is an island of trash in the garbage patch, a solid structure that one could even walk on. This is false. The Pacific Gyre is vast and ever-changing. Plastics are not short of space in which to drift. In fact, the garbage patch is so dispersed we can’t see it clearly by satellite. One pixel of satellite imagery is 25 square kilometers. We can’t see the garbage patch from space.

“We know generally how much plastic is produced and how much of it moves into the landfill; the remainder should be in the ocean. But when we extrapolate from our marine finds, we can only account for a fraction of the remainder. Where does it go? We don’t know. We simply don’t know.

This is Maximenko’s refrain, “we don’t know.” But the conversation continues, and as Maximenko talks, one becomes aware that, in fact, there is much he does know. But the field in concern is three-fifths of the planet and still largely inaccessible. Questions are coming on faster than answers.

“For example,” says Maximenko, “we think that current should describe long, slow curves due to the Coriolis Effect. But right now I have a collection of drift buoys in the ITCZ, and what we find is that once out of the consistent force of wind, the buoys loop, large loops inside of which are nested loops. It is as if the buoys are moons rotating around an earth which is, itself, rotating around the sun.”

Map of relative debris concentrations in the Northeast Pacific. The black line from Hawaii to the mainland is a great circle route. If only the wind blew that way.

The satellite trackers arrive. In the parlance of oceanography, they are “drift buoys,” small, white spheres the size of soccer balls attached to long blue tethers and heavy, stainless steel clips. A magnet near the bottom, once removed, activates the device, which can send position messages for up to a year.

We test them, argue about their ability to withstand what the ocean can offer. “What qualifies as large enough drift for a drift buoy?” I ask. Maximenko becomes thoughtful. “Well, Randall,” he says, “they are very expensive. Think of them as Rolex watches.” More he will not say. Because we don’t know what I will find.

Evenings since my arrival have been, for someone of my inclination, maximally social. I’ve likely not talked so much since my San Francisco departure in October of last year. Thank you to my Honolulu hosts for being so gracious.

With Doctors Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Haffner (right of me) and my friend Bill Gallagher, in town from San Francisco (to my left). Freshly brewed beer for Randall, fresh salmon and fresh kale!

Dinner and conversation with Mary Spadaro, Figure 8 Virtual Voyager and frequent commenter who has cruised the Pacific in a Tahiti Ketch.

A couple beers (and then a couple more) with Tico Jarek, who works for WideOrbit, one of my generous sponsors.

The route home looks long and slow; lows are still dropping down from the north and leave in their wake days of calm.

But one cannot get home without departing.

By the time you read this Mo and I will be at sea once again.

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June 11, 2018

Day 170/49

Noon Position: 21 13N 156 40W

Course/Speed: W7

Wind: E20

Bar: 1016

Sea: E8

Sky: Clear

Cabin Temperature: 82

Water Temperature: 78

Sail: Twin headsails, poled out and full

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 145

Miles this leg: 6,395

Avg. Miles this leg: 131

Miles since departure: 23, 499

Overnight wind shifts aft and softens. Without the distraction of squalls, it is, at least, consistent in direction. We slip across Alenuihaha Channel unmolested. Here fresh trades pressed between high islands can accelerate to gale force. Tonight, no such trial.

At moonrise, I’ve heard enough from the headsail too blanketed to fill. I roll it up, letting Mo run quietly under main alone while I sleep. It’s considered risky business to sleep when working a coast, but the windward sides of the islands aren’t much trafficked. Still, I keep my shifts to an hour. A whole hour, what a luxury, this after three days of 30-minutes between alarms.

By sunrise, we are off Maui’s Pana Point. Big Maui, reclining lush and green under a blanket of alabaster cloud. After coffee, I lower the main and poll out the twin headsails. Mo wakes, takes a breath, breaks into a gallop. Finally, speed without having to live propped against a bulkhead, speed without spilled coffee grounds, bruised hips, toilet water that won’t stay in the bowl.

Then the long stretch to windward of Molokai, which we take as close as two miles off. Volcanic cliffs, entirely verdant, throw tendrilled waterfalls to the sea. At one point I count eight. Molokai, an island I know nothing about except that it is lightly populated by people who enjoy their privacy–this as opposed to its neighbor Lanai, which is privatized and whose citizens are largely tourists. Suddenly I feel drawn. Here, in Molokai, is an island on which one could lose himself, like a Gaugin on Atuona.

 

On we race. Winds are now 25 and more, and with headsails full, Mo’s bow wave roars. Molokai, like the others, reclines in its western reaches. Beyond rejuvenating rain, it is helpless, ravaged by time, low, barren as a rock.

This we pass into the Kaiwi Channel.

At one point we’ve had three islands in view, Maui, Lanai, Molokai, and now, closer to Oahu than any of those, I still cannot see our goal, buried as it is in the glare of an afternoon sun over a leaden cloud.

Slowly comes Koko Head as a silhouette; then Diamond Head. The sun sets over the island. On we press.

Near Koko Head, a change in the current. Seas stack up. Eager for the end, I refuse to reef. Mo reels like a tightrope walker near his tipping point, but she holds her course and barely ships a sea.

Dark. The glow of the island now, so bright Diamond Head is revealed even without a moon. Briefly, we do battle with a tug and long tow on an intercept. Mo graciously concedes.

And then we turn the corner. Then sails are furled. Then we are in the breakwater. Then we are moored. It is midnight. After 50 days at sea, here we are in the heart of a city, sleeping city, save for a police siren and that low rumble.

I tidy lines. Put out fenders. Wash dinner’s pot. Then I grab a beer and sit on the dock admiring Mo. What a thing, she is, I think. How thoroughly able and beautiful for it.

What does it say of a man that after weeks of longing for the comforts of port, he sits on the dock, longing to be at sea?