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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?

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Day 169/48

Noon Position:20 08N 154 50W

Course/Speed: NW6-7

Wind: ExN15-20

Bar: 1020, steady

Sea: E4

Sky: Clear, then light Squalls

Cabin Temperature: 83

Water Temperature: 78

Sail: All plain sail

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 152

Miles this leg: 6,250

Avg. Miles this leg: 130

Miles since departure: 23,354

The overnight ritual of calls to the deck every half hour continued. Squalls blew 20 at their leading edge and 10 behind and from NNE to a little south of E. A tiring business pulling on Monte’s sleeve so often, but at least we had a goal, The Big Island of Hawaii’s Kapoho Point, which we rounded at 6am. Now we could take the wind on a reach and then a broad reach. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Curious to know how far away the Big Island might possibly be seen on the horizon, I did a Distance Off calculation based on Mauna Kea’s amazing height of 13,679 feet. The result: one should be able to bob the island at 137 miles, assuming it had a whopping big white light on the summit. Interestingly, and by accident, I did this calculation at 130 miles off and noticed the VHF started chirping with Coast Guard announcements almost immediately thereafter. Apparently the antenna is on the summit.

It was all theoretical though, given the squalls, and even at 30 miles there was no island. Only cloud where the island should have been.

In the late morning, I noticed two plumes in the SW rising from the sea, these from the volcano that’s been so active this last month. The land was still well sunk and the site of the eruption at least 60 miles away.

Only in the afternoon did the summit of Hawaii come out of the gloom, literally a dark conical mass rising above the diminishing squalls. Then later, to the right, the island’s northern flank, describing a perfect angle of repose all the way from mountaintop to sea.

It is hard to grok the size of the Big Island. Even from this far offshore it seems a massive hulk…because it is. All of the other islands in this chain could fit inside it with room to spare. All of the islands of French Polynesia could also fit within its land mass. It is large enough to have distinct climate regions; lush and jungly on the Hilo side; dessert on the Kona side. It’s mountains are so high that during certain seasons, one could be snow skiing in the morning and snorkeling with the tropical fishes of Kealakekua Bay in the afternoon. And this has all grown up from a (still active) volcano.

I’ve stayed so far out because the island tends to eat the wind, and I’m tying to avoid a big calm projecting to the NE. Not working. Wind has been easing all afternoon. To 6 knots now.

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Day 168/47

Noon Position: 17 43N 153 07W

Course/Speed: NNW7

Wind: ENE19

Bar: 1019, steady

Sea: E7

Sky: Overcast, squally

Cabin Temperature: 82

Water Temperature: 80

Sail: Working sail, one reef, close reaching

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 170 (169.5…but I’m taking the half mile. Our best day’s run of this leg!)

Miles this leg: 6,098

Avg. Miles this leg: 130

Miles since departure: 23,202

Some may be wondering why our course has been beelining towards Hawaii since Mo and I entered the NE trades. The answer is that while the wind angle of the trades would not have allowed another course for northing, I do plan a quick stop in Honolulu…if I can get there.

I have an opportunity to participate in a science project on the leg home.

Back in 2012, I sailed solo from Kauai, the most northerly Hawaiian island, to Sitka, Alaska, and during that run I collected ocean debris for research scientists at the International Pacific Research Center and the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean & Earth, Science & Technology. The year before, a large tsunami had mutilated the shores of western Japan and pulled into the ocean an estimated 1.5 trillion tons of debris. These scientists were tasked with creating computer models that would predict the course of the debris that remained afloat as it slowly made its way across the Pacific and when and where it would impact US shores.

To that end, the University put out an APB among local yachties. The scientists were desk bound, or at least weren’t keen on ocean crossings, and they needed outside corroboration that their models were accurate. I decided to help.

Between 35N and 45N I photographed and collected a tremendous amount of stuff: plastic tables, plastic chairs, plastic rugs, plastic filing cabinets, plastic rice bags, buckets, balls, hard hats, shoes, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, and more. My greatest lesson from that exercise was that what we call debris, marine life forms call home. Every single item I pulled from the water had been colonized. On one afternoon, I found a lone packing peanut. On its underside was a crab hanging on for dear life.

About two weeks ago, and as Mo and I were passing the Cook Islands, I received a message from Professor Nikolai Maximenko, lead researcher for the 2012 project and my contact. He had another request.

In recent years, the amount of tsunami debris washing up on US shores has slowed to a trickle; however, since the first debris arrived, a steady stream of Japanese marine life has been showing up in US reefs. And this stream continues even though debris impacts have dwindled. How is this possible? The working hypothesis is that these life forms have colonized the debris inside the North Pacific Gyre (aka the “garbage patch”), the large area of calm in the North Pacific high that eventually traps much North Pacific drift.

Professor Maximenko’s organization has partnered with Mary Crowley’s Ocean Voyages Institute in San Francisco that will, next year, launch a large debris collection operation with a large vessel. But given the vastness of the area in question (some estimate the gyre to be the size of Texas), one ship needs a head start in locating debris.

Again, enter local yachties. Maximenko asked if I planned to sail between Hawaii and San Francisco any time soon, and if so, would I carry a small collection of radio satellite devices to be placed on any large debris deposits I might pass.

Clearly the answer is, yes and yes. I’m a sucker for citizen science.

So, I’ve been working toward the windward side of the Hawaiian Islands these last weeks in order to enable a fast approach to Honolulu and to avoid the volcanic smoke emanating from the Big Island this last month.

And it all comes to a head tonight. Will the wind cooperate?

For the last three nights, squalls have filled in after sundown, making life difficult for Mo and for me. I’ve been up every half hour to an hour to adjust Monte’s course, as the winds accelerate from 10 to 25 and yaw from NE to E. Over and over. I’m worn out.

Today same, except today the wind is decidedly NE. Now or close reach is a tight one, and hanging onto our rhumb line for a waypoint well off The Big Island’s Kapoho Point is a struggle.

As I write, we’re within a hundred miles of that turn. We’ll know by morning if we’ve made it.

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Day 167/46

Noon Position: 15 06N 151 58W

Course/Speed: NNW7+

Wind: E20+

Bar: 1017, steady

Sea: E8+

Sky: Clear, a few inconsequential cumulus, so thin as to be translucent

Cabin Temperature: 88

Water Temperature: 85

Sail: #1 and Main, one reef each

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 161

Miles this leg: 5928

Avg. Miles this leg: 129

Miles since departure: 23,033

Speed. The last 24-hours have been NE trades at their finest; that is fresh and fast and at an angle that Mo adores. Yesterday we flew the big genoa while winds slowly built, and Mo slid along at 7 and 8 knots with apparent wind dead abeam.

Overnight, squalls–the last of them (fingers crossed)–slowed us for a time. Lightening to windward at one point, bright and often and close enough that I gathered the loose electronics–laptop, InReach, vhf radio–and put them in the oven for safe keeping.

By midnight we were back to working canvas and reefed down. Dawn came on clear and the wind roared in the rigging at a steady 20 – 25, dead abeam again. Seas have built and are now big blue buffalo charging east. Mo creams along, up, over and through, up, over, and through.

At this rate we may better yesterday’s mileage.

Yesterday was a poor day for position finding, the sky, flat and gray. But being the dutiful navigator, I went on deck at 10, noon, and 2, and, to my amazement, came back with an altitude each time, altitudes that worked up to my most precise running fix yet (likely blind luck, that). What was gratifying was that with a little patience and the right set of shades, the sun can be shot in what appears to the naked eye to be hopeless cloud cover.

To my amusement, I am proud of this developing skill. I am right to be proud of course, like a child is right to be proud when he learns to tie his shoe laces. An accomplishment for sure, a good place to start, but not the accomplished accomplishment.

What is ironic is that part of my pride is due to how rarely this skill is practiced by contemporary sailors. I like to think it connects me in some small way to greats like Captain Cook and the explorers of his era. In fact, it connects me more directly to ocean sailors from just ONE generation back, who had to know celestial navigation in order to get found.

One generation. That’s all it has taken for this method to be almost entirely supplanted by the admittedly infinitely easier and more accurate GPS.

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Day 167/45

Noon Position: 12 36N 151 02W

Course/Speed: NNW7

Wind: E12 -15

Bar: 1014, rising before noon, falling after

Sea: E3

Sky: Overcast, solid deck with heavy cumulus under

Cabin Temperature: 86

Water Temperature: 82

Sail: #1 and Main, full, reaching at between 7 and 8 knots

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 149

Miles this leg: 5,767

Avg. Miles this leg: 128

Miles since departure: 22,827

Cloud rolled in as the sun set. I had planned a whole series of sextant star shots, but in the end was only able to nab Jupiter and Arcrux before I lost the horizon to gloom. Got a reasonable position if not exactly spot on.

Steady, fresh wind overnight diminished with the day and has gone into the east. I put out the big genoa mid morning. Wind has settled into the teens and is right abeam. Mo scoots along with purpose.

Unsatisfactory Conversation with a Flying Fish

Randall: Hello everybody. We have had a guest come aboard in the night whose name is Midge, and…

Monte: Senior, I think the little fellow that he said his name is Esmidge.

Randall: Oh, Smidge.

Smidge: Smidge. Yes, I’m Smidge.

Randall: Got it. Well, visitors have been few and far between this leg, so I thought since you have chosen to cast your luck with us, we could have a chat.

Smidge: Will it hurt?

Monte: Only during the listening part.

Randall: Given your condition, Smidge, I don’t think there’s anything we could do to hurt you.

Smidge: Ok then.

Randall: So, what’s it like living in the ocean?

Monte: Really? That’s your first question? He’s a small fry. Where else has he lived? What’s he gonna say?

Smidge: I dunno.

Randall: Ok, then what do you eat?

Monte: (rolls eyes)

Smidge: I dunno. Things that move that I can catch. Then I eat them. I like the soft ones best.

Randall: Hmm. V e r y interesting…

Monte: Senoir, please to allow me. Esmidge, how is it learning to fly?

Smidge: Oh, great! Mr Wilbur, he’s our teacher, he says I launch well but that I need to focus on distance and control. “‘Away,’ Smidge,” he says, Think ‘away,’ not just up. If you go only up, the Dorado will be there when you land. Nose down, tail out, Smidge. Nose down, tail out!” That’s what he says. But it’s hard.

Monte: (laughing) It is funny to watch the small fry, no? They go up and plop right back down or they push out and crash into the next wave. It reminds me of the little ones in my village who…

Smidge: “Control, Smidge, control,” says Mr. Wilbur. “It will save your life one day.”

Randall: So, on that note, how did you come to be on deck this morning?

Smidge: On what?

Randall: How did you get here?

Smidge; Oh, well. I was sleeping when I heard a great whooshing and saw a black monster chasing me, so I flew. It’s what we do.

Randall: (To Monte) Even the adults think Mo’s black bottom paint is a Killer Whale after them. (To Smidge) So you flew up?

Smidge: Well, yes. I was scared. And then I never came down again. Is this a Dorado?

Randall: Not exactly. And what lesson have you learned from this, Smidge?

Monte: Not all adventures end as you have planned them. That’s what I am thinking.

Smidge: Not to fly up?

Randall: Good, but how about this: don’t run from monsters that aren’t chasing you. OK NOW into the fry pan you go.

Smidge: (Screams) Nooooooo!

Monte: Senior, he is too small. Better to eat at toothpick. It has fewer bones.

Randall: (Tosses Smidge overboard)

Smidge: Whooopeeee!

End

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Day 166/44

Noon Position: 10 18N 150 04W

Course/Speed: NNW6-7

Wind: E5

Sky: Overcast. High haze to windward; clear to leeward

Cabin Temperature: 88

Water Temperature: 83

Sail: Working sail, single reefs

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 130

Miles this leg: 5,618

Avg. Miles this leg: 125

Miles since departure: 22,723

A night worthy of ridicule, of scorn, of vituperate contumely squared.

I couldn’t see them as there was no visibility, but we must have continued working through squalls after dark. And though it was the greatest good fortune to have wind at all, the wind we got was a torture: back and forth from NE to SE (and even S), from 9 knots to 20 knots every half hour to an hour all night long.

I had a sense things might get interesting given the day we’d had, so I started sleeping right after dinner (8pm). By midnight I gave up sleeping and napped in the pilot house between oscillations. By dawn it–what ever it was–had passed. Winds have been steady and fresh all day. Mo is reaching under single reefs and 7.5 knots is not rare.

Apparently I’ve talked about reefing a fair bit in recent posts, which has given rise to two questions. The first came from my a non-sailor friend who asked why I was still tying knots to reef and hadn’t anything more clever been invented after all these years?

Mo’s headsails are roller furling, I explained, and the main has the standard jiffy reef system, so the only knots being tied are those that occur when the bitter end of the main halyard wraps itself in a loving embrace around my ankle just as I let fly the head of the sail.

Then I was told of this comment on the Figure 8 site from June 5:

Hi Randall,

Just wondering why you are always putting in reefs and then taking them out. Don’t you have any sail controls to flatten out your sails when wind picks up a bit?

Thanks,

Jim

Hey Jim,

Short answer: because the wind of late has been stunningly variable. But more to your point…

I presume you are referring primarily to the main. Yes, Mo’s rig has the standard compliment of sail controls. The main track is nice and wide; two block-and-tackle vangs run to each rail; I’ve rigged a Cunningham line through the purpose-built cringle, and there is an outhaul with a measurement strip at the end of the boom.

Of those, the track and the vangs get the most use. Having a vang that runs to each rail, rather than one to the base of the mast, means I not only can control sail shape, I also get much needed boom control devices. At sea, one does not usually have the luxury (or want the luxury) of putting the vessel into the wind to raise, lower, or reef, and having these vangs to act as a counter-pull to the main sheet helps keep things under control. A boom gone wild in a gale at midnight is a fast-pass to disaster.

As regards flattening, my experience on Mo is that that technique really only works at all when I’m sailing close hauled. As I rarely sail above 40 degrees apparent wind, this technique gets little use. The other issue with flattening from my perspective is it tends to de-power the sail, and when close hauled at sea, it seems one is also always bashing into it; so, often, a reefed/powered sail is a better choice (on this boat). For other points of sail, flattening tends to bring *more* of the sail to bear on the wind rather than less.

If I am wanting to buy some time, I’ll usually employ the other tactic; i.e. move the track back towards center, open the head of the sail and let spill that way.

Mo’s suit of sails are made by HOOD and are things of beauty. They’ve been heavily reenforced for the Southern Ocean and were new when I departed San Francisco last October. The main is 465 square feet and weighs as much as I do; it has five full battens with (now) standard roach and lots of extra cloth at the three reef points and extra layers over the reef tacks and clews. As such, she’s a heavy, full-cut sail, and getting her racing flat (i.e. the aft half of the top batten parallel to the boom) is just not in the cards unless I were to re-tune the battens. I’m not much inclined to do so given how rarely we’re close hauled at sea.

Besides which, complain as I (apparently) do, reefing isn’t that hard. It keeps the heel angle lower and often gives me a faster and gentler ride.

Thanks for the question,

RR

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Day 166/44

Noon Position: 08 16N 149 19W

Course/Speed: NNE3

Wind: SE9

Bar: 1013, rising

Sea: NE 6-8; SE 3-4. Vile combo in such little wind.

Sky: Partly cloudy; squalls to windward.

Cabin Temperature: 88

Water Temperature: 84

Sail: All plain sail. Slatting terribly.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 136

Miles this leg: 5,488

Avg. Miles this leg: 125

Miles since departure: 22,593

“I told you not to talk,” said Monte., who is in lather, “Did I not say you never ever talk about the Doldrums or making your fine escape until you are almost home, not until you can see the light of Cape San Vincente or better, not until you are warped into the warf and paid the officer his small bribe for not mentioning certain articles found about the ship; not until then, and if you slip, if you, by mistake, say something like, ‘oh, what fine weather we have today,’ then you immediately throw a pinch of salt over your left shoulder and say, ‘I beg pardon, but have you seen my hat?’ And then the Doldrums they get confused and wonder about your hat and forget you are having a good passage. Everybody knows this, Senior; from Columbus to now everybody knows this but you. What a … how you say in your language…”

“Greenhorn?” I say.

“No. No no. That word it is far too kind.”

All night wind had been slowly backing northward and increasing until, at 3am, it was dead NE at 20 knots. I rose, put a reef in both sails and laid in a course for 40 miles windward of Hilo, a close reach to the NW that Mo could make handily. She raced off. The sky was clear. Arcturus overhead. A waning moon. I went back to my bunk happy. These were the NE trades alright. We had made it across with unprecedented ease.

At 6am I woke to find Mo pounding. In the pilot house I could see she’d slipped back to a course ENE and winds were back to south of east. I eased sheets and made her course north. The sky ahead was heavy with cloud and rain.

All morning wind eased and went south (south!) until by noon the sails couldn’t keep their wind. There is a hefty swell sliding down from the NE and a smaller one from the SE, and they throw Mo about like she is a bathtub toy.

At 1pm I took sails down. They made a terrible racket and I’m beginning to worry about them. The light and variable winds on this leg have taken their toll, and this suit has another loop to go.

So now we are motoring north in search of wind.

The weather files show us to be at least half a degree inside the trades with winds NE at 15.

Actual. ESE at 7, unless they are SSE at 6 or E at 5.

I should have kept my mouth shut!

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Day 164/42

Noon Position: 03 53S 149 46W

Course/Speed: NNE6+

Wind: SE14. An hour later EXS 20 – 25

Bar: 1011, falling

Sea: E4

Sky: White cumulus cover the sky. An hour later, low and gray squall clouds.

Cabin Temperature: 89

Water Temperature: 84

Sail: All plain sail;

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 145

Miles this leg: 5,221

Avg. Miles this leg: 124

Miles since departure: 22,326

Prior to noon, I had nothing new to report. It had been a lovely day in the trades. But it’s been that for a week. How many odes to the color blue can one write?

Then the barometer dropped and the sky came down and the wind went to up, all without my noticing.

I was concentrating on working a sight when the wind indicator went to 20 knots and Mo laid right over. Both main and working jib were full at the time, as they have been since well before the Cook Islands.

When I came on deck the scene was like that of the southern ocean, except for the distinct lack of cold. Low and gray in all directions. Line squalls to windward. Ahead and astern, no horizon due to its being covered by a wall of rain.

I made my way to the mast and tucked a reef in the main. Back at the cockpit, I tucked two in the working jib. Now the wind indicator was at 25. I went back to the mast and tucked a second reef in the main.

This after days of wind in the teens.

Two hours later, the sky has lifted a bit and reveals mountainous cumulonimbus to windward.

I may have a busy evening in store for me.

We’re approaching the end of the southern trades. Within two to four degrees of latitude, they’ll have petered out entirely. This may be the bellwether.

It has been so gentle of late that I can work on deck all day without fouling up my glasses. Not today. Ten minutes at the mast and this is what I get.

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Day 163/41

Noon Position: 01 43N 150 52W

Course/Speed: NNE4

Wind: SExE 7-10

Bar: 1009, steady

Sea: E4

Sky: Overcast (alto cumulus and cumulus)

Cabin Temperature: 88

Water Temperature: 84

Sail: All plain sail, reaching. Just after noon, up went the #1,

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 131

Miles this leg: 5,076

Avg. Miles this leg: 124

Miles since departure: 22,050

We are nearing the top of the trades. Winds are veering more into the south and becoming lighter, which makes for a very comfortable, cruise-ship type ride. Things set on the counter aren’t immediately flung to the floor. I can move about the cabin without being punched in the gut by the salon table or kicked in the shins by the stove. As long as one has no other place he needs to be, this is perfection. It would the purest torture if, say, one were best man at a wedding scheduled for next Tuesday.

I’ve been using the time to get good (read, at least consistent) at astro-navigation. The mostly sunny days and a nearly flat sea present about as ideal a lab environment as one could hope for. I’ve added planets to the morning, noon, and afternoon sun sights, and tonight, if this unusual overcast clears, stars.

I was in no rush to add stars until my shots of Saturn these last three nights turned out to be shots of Arcturus. Saturn, as it should happen, is four houses away and below the horizon when I’m at the ready.

From my friend Matt, lately of DRINA, the yacht that explored the Southern Ocean Islands while MO made her circuit, I learn that mine is the “manual” astro-navigation method and that the number “calculated” ways to find your position is as vast as the heavens.

He, a professionally trained mariner and all around bright guy, also enjoys practicing astro-navigation whenever he’s at sea. He asked the other day if I was familiar with Marc St. Hilaire.

“Sounds like a cathedral in Paris,” I responded.

“No, it’s my go-to site reduction method. Surely you know it. Crazy simple: COS Czd = SIN Lat SIN Dec + COS Lat COS Dec COS LHA. You use that, right?”

“Um. No, Matt. I use a protractor and a number two pencil.”

Of the below photos, there is a metallic quality to today’s blue ocean. Not sure why. Am guessing it’s the white reflection from the cumulus cloud, but it gives all a cool aspect that’s an unusual contrast to the electric sapphire and indigo blues.

The range and changeability of this one color, blue, is stunning.

Also, last night I tried to catch the moon, still nearly full, coming out of cloud, but the cloud grew as the moon rose. The shots this produced were amazingly painterly, eery and full of mood; reminiscent of Turner, I thought.

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Day 162/40

Noon Position: 00 90S 152 00W

Course/Speed: NNE6+

Wind: SE13-17

Bar: 1010, steady

Sea: E5

Sky: Clear

Cabin Temperature: 87

Water Temperature: 82

Sail: All plain sail

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 150

Miles this leg: 4,944

Avg. Miles this leg: 124

Miles since departure: 22,050

Early this afternoon Mo and I crossed the line at 152W and are now plying home waters–which is to say, the North Pacific–for the first time since we crossed to the south on November 20th of last year. Six months we have been in southern latitudes; alien, tempestuous, frigid, alluring, rich and wild latitudes.

Of course, this is not how I envisioned coming home. The route as designed brought me back into the Pacific via the Bering Sea. That disappointment to one side, it is nice to be entering familiar territory; Hawaii, the North Pacific High, that coast line way off to the east. I anticipate sighting the Golden Gate Bridge the first week or so of July.

We will be home a month or two…and then off again. Back to sea. Back to the south.

Following up on a theme in yesterday’s post, it has often struck me as curious that passing over the equator is called, by sailors, crossing the line. This has seemed a too prosaic descriptor for an idiom so given to allusion and metaphor.

But I discovered the reason today.

Sailors, for all their poetry, are practical beings, after all. And when one can be precise, be precise.

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Day 161/39

Noon Position: 02 22S 153 08W

Course/Speed: NNE6-7

Wind: SE14-18

Bar: 1011, falling

Sea: E6

Sky: Cum  20%

Cabin Temperature: 89

Water Temperature: 84

Sail: All plain sail, reaching

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 148

Miles this leg: 4,795

Avg. Miles this leg: 123

Miles since departure: 21,900

Wind has veered into the SE and lightened up a bit. Finally Aeolus’ idea of a practical joke aligns with mine. This is grand. Full sail; wind abeam; speeds consistently over 7 knots, and I can move about the deck, even to the mast, without getting a face and chest full of water. I get the joke. It’s really, really funny. Man, you can tell me this joke every morning for a thousand years.

A day of shipping. The GLORIOUS SAKURA made the alarms go off at ten miles just a touch after sunup. She must have been glorious at heart, because what became visible at five miles was a plain, old cargo ship, bound for “CN NTG.” Not sure where that is, but given her course (W), speed (13 knots) and ETA (June 16), it could be anywhere in the neighborhood of the Philippines.

Then this afternoon, the BBC MARMARA, bound Papeete. She never came over the horizon.

Though I’m pleased to get these confirmations that my AIS system is functioning properly, I am surprised to find shipping here. Seems to me we’re between middle of nowhere and nowhere still.

Where did these ships originate? Or, more properly, what great circle route puts them on an intercept with Mo?

Why are the steady breezes either side of the Doldrums called Trade Winds? My assumption: in the age of sail, such winds made for fast passages and we’re thusly good for trade.

But that definition has never been satisfying. Besides lacking corroboration, it has implied that the merchants who owned the ships named the regions, for certainly no sailor would apply such a flat, prosaic name to an area of such joyous sailing when the next region to the south he called the Horse Latitudes, and the one to the north, The Doldrums.

Here’s the scoop. “The name originated in the mid 17th century and is from the phrase ‘blow trade,’ which is to blow steadily in the same direction. Because of the importance of these winds to navigation, 18th-century etymologists were led erroneously to connect the word trade with commerce.”

“Blow Trade.” That sounds more like a sailor talk.

Source: The Dictionary (of all things).

Washed head and beard today. Finally calm enough. What a luxury, a clean head.

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Day 160/38

Noon Position: 04 45S 153 44W

Course/Speed: NNE6+

Wind: ESE20

Bar: 1011, falling

Sea: E8

Sky: Cumulus to 20%

Cabin Temperature: 87

Water Temperature: 83

Sail: #2, one reef; Main, one reef, reaching/close reaching

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 135

Miles this leg: 4,647

Avg. Miles this leg: 122

Miles since departure: 21,754

Two bits of news:

One, overnight we had a guest, a juvenile boobie (possibly redfooted). He attached himself to the dorade vent grab-bar above the pilot house at about sundown and went head-under-wing asleep. He was so invested in his snoozing that he never budged the several times I made sail adjustments in the night, this even though the sheet winch was but a foot from his perch.

I marveled at his success. Mo jumped and heaved, which is her want on this leg, such that I’m always attached by both hands and feet when I move about, but this bird could stay attached with just two feet and sleep into the bargain.

He woke at sunup, not at day-break nor twilight (I checked). As the orange orb rose above cloud, out came the head. A blueish face gave me a crosseyed look. Then he went off in search of breakfast.

He left parting gifts, as I expected, on the pilot house roof, squid, I’d say, given the inky quality of the ooze. I didn’t mind this contribution, but the spray on the working jib I could have done without.

Two, I came on deck mid morning to see why we’d gone so close winded only to find that Monte had broken a safety tube. This is the first such failure since February 2nd, and between then and now, Monte has steered (or should I say, piloted) the better part of a Southern Ocean lap, including gales and knockdowns, and two weeks of pounding in the trades. In round numbers, 12,000 miles of hard driving without a single incident.

It could well be that it’s the pounding in the trades that is the more evil on Monitor’s water paddle. Coming off a wave, even these little eight-footers, and landing laid over at the bottom puts a heavy shock load on the rudder and Monte’s water paddle. The break was at the fastener in the hinge–metal fatigue, I’m guessing.

In any case, I now have a spare safety tube and pendulum hinge already assembled. So, the time it takes to flip on the autopilot, fish the water paddle from the sea, swap out the tube and hinge, and re-attach all is down to Formula-One pitstop times. Or, in sea time, about fifteen minutes.

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Day 159/37

Noon Position: 06 58S 154 05W

Course/Speed: N5-6

Wind: E15-18 (20 – 25 all afternoon)

Bar: 1011, falling

Sea: E5

Sky: Cumulus to 20%

Cabin Temperature: 89

Water Temperature: 84

Sail: #2 jib full; main one reef, close reaching (double reefs in the afternoon)

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 137

Miles this leg: 4,512

Avg. Miles this leg: 122

Miles since departure: 21,619

Aeolus is a trickster god, it should be admitted. On the 28th day, he created the The Trade Winds, saying, “Blow trade will these winds. Now go forth and multiply.” And they do blow trade. But man, do they shift in velocity something fierce. I’ve reefed and un-reefed thrice today, which I think must entertain Aeolus. I sure hope he’s watching.

That tired complaint to one side, it’s been a fine day on Moli, for today my sun sights yielded an accurate fix.

If find celestial navigation to be something like the opposite of going to the dentist; it’s fun to do; but the procedure is eminently forgettable. Each time I go back at it (I did sun sights all the way down the Pacific in November and December of last year–and not since), it usually takes me three or so days of sights to work out the kinks. This time it was *just* three days.

What I know I’ve learned from Tom Cunliffe’s little book titled simply Celestial Navigation, and the method I’m most comfortable with goes by the name “Sun-Run-Sun.” In brief, it requires three shots of the sun throughout the day, one mid morning and another mid afternoon to fix lines of position that include longitude, and a noon shot line of position for latitude. The “run” refers to the running fix in pilotage, only here one is running up to noon and back to noon the morning and afternoon lines of position from the sun.

Beyond the taking of the sights themselves, there are only six steps to the computation, but these require eleven look-ups. By “look-ups” I mean eleven bits of additional information needed to make the computation possible–seven in the Almanac and four in the Sight Reduction Tables.

I use the Nautical Almanac produced by the UK Hydrographic office and Sight Reduction Tables for Air Navigation, known more broadly as HO 249. (These were produced for WWII bomber navigators; they are simpler and quicker to use than the Navy’s HO 229, and they are wee bit less accurate–a fair trade on a bounding boat.) Having got all one’s ducks in a row, the math is simple addition, subtraction and division. No calculator needed.

But holy cow, are there ever opportunities for error. Wrong date, inaccurate read of the time, bad conversion of local time to GMT; bad sight taking, bad reading of the altitude off the sextant; wrong page in the book(s), number transposition, sloppy conversion of base 100 to base 60 (when finding local noon); failure to remember that most addition/subtraction is base 60 (it is time, after all); wrong latitude name in the sight reduction tables; wrong column; wrong column, wrong column.

Then there’s taking the sight itself. The boat is acting like a washing machine that’s just swallowed an elephant, this while you are trying to get an altitude accurate to the second off a body so far away it takes eight minutes for light to travel from it to you.

But today, success.

Local Noon position by

GPS: 06 56S 154 04W

SEXTANT: 06 57S 154 07W

Someone on the site asked how often I use my sextant. I think the answer is “not often enough.” It’s immensely rewarding to find one’s position on the globe the “old way” (the *only* way until recent decades).  And once the procedure is habit, it’s not hard to keep it up. But when the going gets rough, it’s the first thing to fall away…because it can. The chart plotter offers a position to the 100ths of a second every second of the day. And I don’t even have to push a button.

This is one reason I admire the sailors in the Golden Globe Race that commences in a month or two. Those singlehanders, departing from Plymouth for a non-stop lap of the world via the Southern Ocean, will find their position by sextant or not at all.

First lone frigate bird sighting today. Easy to identify. They are the only pelagic that soars high up with the clouds.

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Day 158/36

Noon Position: 09 15S 154 10W

Course/Speed: NNE6+

Wind: ESE20

Bar: 1010, falling

Sea: E6-8

Sky: Cumulus to 50%

Cabin Temperature: 88

Water Temperature: 85

Sail: #2 jib, 1 reef; main, 2 reefs, close reaching

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 139 (I moved ship’s clock ahead one hour; so, a 23 hour day.)

Miles this leg: 4,375

Avg. Miles this leg: 122

Miles since departure: 21,619

Winds have freshened over the last two days, and now the challenge is in finding the set of sail that optimizes for speed without overtaxing the boat and pulverizing the crew.

Mo is amply rigged for a boat her size and her main sail, in particular, is a biggun. With apparent wind in the low to mid 20s, a reasonable apparent wind angle of about 50 degrees, and seas in the six to eight-foot range, we feel either hard pressed or under powered.

One reef in the main and two in the working jib allows us to fly at 6.5 and 7 knots, even when digging into and out of the swell. (Recent winds have allowed us a course NE while the sea that’s running has remained from the E.) But the ride is rough, and the angle of heel at a steady 20 degrees and more makes living below an exercise in survival.

Movement about the cabin requires all four appendages and often hips and shoulders. Cooking is nearly impossible as the galley stove is now to leeward, is effectively under you while you do a pushup on the cabinetry above it with your head in the flame. Even eating takes an awareness that with gravity so on its ear, one may need to sit up straight (good job figuring that out) or else his food won’t go down. Climbing out of the lee bunk in the middle of the night would be better facilitated mountaineering gear. And let’s not discuss the workings of the head beyond noting that one risks one’s life, and clean underwear, in there.

Also, with this sail configuration, we’re more vulnerable to the passing squall as it’s the main that discombobulates Monte in the gusts. Oh, and how Mo pounds. Every hour or so we fall off a wave and the *wham* in the boat and the shuddering of the hull are like we’ve run full speed onto a submerged reef. “She’s opening up,” I think. I look around for rushing water in the cabin. There is none. But my heart stops every time.

That said, two reefs in the main and one if the jib, while much more comfortable below and an easy ride through squalls, doesn’t really provide the power we need to keep speed up. Now our pace is more like 5.5 to 6.5 knots. The skipper has to avoid looking at the SOG indicator for fear of doing something rash. Where’s the damned spinnaker when you need it, he asks. No one answers.

Often in the Southern Ocean, I wished the main had a fourth reef point near the head. Now I wish I had a fifth between one and two. I can see Robin at HOOD sails in Sausalito shaking his head.

But all that’s just winging. In truth, we make excellent progress to the north at a clip of better than two degrees of latitude a day. At this rate, we should be at the equator well inside of a week.

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Day 157/35

Noon Position: 11 22S 155 07W

Course/Speed: NNE6

Wind: E13-17

Bar: 1010, falling

Sea: E6

Sky: Cumulus 20%

Cabin Temperature: 86

Water Temperature: 85

Sail: Working Jib, one reef; Main one reef, close reaching on starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 139

Miles this leg: 4,236

Avg. Miles this leg: 121

Miles since departure: 21,480

“Explains his what?” asks Monte, choking on his coffee.

It’s just after breakfast. I have finished my Muesli with Soylent and have come on deck to take Monte’s plate, as it’s my turn to do the washing up. I find he’s dawdling over a spinach omelet.

“How you are finding spinach aboard I can’t explain,” I say. “Not to mention eggs.”

“Only the unsolved mystery is still delicious after many months, Senior.”

“Monte, I thought today we would answer a burning question my readers have been thus far too shy to ask; that is, why did I name my Monitor Windvane Monte?”

Senior, if you will allow, I think the pregunta del fuego,” pipes in Monte, “is why you talk to your wind vane at all. Es verdad, that is the starting point!”

“Oh, but that’s easy. Have you ever tried talking to an autopilot? What a morose, whiny creature,” I say.

“Yes, we have a saying in my country, ‘better to talk to a donkey than an autopilot.’ But maybe it is that he feels rejected.”

“Not the point. The point is how you got your name. Would you like to tell everyone, please? Now.”

“Me? Why, my mother and father christened me as Pedro Montague Nunez Estrella de Oro. How else does one get a name?”

“But that’s not a very interesting story!”

“No matter if it is the truth!”

“A poor excuse. But tell us then how you came to be on this ship.”

“Ah, el gusto es mio, Senior. You see, in my village…

“…and where are you from Monte?”

“Spain.”

“Wait, last time you said Portugal.”

“This may be. It does not matter.”

“And what, again, is the name of your village?”

“This ALSO does not matter. PLEASE, Senior, to let me continue. In my village many of us take on the profession of pilot.”

“Peelot? What on earth is that?”

(Sighs.) “It is of the Latin, Senior. ‘Pedota,’ por exemplo, is an ‘oar’ or ‘rudder.’ You can say ‘the one who steers the ship.’ It is a very high profession and most sought after. Only the strongest and smartest are allowed such an honor, and because we take such pride in this important role, many early explorers chose their pilots from our village. Why, all of Prince Henry’s ships used our pilots. My cousin helped Vasco de Gama and Ferdinand Magellan’s pilot was also my cousin…”

“I don’t recall Pigafetta ever mentioning a pilot.”

“Pttt on Pigafetta.” Monte spits. “He was no sailor. Also Columbus used our pilots. The pilot from the Pinta is particularly famous. Surely you will remember him.”

“Can’t say that I do.”

“Oh, well, some years after he helped Columbus to discover America, he came to the assistance of a  Joshua Slocum, from Boston–I think is in your country–captain of the *Spray*. You will recall…”

“Ah, yes, of course…”

“…that when the captain ate too many plums and with a fresh white cheese, very questionable cheese, he became ill and in the middle of a storm and with all his sail flying as well. And my cousin from the Nina…”

You said Pinta.”

“Yes, that is fine. So, you see, my cousin, he was there to take the wheel.” Monte beams.

“Are all the pilots in your village also your cousins?”

“Only the good ones.”

“And I suppose they are all good ones.”

Claro que si.”

“If all these cousins of yours were pilots to famous explorers, how is it you came to be pilot aboard my little boat?”

“Ah, eer, well. Ahem. You see, Senior, we had a meeting and it was decided that among all the explorers, your ship should go to the most experienced and resourceful of all the pilots that our village has ever produced.”

“That would be you, I’m guessing. And why did such an honor befall you?”

“Well, surely it is obvious, Senior. You are the one who needs the most help.”

How Monte appears to others is at the head of this post. A rendering closer to his appearance on this ship is captured here in a drawing of his cousin from the Pinta.

“It is a very nice drawing,” says Monte, “but please to know that I am taller.”

Two squalls last night. Both t-boned Mo starting at three in the morning. Clear sailing before and after. Not the greatest speed, I’ll admit. We’re angling into the sea, so pitching, pounding, sloshing are the best descriptors for the day. Still, good progress to the NNE is being made.

One bird visitor today. A boobie, possibly immature red footed. Almost willing to land on my outstretched hand.

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Day 156/34

Noon Position: 13 38S 155 38W

Course/Speed: N6

Wind: E12

Bar: 1012, falling

Sea: E5

Sky: Overcast (finally squalls moving off)

Cabin Temperature: 85

Water Temperature: 85

Sail: Working jib, main, full, close reaching

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 120

Miles this leg: 4,097

Avg. Miles this leg: 121

Miles since departure: 21,341

It happened just before midnight, when we passed unawares into another country.  The sky had been clear, save a few, small cumulus going quietly about their business, like sheep nibbling absently at grass tips while awaiting dawn. A steady wind from the east, as one would expect, and Mo sure-footing her way north.

Then, from over the windward horizon, a wanderer. A giant. Just one. Tall and broad and lit starkly white by the three quarter moon; its column of rain, black against the glow of sky. It’s upper reaches swelled visibly as it inhaled from the hot ocean; long tentacles moved outward from its center as if to gather in even more to the black maw. And the rain column thickened.

As it overtook Mo, winds accelerated from a mean of 15 to 30 knots and a heavy rain beat on the dodger. I freed the main sheet and let Mo charge. The deluge didn’t last long, maybe twenty  minutes, and as it diminished to a drizzle so the wind slackened and then vanished entirely. The wanderer had gorged on our wind, leaving the sea to heave its complaint. Mo wallowed.

Wind had just filled back in when I spied another wanderer to the north and one beyond just topping the horizon. They came on as had the first. Rain. Wind raced; the rigging roared; then calm.

Then there were two more, and a third to the south. Then I could see five at one time in various quadrants to windward. By three o’clock the moon began to set, and now the wanderers came as a herd.

I could no longer stand watch over the main sheet but threw in double reefs. Mo raced during the gales and made slow way during the transitions. I tried to get some sleep.

By dawn the wanderers had thickened so that the transitions between them were blurred. There was no sky; only wanderers interconnected. Often the only way to distinguish one from the other was the dark pillar of rain. But the pattern was the same; rain, high wind then none, and through which we made our slow and halting way.

I’d had a sense something was in the offing. The air had been thick and hot, and the water temperature, for the first time, had matched that of the cabin (85 degrees). All day the barometer had dropped slowly. One would expect this as we are moving from an area of high pressure (the Horse Latitudes) to one of low (the Doldrums), but the fall should be gradual and over many days, not a point every two hours.

It made me uneasy. I worried about the possibility of a hurricane, but no. Wrong time of year, and such a storm would not come from the east. Then what?

I don’t know. But the wanderer’s wind was warm, uncomfortably warm, and its humidity, palpable.

All morning the pattern continued and only in afternoon did the herd thin. At four o’clock, we negotiated our last wanderer and moved back into clear skies, dry, cool skies with here and there a small cumulus cloud, nibbling at what the wanderers left behind.

Given all the humidity, even without the intense wet from the above rash of squalls, I’m having trouble keeping skin on my hands, especially the right. Two and three layers, gone.   

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Day 155/33

Noon Position: 15 39S 155 49W

Course/Speed: N6+

Wind: E16-18

Bar: 1015, falling

Sea: E6-8

Sky: Cumulus to 10% of sky, quite variable throughout day

Cabin Temperature: 86

Water Temperature: 84

Sail: #2 genoa, one reef; main; one reef, close reaching

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 149

Miles this leg: 3,977

Avg. Miles this leg: 121

Miles since departure: 21,221

Best day for miles made good since May 9th, when we clocked an even 150 miles noon-to-noon. We were four days north of New Zealand’s Chatham Island and in 38S latitude. After this the wind went fickle, and between then and now we’ve averaged around 100 miles a day. So, from my perspective, we’re back in the money.

With a caveat: this ain’t no limosine ride. It’s rough and everything feels unsettled. An open sky will be replaced an hour later by towering, gray cumulus to the horizon. Winds are cycling between 13 and 20 from the east and sometimes a touch south if I’m lucky. Mo is close reaching into the 6 and 8 foot swell that’s developed and is kicking spray all the way back to the pilot house. Hatches are closed. If the wind does go south, and we take a coures NE, Mo pounds terribly.

“Senior, you really must not complain,” pipes in Monte. “God be praised, this is the best wind we have had since Hubert.”

“Sure, but I wouldn’t mind if the SE trades evened out to have more south in them. I really want easting…and the wind more free” I say.

“Pfff!”

“…and if we didn’t pound so, and if I could go forward without getting a dunking and if my glasses would stay salt spray free for more than five minutes, and already I am sunburned, and it’s too hot to cook.”

“Senior, these are minor things. They cannot be helped. It is like the saying in my country, ‘You cannot order a Kale salad in a Butcher Shop.’ It is not the way the world works.”

Speaking of too hot to cook (which it is), I’ve found one able solution.

Typically my largest meal is at the end of the day. But operating the pressure cooker in a cabin that’s 86 degrees is for a braver soul than I am. So, I’ve swapped things around. My biggest meal is breakfast, and it’s cold.

But how to get enough calories at breakfast? For weeks now I’ve been eating Muesli and Soylent in place of powdered milk.

1C Muesli = about 500 calories

1/2C Soylent = about 300 calories

Mix together with water; let stand for five minutes to emulsify and have at. Tasty and quite a belly bomb. Often I skip lunch altogether.

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Day 154/32

Noon Position: 18 02S 156 32W

Course/Speed: NNE6+

Wind: ESE14-18

Bar: 1016, falling

Sea: E5

Sky: Tropical Cumulus; 30% of sky

Cabin Temperature: 84

Water Temperature: 83 (wow. warm)

Sail: #2 full and Main with one reef; close reaching on starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 138

Miles this leg: 3,828

Avg. Miles this leg: 120

Miles since departure: 21,782

Late in the night wind filled in from the east and by midnight I had a reef in the main. This has happened before; I wasn’t convinced, but each time I rose, I found that the wind held. By sunup it was still blowing freshly from the eastsoutheast. Today same. I think it’s safe to say we’ve punched through and have entered the SE trades at last. The entire ship’s company is relieved, grins on faces all round, and the old man has made allowanced for an extra ration of grog at dinner by way of celebration.

Mo is close reaching at a gallop, shouldering the seas with purpose. The sails are taught; the decks stream. We are on our way.

When I came forward in the early morning to inspect my reefing work from the dark hours, I noted a pea-sized object under the mast. Oh no, not more fasteners falling off the rig! But not to worry, it was a small animal. Mo is a killer. Regularly she catches the panicked flying fish or rocketing squid. But this she has not caught before.

Given its glisten and that it faced resolutely into the wind, I thought the animal still alive. Some prodding proved it otherwise, so I took it below to the lab. Here, and with great difficulty given the heave of the ship and the roundness of the animal, I shot a number of close-ups of its parts, and think I can say this tiny beast is an immature lobster. I believe that a lobster’s early life cycle is spent suspended in ocean currents, but I have no way to corroborate that just yet.

I was wrapping up this important work for science when I noted a vessel target on the chart plotter, a first for this leg. Sailboat Fajo, seven miles to the northeast and making six knots dead at Mo.

We are crossing through popular cruising grounds. French Polynesia, The Cooks, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa are all part of what Americans call the Coconut Milk Run, a “highway” of sorts for sailboats making for Australia or Asia from the Americas. But cruisers who depart Mexico in, say, March and April are still learning how to make grass skirts in the Marquesas. It’s way too early for the caravan to have arrived this far west.

Fajo came out of a squall at five miles off, a white fleck of sail on the horizon barely discernible from the breaking seas; soon after my AIS alarms sounded.

Fajo had the weather gage on Mo, so I let her approach while I held course. She came on to within a mile and then veered sharply south. Confused, I called on the radio and learned that Luka and her husband have been cruising French Polynesia since 2016; thus their “early” departure. They are from Germany. The boat, an Ovni of 45 feet. Their eventual destination, Australia. And the last minute swerve? In fact, they hadn’t seen me; they weren’t converging for a gam. They made the course change when their AIS alarm went off.

So, it’s been a day firsts.

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Day 153/31

Noon Position: 20 10S 157 26W

Course/Speed: NNW3

Wind: ENE4

Bar: 1016, falling

Sea: ENE3-4

Sky: Puffy Cumulus to 20%

Cabin Temperature: 83

Water Temperature: 82

Sail: #1 and Main, close reaching; added little staysail in the afternoon

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 103

Miles this leg: 3,690

Avg. Miles this leg: 119

Miles since departure: 20,934

We made a creeping approach to Mauke, the eastern-most of the Southern Cook Islands. Unlike its sister to the south, it did not appear at twenty miles out. In fact, it wasn’t until 0930 and at eleven miles distant that I began to see dark objects on the horizon that did not move, bunched objects and pointed ones–the island’s palms and pines. Mauke is very low.

The wind veered for a time into the eastsoutheast, and we were able to approach to within four miles, close enough to make out a beach, a large man-made structure, a point with what looked like an aid to navigation. Close enough that the lush greenness of the island was reflected back by the sun.

Like the others, Mauke is round as a donut and has no anchorages, only landings here and there, which tempered my temptation to stop. No canoes put off to call on Mo and trade pigs for iron nails. No police boat either. In fact, I saw no movement at all, even through binoculars, during the several hours it took to pass by.

What’s to know of this place?

Suddenly, I remembered I had a Cook biography aboard, the definitive Beaglehole. Aha. Here I learned that Cook first discovered the islands, islands later named for him, in 1773. Then the sighting was an atoll he designated as Hervey Island, now Manuaea. In 1776, he stopped at Mangaia (the island we sighted yesterday) on the way to Tahiti where “from the sea it looked well-wooded and attractive, though defended by a formidable reef and a furious surf. [Later] it became clear that a large number of inhabitants, much like New Zealanders in appearance, were anxious to defend it too. The Mangaians did not favor visitors. The boat sent to reconnoitre found no place to land; reef, surf, depth of water and sharp coral bottom made it dangerous to anchor … It was an unprofitable island to him, as he needed food for his cattle.”

It was April. Cook was on his way to the Society Islands for a brief stop before proceeding for a long summer exploration of the upper North American coast and the Bearing Sea. But after departing New Zealand in March, the Discovery and the Resolution had encountered light and variable winds extending all the way to 30S where, during the 1773 passage along the same route but in June and July, winds had been favorable. Now it had been six weeks and Cook was still in … the Cooks. Bottom line, the slow going and contrary winds took him all the way to Tonga from which he doubled back to Tahiti for the winter, unable to pursue North America until the following year.

So, not only is Mo plying much the same water as Cook, but we are getting waylaid by much the same weather!

Evening. We’ve spent the day making 3 – 4 knots on 6 – 8 knots of easterly, plowing into and being stopped by the easterly swell with too much north in it. Mo just wants more sail. She’s flying a 135% jib (nearly 600 sq ft) and main (nearly 500 sq ft). But to this, in the afternoon, I added the “storm jib/staysail.” It’s a mere 117 sq ft and can’t have added more than a pound or two of push, but I felt much better for it.

Joanna forwarded an interesting question from the blog.

QUESTION

Hi Randall, I’ve been following your blog posts for a couple of months now and am inspired by your journey and your narration of the choices you make. Sounds like you’re weathering the current doldrums as well can be expected. If you’re up for explaining something to a novice sailor to while away some of the time…

As a novice sailor, I’m curious about the 3.8-knot threshold (from the May 20 post) below which you don’t bother to go above to trim sails. Is that a boat speed native to the design of Mo, or did you arrive at that number through trial and error? What’s special about that speed with regard to navigation?

Hoping you have favorable winds soon,

Jay

RESPONSE

Jay, greetings and thanks for following along.

There was nothing at all scientific about 3.8 knots; the speed simply felt really slow and at the same time, the best I could eek out of Mo given the conditions.

For Mo, 7 – 9 knots of true wind on a tight reach (close hauled, same thing) is plenty of wind to develop a respectable speed through the water in calm sea conditions. I would have been happy with, say, 4.5 knots of boat speed. But the chop we were heading into slowed the boat tremendously, and there wasn’t enough wind force or, conversely, enough sail flying–i.e. driving power– to overcome this. The 3.8 knots just seemed to be the threshold of the day.

So, I had to be happy with slow. Or rather, unhappy.

A boat is neither an albatross nor a porpoise, but rather she has a foot (wing/fin) in both worlds–one in the water, the keel, and one in the air, the sails. As such, she’s made to negotiate between two elements, wind and sea, not just the one that other animals contend with. This complicates things tremendously.

And every boat is unique, as is every day at sea. With Mo, I’m still learning. For all the miles we’ve sailed together, I’ve not done much lightwind/upwind work with her until this leg. Thus lots of experimentation with sail set, etc., is to be expected.

Hope that helps clarify things a little.

RR

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Day 152/30

Noon Position: 21 52S 157 33W

Course/Speed: NNW4

Wind: NE8

Bar: 1015, falling

Sea: NE3

Sky: Typical tropical cumulus, but small

Cabin Temperature: 83

Water Temperature: 79

Sail: #1 genoa and main, close hauled on starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 106

Miles this leg: 3,587

Avg. Miles this leg: 120

Miles since departure: 20,831

To my surprise, Mangaia hove into view a little before noon.

I don’t know the Cook Islands, the group we are starting to pass through today. In 2012, when I cruised French Polynesia on Murre, our 30-foot ketch of the time, I made a hard right turn at Bora Bora and sailed for home, leaving the Cooks and all the islands to the west for a later exploration.

Lacking facts, I had expected Mangaia to have all the height of a poker chip, like the Tuamotu atolls, where the palm trees on the beach are the first thing one sees when making landfall. On the chart, Mangaia and the other Cooks are round and uninteresting, and as advertised, what hove up was a bean-shaped, level-topped smudge below white cloud.

But even at twenty miles off, it stood up. So, how high is that island after all?

Of such puzzles are great pleasures made on a long passage. Ashore the answer could be found almsot while being asked. But out here our resources are limited. And time we have aplenty.

The chart was no help. It pointed out a flagpole, an airstrip, and the location of the village, but it said nothing about the land features. So, I thought to deduce height from Distance of the Horizon calculations, the formula used in pilotage to help predict when a particular lighthouse or land mass (of known height) should become visible. The square root of the height of the object times 1.17 equals the distance at which the object should pop over the horizon.

In this case, I had *that* answer; I knew how far off we were from the chart plotter. So, after some head scratching, I reversed the formula. Distance off divided by 1.17 and then squared. This gave me 292 feet. Sadly, that was just how high the island would have to be in order to be *visible* at twenty miles and did not account for how much of it was clearly sticking above the horizon now.

Next I decided to measure the height with the sextant. The reading was difficult due to the island being so indistinct, but the angle seemed to be about 9 or 10 minutes of arc. Then I spent *all afternoon* attempting to remember high school geometry and the inner workings of the Pythagorean Theorem. And failed. As it turns out, I didn’t have enough arguments for the proof.

Last resort. Bowditch. By luck I recalled a calculation for Distance by Vertical Angle (Table 15). Again, I had distance, but by putting the table in reverse, I got that for a measurement of 9 or 10 minutes of arc and a distance off of twenty miles, the height of the object should be 600 to 700 feet.

So, am I right? Is Mangaia 600 to 700 feet tall?

Slow going again. But winds are steady and beginning to veer east. The sooty anvil headed clouds are gone, and we are at last making way to the north. Tomorrow we should pass the northern Cooks.

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Day 151/29

Noon Position: 23 58S 157 28W

Course/Speed: NNW5

Wind: ENE9

Bar: 1018

Sea: NE3

Sky: Overcast; but squall complex with rain

Cabin Temperature: 80

Water Temperature: 78

Sail: Close reaching with big genoa and main

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 68 (It doesn’t help when you tack most of a day over your noon position.)

Miles this leg: 3,481

Avg. Miles this leg: 120

Miles since departure: 20,725

Woke to a brisk wind this morning (brisk being 7 to 9 knots) with enough east in it that we could almost make due north. What’s more, the clouds had new features; the cumulus had height and they leaned. That’s a sure sign that there is wind–aloft, at least. As the cumulus forms, its vapors rise and lean in the direction the wind is traveling. This is because winds at the surface travel more slowly than winds aloft; the top of the cloud is being swept along more rapidly than its lower parts. Leaners are trade wind clouds.

Heretofore, clouds have either been dry cotton balls or dark, anvil-headed squalls–neither with any movement other than up. So, this development is a good sign that we may be coming to the edge of the Horse Latitudes. We still have plenty of anvil-heads, mind you. But now we have leaners too.

Another sign of change is proximity to our first tropical islands. As I type, the southern most of the Cook Islands, Mangaia and Maria–one slightly west of north, the other slightly east–are under 150 miles distant. Good and bad. Good in that the Cook Islands are well within the trade wind belt; bad because I’d wanted to be east of them by this time. The goal was to enter the trades at about the longitude of Tahiti. But these persistant northeast winds have knocked that one on the head.

Whales: saw my first pod of the entire trip today. Humpbacks. Four in the group and freight-training it north. I saw them abeam at first. At the time our course had a bit of west in it and (amazingly) Mo was a bit faster. I only observed four blows. I am guessing they are on their winter migration to warmer waters. In which case, they’re almost there.

Had a coffee scare this morning. When I opened the cupboard where are stored the vacuum pouches of grounds, I could see the bottom. Wait, how many are left? Are we running out? We started from home with thirty-three 12oz pouches, enough for a year, I thought. I did a quick count. Seventeen remain. OK, phew!

One tropic bird; one gadfly petrel. Nothing more. The day was really about clouds.

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Day 150/28

Noon Position: 25 06S 157 05W

Course/Speed: NW5

Wind: NNE7

Bar: 1018, falling

Sea: NNE3-5, sloppy chop

Sky: Weird mix of stratus, cumulus and squalls

Cabin Temperature: 79

Water Temperature: 76

Sail: #2, full; main, full; close hauled to starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 92

Miles this leg: 3,412

Avg. Miles this leg: 122

Miles since departure: 20,657

Slow and dull. The sea is blue; the sky is blue, but there is enough hazy and squally cloud to deaden any vividness the day may have wanted to possess. The thermostat achieved 80 degrees Fahreinheit before noon, though it soon retreated, and I must admit the breeze in the shade of the pilot house is lovely and cool. Still, there is an oppressiveness laying over all like a damp blanket.

What’s aids such a sour impression is that winds are both light and contrary and increasingly so. I don’t mind one or the other, but both together represent bad planning on the part of Neptune, or whoever his Admiral of the Ocean Sea may be this year.

I’ve spent the day tuning sails to optimize our performance, but there is only so much one can do with 7 to 9 knots if wind coming from the direction in which one would like to proceed and which is accompanied by a thumping chop. When all my attempts fail to get more than 3.8 knots of speed, I go below and read until seeing 3.8 on the odometer finally goads me back on deck for another try.

Mo is a heavy bird. She needs a bit more lift to loft.

Wind slowly backed into the north all morning. In the early afternoon, it finally went west of north, so I tacked around to the east. Seeing what I intended, it soon went back to east of north. So now we make 3.8 knots and are sagging south.

One Tropic Bird flew in close today, like a dog looking for treats. I saw it first when it was a hundred feet up, gliding lightly down and down toward Mo until it was hovering just three arm lengths away. It even barked, as Tropic Birds do. I’m grateful this bird is so inquisitive, game for a near inspection of that plodding, silver ship, as it’s nice, if only briefly, to see the details of paper-white, translucent primaries, the long orange beak, the streamer of a tail–the sharp, black eyes looking down at me with a mixture of curiosity and recrimination (what, no fish?).

In the afternoon, a green fish float the size of a basketball, the first debris and the first human artifact we’ve seen since departing Hobart, unless you count satellites passing overhead at night.

This heading chop makes me uneasy. There’s a stiff wind somewhere uphill. And the evening sky is uncanny.