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Day 88

Noon Position: 48 29S  26 12E

Course/Speed: ESE5

Wind: NE10

Sail: Main and working jib full

Bar: 1003

Sea: N4

Sky: FOG. Can see maybe 30 feet past the bow.

Cabin Temp: 51

Water Temp: 39

Miles last 24-hours: 144

Longitude Miles Made Good: 138

Miles since departure: 11,845

On deck this morning, another sprinkling of critters, maybe fifty from bow to stern. Mo ran all night with wind on the quarter and then the beam and took a fair bit of water over the cabin, which deposited these shrimps liberally over the boat’s supposedly non-wetted surfaces. As a measure of how high the spray got–I found one stuck at arms length up the working jib. Like being shot from a cannon and ending up stuck to the top of the circus tent.

This afternoon I got out the macro lense and was amazed at the detail. A body and appendages that could be made of spun glass they are so clear and delicate. Big, black but blank eyes that appear to be designed to distinguish one thing–light concentrations. And overall, more the body form of a grasshopper than a shrimp.

What are they? Why are we seeing them here, on the Atlantic side, and not on the Pacific? What do they eat and who eats them?

Species distribution is interesting to contemplate. Why is the Albatross prevalent here and not in the northern part of the south Pacific or anywhere in the Atlantic? Likely because the wind is here and these waters produce more food. Too far north and a gliding bird runs into the Horse Latitudes, where it would be reduced to paddling like a duck and dunking for flying fish.

But the flying fish, for example, is a different matter. Why is it limited mostly to the tropics and not here and why is this shrimp not there?

Lacking access to facts, the contemplation typically ends right about there.

Tactics. We carried on to the east until 10am, and I thought maybe we’d skirted the area of calm in the forecast altogether. I smiled. Lucky us. But then the wind began to veer itself in that direction and drop right away, and it was decision time again.

One thing singlehanding provides is a wealth of decision-making opportunities and an unambiguous delegation-of-responsibility flow chart.

After poling the various stakeholders and checking-in with the board, I’ve decided to break with protocol and make the decision myself. I’ve chosen to follow the wind down and down until it comes back at first into the north and then northwest starting tonight.

Was that the right decision, asks a still small voice. We’re almost to 49S now.

My sense of increasing vulnerability the further south we get to one side, the weather forecast for the next week shows very similar wind velocities between 47S and 50S and plenty of opportunity to work north later in the week.

But shouldn’t we tack north now, says the voice. The wind will veer sooner to our favor up there.

No. See that swell from the north. The moment we come about, we’re nose into it. We’ll go nowhere with 10 knots of wind true.

But what if the wind goes due east; should we tack around then?

Worry about that if it happens.

As I type wind has backed from 80 degrees true to 50 degrees true. Let’s hope that’s the sign the change is coming.

Opened my first jar of Branson Pickle today, a delicacy first discovered aboard Arctic Tern, on which I was crewing the Northwest Passage in 2014. Thanks to Les and Ali Parsons for the introduction and for teaching me to bake bread on a boat.

Ate the last San Francisco orange today. Brought aboard on October 28, 2017 and still delicious.

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Day 87

Noon Position: 48 00S 22 49E

Course/Speed: E7

Wind: NNW 25

Sail: Main and working jib, both with two reefs

Bar: 1006

Sea: NW6

Sky: Overcast

Cabin Temp: 52

Water Temp: 38 (!)

Miles last 24-hours: 174

Longitude Miles Made Good: 170 (4.24 degrees of longitude–best day by far)

Miles since departure: 11,701


Midnight. It is raining. Total darkness except for the glow from running lights. The white steaming light is on too, illuminating the foredeck and the working jib, half rolled in and pulling hard.

I am standing in the cockpit and have been for some time now. I’m trying to figure my next move. One forecast calls for the current 25 knot winds with some gusts to 30 to hold for a time and then diminish. Another says winds are going to mid into the 30s. In the latter scenario, I want to fly the small orange staysail; in the former I’ll stay with things as they are. Mostly what I want is not to be on deck again in three hours. The set I decide should last the night. I look into the darkness and feel for the wind to tell me what it will do. Its only hint is that it’s not changed much since sundown. In the south, that’s not much of a hint.

The boat lights throw themselves bravely into the darkness and are quickly consumed. But sometimes they bring back a breaker or two, a pale swoosh as Mo heaves. Then my eye lands on something close in and too small to be a breaking sea. As we approach, it resolves into a gadfly petrel perched on the water, presumably sleeping. Mo rushes by, her gunnels missing the bird by but a few feet.

With a start, it spreads its wings and is immediately over my head. It hovers there gray and white against the black, it’s quick, broken movements suggesting rebuke, as if I am Acteon “who discovered the goddess bathing and his hounds tore him.” Then it backs away and is covered by the night.

That’s it. Nothing more happened. I decided to leave the sails as they were. I went below and to my bunk and to sleep. But for one brief moment that night I saw something; I caught glimpse of a secret.

Two nights ago, northerly wind pushed us below 48S, a magic line I was hoping not to cross again until the approach to the Horn. All day the wind has been veering north and tonight it will continue to veer east, pushing us even further south. How far I do not know but I think on it with a certain dread. It is as though the southern ocean is a giant whirlpool sucking us slowly, ineluctably to its center. The old whalers talked of this, of encountering cruel winds that pushed them further down and down until the days began to grow dark and ice formed on the rigging. Some never came back from that. It’s a very Kurtzian place, the south.

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Day 86

Noon Position: 48 02S 18 35E

Course/Speed: E7

Wind: NW 15-25

Sail: Working jib full, wind on port quarter

Bar: 1003

Sea: W10

Sky: Overcast

Cabin Temp: 53

Water Temp: 42

Miles last 24-hours: 163

Longitude Miles Made Good: 155

Miles since departure: 11,527

Yesterday. A half day of open blue sky and sparkling blue ocean. At 47 and a half south. If I had not seen it, I would not have believed. I spent the entire morning shooting video (below), whose images I loved so much I could not edit any out, but instead am presenting a full five minutes of boat on ocean from various angles.

The night before had seen one squall after another taking winds to 30 and requiring I run the twins reduced so I could sleep. That made the hours of uninterrupted sun the more surprising.

In the afternoon the world reverted to its mean, cold self. Cloud came in heavy and wind increased to the low 30s, due west. I rolled in the twins, then rolled in more. Then more.

Overnight I ran with just a scratch of a working jib, and we flew.

And in the morning, on day 26 of our departure from Ushuaia, we passed under Africa, or, to be more specific, under the longitude for Cape Town, after 3,567 miles of easting.

This circumnavigation around the south is variously known as a “passage via the three great capes” or “the five great capes” or just “the great capes passage.” But however it is called, Cape of Good Hope, at the southern end of the continent of Africa in longitude 18E, is one of the biggies. In our case, though, the title is appropriate in name only as said cape is a full 800 miles north.

For me its a first big step. If the the story of our time in the south has three chapters, this concludes chapter one (Cape Horn to Cape Good Hope) and will see us, in a few days, pass from the South Atlantic Ocean into the Indian. The next chapter will conclude when we pass under Cape Leeuwin in longitude 116E, which defines the southwestern tip of Australia and is just over 4,000 miles further on. The last will be the return to Cape Horn.

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No formal blog tonight. An active weather system is moving in during the time I usually write, and I need to be on deck.

Spectacular day. Blue sky for its entirety and a nice fast wind. Also our best run in a while: 171 miles over the ground noon to noon and 165 longitude made good miles. That’s 4 whole degrees of easting in 24 hours. Need many more of those.

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Day 84

Noon Position: 47 26S  10 46E

Course/Speed: E7

Wind: W20

Sail: Twins, two rolls

Bar: 981

Sea: W8

Sky: Overcast

Cabin Temp: 50

Water Temp: 42

Miles last 24-hours: 142 (Another 23-hour day due to setting ship’s clock back.)

Longitude Made Good: 133

Miles since departure: 11,192

In the morning, the working jib woke me. Rattling and banging against the shrouds, it confirmed my bet had been a poor one. Wind had not built overnight. Rather, it had gone to calm, and my decision to run conservatively–jib only–to follow the forecast rather than the hint of an evening breeze already on the wain had cost us miles.

I rose and launched the twins before coffee. Too much day has already been wasted, I thought. But this too was a mistake. Usually I play it slow in the morning, deferring major deck work until the wake-me-up hot drink and, if it’s cold and wet, a hot breakfast. We’re in a hurry, but we’re not racing. Without my usual jolt, lines became tangled and I, confused. The work was slow.

First it drizzled; then it rained. All morning the hefty swell shoved at Mo like a bully, and by way of proclaiming this an insult, she slapped her sails and jerked at lines in their chocks. I was on deck frequently trying to tune out this chafe-making, and each time I came below, I brought with me more wet. Boiling water for another coffee fogged the windows. The ceiling dripped with moisture. The little rug in the pilot house was visibly saturated. I was already cold and it was only 6am.

All the while we made a measly 4 knots.

I had expected another good mileage day. Two in a row! But no. We wallowed.

The swing between confidence and its lack I find difficult to manage. One day we make good miles and I am happy; the next is like today, and I sink. We have so far to go, I think, as many miles back to Cape Horn as we have already come from San Francisco. And in this ocean I feel exposed. A rank novice in a realm that eats novices like candy. So much I don’t know. So many mistakes already made. So so far… Am I like Santiago? Have I gone too far?

But I don’t want confidence or its lack, I think. Both are an annoyance, a distraction. Did you ever want of confidence in the Pacific? No, you just sailed. You did not think.

What I want is to be here, to figure out this groove, to ride that swell, to catch today’s wind in the sails just so. To solve this problem knowing that tomorrow there will be another. To watch that albatross and know that I am privileged to observe his absolute grace. To learn how to survive in this wild place. That’s the dream. That’s the plan.

But one does not simply divorce oneself of emotion overnight.

In the afternoon, a break! Wind has been building. Mo is making time again, wings spread wide. And then like a curtain being drawn, the sky clears. Puffy clouds and blue. I stare up as if seeing something for the first time. The log says this is our fourth short burst of sun since departing Ushuaia twenty-four days ago.

Then it hits me. Sun! I dash below for all the wet things I can lay hands on and spread them in the cockpit. I open hatches. I mop up the floor; wipe the ceiling.

Then I sit on deck with my boots off.

A black-browed albatross plops in the sea next to the boat and watches as we pass.

I am in the heaving cobalt blue southern ocean, and I get to lock eyes with an albatross.

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Day 83

Noon Position: 47 40S  7 32E

Course/Speed: E7

Wind: NW 15 – 25

Sail: Working jib out full

Bar: 993

Sea: NW 8

Sky: Overcast

Cabin Temp: 53

Water Temp: 41

Miles last 24-hours: 163 (moved clock back, so this mileage from a 23-hour day)

Longitude Made Good: 156 (best day for easting since started tracking LMG. This constitutes 3.81 degrees of longitude and brings our average LMG since Ushuaia to 136 miles a day. Up from 133. Goal is 150.)

Miles since departure: 11,050

We’re riding over a large low pressure system, which has backed off a bit this morning. So, I’ve taken the opportunity to do a small chore on the list for a while, that is, change out the starboard working jib sheet.

See video for the rest…

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Day 82

Noon Position: 47 21S  3 43E

Course/Speed: SSE4

Wind: NNW10

Sail: Twins poled

Bar: 1008

Sea: NW 4


Cabin Temp: 52

Water Temp: 42

Miles last 24-hours: 142 (I set ship’s clock back one hour yesterday; so this represents a 23-hour day. Still disappointing.)

Longitude Made Good: 123

Miles since departure: 10,887

Busy day, both from the standpoint of sail management and from that of chores in prep for our next series of lows.

Wind did a one-eighty on me again last night. Came on deck at 3am to find our easy and fast reach east under double-reefed main and working jib had described a gentle but rapid curve to the northwest without spilling a drop of wind. Ran out the poles, put us back east and then returned to bed. Mo rolled in the fresh swell and sleep was illusive.

I know these wind shifts are coming, but their actual arrival is never quite what the forecast suggests. In this case, from below the only indication we had changed course was that Mo started to pound as she turned into the north swell.

Winds went soft in the middle of the day but are building again and are increasingly northwest with more north forecast overnight. I gybed the poles after lunch–what a mess of cockpit lines that exercise makes!–and am now waiting to see how long I can carry the two headsails before having to shift back to main and working jib. I’d be pleased if the weather decided that before my sleep cycle began, but am not ever so optimistic.

A cold dry fog all day, so I’ve been happy to have the sail work and chores to keep me warm.

The chores are items I’ve wanted to get banged out before the next lows and include putting a few more wraps on the large genoa furling drum; I also lowered the line’s entry angle so that it won’t chafe on the upper lip of the opening when the sail is reefed (#fail; still chafes).

I havn’t fixed the aft compartment manual bilge pump yet (ugly job to get to it) but did bail a few gallons out with a portalbe electric pump I keep for just such occasions. The pump has about 20 feet of hose attached and a length of electrical wire nearly that of the boat so that I plug the pump into the battery bank and still get it to any compartment that may need drying out in a hurry.

The water is getting into that aft compartment via a pipe elbow near the transom used for the passage of electrical wire, now plugged with silicon. This is one of the many items in the category of “It Just Never Occurred to Me”–forgivable in many boats, but not one headed to the south.

I’m also moving the ship’s clock back an hour each day until we get to Greenwich Mean Time–yesterday, today, and tomorrow–so it’s already 5pm as I type and is starting to get dark.

Found cans of chocolate stout in the bilge a few days ago. Nice way to end a cold day. Click send. Open can. You see my motivation to finish.

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Day 81

Noon Position: 47 24S  0 40E

Course/Speed: E6

Wind: NW12

Sail: Working Jib and Main out full; wind abeam

Bar: 1011

Sea: NW3

Sky: Rain

Cabin Temp: 51

Water Temp: 42

Miles last 24-hours: 160

Longitude Made Good: 145

Miles since departure: 10,745

Today’s post is a video log. Enjoy.

PS. In the video I reference then current wind conditions as north at 10. By way of update, the Southern Ocean is now producing north winds at 25. Were on a close reach with two reefs in everything and headed SSE.

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Day 79

Noon Position: 47 34S  06 23W

Course/Speed: E7

Wind: SW25+

Sail: Working jib, full; wind on starboard quarter

Bar: 1005

Sea: SW8

Sky: Fog, then high cloud

Cabin Temp: 53

Water Temp: 40 (note much colder)

Miles last 24-hours: 142

LMG: 123

Miles since departure: 10,428

The Southern Ocean is working me today.

The forecast called for wind to do a 360 overnight as the center of a low rolled over us, and given there was little advantage in tacking through it, I planned to let Mo ride all the way around. But at 2am wind did a 180 and never completed the circle. I had to tack around anyway, an eerie and disorienting exercise in pitch dark and fog.

When we had daylight, I rigged the twins and anticipated canting them so that the southwest wind would drive us east. Success…for a few hours, but wind soon built to over 30, at which point I couldn’t reef the inner sail enough and still catch the winds. So, down came the poles. We rode the afternoon on the working jib free, wind on the starboard quarter.

In the late afternoon wind came on from the west. I poled out the twins but again wind built as the sky darkened and as I type we have 15 – 33 gusting 38. The twins are deeply furled, and all would be well except for the short but steep swell that keeps knocking the stern around. Poor Monte has his hands full as we teeter on that sharp edge between balance and wipe out.

Noticeably colder. The cabin says 48 degrees, but on deck, where I have spent most of my day, it feels arctic. Recently I said that my fingerless wool gloves allowed me to work on deck “indefinitely.” I would like to amend that to “definitely longer” than bare hands but not indefinite.” I’ve had four cups of coffee today and two of cocoa and am looking forward to boiled soup tonight.

The To-Do list got a chunk of fresh inventory this morning. The aft bilge pump has lost suction. Don’t know why as it’s new. The key that holds the pintle of the Watt and Sea in place is missing, though it was lashed to the rail with a keeper line. When I lifted Wattsy this morning, he came clean out of his bracket. And the furling line on the big genoa needs a few more wraps. This is disappointing as I’d thought I’d thrown too many on the spool to begin with, but the much stronger winds of late have shown that to be an error.


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Day 78

Noon Position: 47 22S  09 27W

Course/Speed: E6

Wind: N10+

Sail: Big genoa, full main, close reach

Bar: 1021

Sea: N3, S4

Sky: Just gray. Gray everywhere

Cabin Temp: 53

Water Temp: 47

Miles last 24-hours: 135

LMG: 123

Miles since departure: 10,286

How good it is to have slept well.

Just after last night’s post, I suited up, went back on deck and lofted the starboard pole. Wind had dropped to 10 knots, and the sail emptied and filled on the low, slow swell with a slap that sounded like rifle fire and shook the boat to its bones, a problem the pole solves.

Then I had a beer, cooked up a pot of shepherd’s pie (there were carrots in the forepeak–I’d forgotten!) and went directly to my bunk. A quite night in the Southern Ocean, what a gift; must take advantage.

Mo coasted easterly on a mostly flat sea. As I slept in my luxuriously mostly flat berth, the twins growled and grumbled for want of wind, but the complaints were not serious. I let them go. Each time I rose, the north wind that was due in the wee hours and would require sail changes had not arrived. I returned to the delicious, full-body warmth of the bag and dreamt.

At 4am I found Mo headed SSE but at 3 knots. The northerly had arrived, but it was gossamer yet. I opted for two more hours of sleep.

At 6am I took the poles down and put Mo on a reach with the big genoa leading the way and the main backing her up. We immediately went to 7 knots. Then there came a twang of guilt. That two extra hours of sleep cost us several miles of easting. One morning of laziness, no big deal, but make a habit of it and it could cost us days; it could cost us the Horn.

But I had slept! A new man was I. I could fill Mo’s sails with my own lungs.

So forget it!

Wind has come lightly from the north all day. With our big sails up, we have pushed on it good fashion, first in heavy fog, then drizzle, then just plain gray.

With the boat so still, I decided to make an egg scramble for breakfast. Onions, sausage, cheese, four eggs. All was well until I went on deck to tweak Monte’s control line and got distracted by a pod of white-sided dolphins racing Mo’s bow wave. When below again, I found I had burnt the eggs and filled the cabin with burnt-egg smoke. Even with hatches opened, the smell persisted and could only be eradicated, I decided, by baking bread.

Lunch was fresh bread with peanut butter and apricot jam. I had to stop myself after four slices.

In about three days we will reach the prime meridian, that line of zero degrees longitude that passes north/south through Greenwich and is, for all practical purposes, where time begins. In a week or so we should be below Cape Good Hope. In another 40 or so days, we’ll begin to pass under Australia. Another 40 or so days, Cape Horn.

But today I don’t have to worry about all those miles. I slept well, have fresh bread, and Mo flies on a flat sea.

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Day 77

Noon Position: 47 10N 12 32W

Course/Speed: E7

Wind: W15 – 20

Sail: Twins poled out

Bar: 1023

Sea: W4

Sky: Overcast

Cabin Temp: 57

Water Temp: 45

Miles last 24-hours: 137 (Low mileage due to light wind and that I set ship’s clock back an hour.)

Longitude Made Good: 129*

Miles since departure: 10,151  (Wow, in raw miles we have completed one quarter of the Figure 8!)

*For the Southern Ocean loop, I have begun to track Longitude Made Good. Essentially this is how much easting we’ve made in the previous 24 hours at an assumed latitude of 47S. So, 15 40W (yesterday noon) – 12 32W (today) = 3.17** degrees of longitude times 40.9 (miles to a degree of Longitude at 47S) = 129 miles of longitude made good. We are averaging something like 135LMG per day since departing Ushuaia. The goal is 150.

**Minutes of longitude need to be converted to base 100.

Today’s addition to the encyclopedia of sail handling technique: running on two headsails with one pole.

This may cause some to wonder, “Isn’t that a little like wearing one sock?” Such a thing could be seen as a fashion statement (on Robert Deniro, not on Randall) or as the height of practicality (saving the other sock for a rainy day), but most likely the wearer of one sock is just a goober.

Or Captain Goober, in my case. My niece, Sophie, sussed right away that I dislike the sobriquet, “goober,” bestowed upon me lovingly by my wife. My wife means to say “peanut.” I hear “booger.” As in, “Hey booger, nice sock.”  Sympathizing with this dislike, Sophie appended “Captain” to the fore part, and I have been Captain Goober ever since.

But I had my reasons.

Up at 4am today to run out the poles. The night gave me good sleep in two-hour shifts from about 10pm and during which wind softened. By 2am it had backed due west, but I opted for one more sleep cycle and for light before having at an exercise that isn’t complicated but does require some concentration. Even with clear skies and an early sun, I was a bit groggy, and my sail handling suffered. At one point I grabbed the wrong “lift” line and managed to heave the starboard pole smartly down upon my head. Which woke me right up.

We ran on poled twin headsails until noon, but by then wind had begun to ease into the northwest. I bent the twins around with it, but by early afternoon, they could bend no more. Winds were too light to run on but one headsail, so I simply dropped one pole and sheeted in the starboard twin.

I’ll grant you it looks odd, but the windward sail does have the effect of dampening the boat’s roll, and we’ve been averaging 7 knots.

At 10am I saw a seal. Flippers straight up in the air and a belly, to be exact. Glossy brown. About four feet long.

Once when making for Sitka, Alaska, I was 600 miles south of Seward when I saw a sea otter. It was a similarly gray morning and as the boat passed a large clump of kelp, there it was, dog-faced and furry, staring back at me. What an amazing thing to see so far from shore. My naturalist friends agreed, saying that sea otters, like sea gulls, do not willingly go to sea, and in the case of the former, are never seen more than a mile offshore. More likely the sighting was of a seal, they said.

Looks like they were right. So far today, I’ve seen three. Same posture in all cases, flippers in the air for warmth.

But from where? My friend Jessie suggests Fur Seals from South America, but north of me by about 500 miles are some rocks known as Tristan de Cunha and Gough Island. Could that be their origin?

During the sunny parts of the day, another unusual sighting, multiple Wandering Albatross. Wanderers have thus far been few and far between and never approach Mo closer than 50 yards. But today, three traveling in company, and many times during the course of several hours (but never when I had the camera) one glided in to inspect Mo and her strange occupant yelling, “Hello.” Close enough I could see the blacks of their eyes and the yellow around the mandible. Not close enough I could hear the air move over their wings.

(****FREDDY albatrtoss photo here)

Such an animal!–to so expertly extract so much energy from moving air that one can appear to be embedded in it. This while Mo and and I gyrate and flog to make a fraction of their speed with no similar grace.

I would like to ride on the back of an albatross, if only to get a feel for what muscles move what parts of the body when the bird surfs over wave-tops, when it banks in high arcs, for from all outward appearances it moves not at all. Albatross could be carved from blocks of wood.

Fog and drizzle coming in as I type. Wind is easing. Now about 10 knots. The sails slap a the tops of waves. I want an easy night and sleep, which requires an easy, consistant wind. But wind is due to go north in a few hours, requiring that I drop the port pole and raise the main before sunup.

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Day 76

Noon Position: 47 09S 15 40W

Course/Speed: E5

Wind: SW25

Sail: Storm Jib

Bar: 1012

Sea: W and SW, steep to 15

Sky: Clear

Cabin Temp: 55

Water Temp: 49

Miles last 24-hours: 165

Miles since departure: 10,014

Our “little low” (my words, now eaten for breakfast and lunch) came on to blow last night. The forecast called for winds to 30 that, at 1am, went 40 gusting 45. Or, more precisely, wind went 18 to 45–the typical southern ocean spread. I had to bring in the working jib, which felt as if it was going to make Mo airborne or burst; neither are allowed.

By morning the sea was the steepest I’ve seen with a train from the west and southwest crashing and mushrooming heavily. Wind had dropped to 25, but I left Mo on storm jib until noon thinking that going slowly in such a boulder garden a good idea. It is difficult to go slowly when we have so far to go, and I looked forward to the sail change.

There was some sun, so I set the solar panels and rigged the genoa poles for the west wind to 25 called for in the forecast.

After the noon log, I set about making sail changes, but suddenly winds went 35 gusting 40 from the southwest. The sky came in dark and a sea laid Mo over and knocked down both solar panels. While I was switching back to Monte’s “heavy wind” air blade, a wave pooped the cockpit entirely and put several gallons of water down the companionway hatch, which I had left lowered for some much needed fresh air in my otherwise unventilated living quarters.

Below boat motion was such that when you returned the coffee container the cupboard, it flew back at you along with the jar of curry paste and the peanut butter before you can shut the door.


By late afternoon, I’d had it and started yelling at inanimate objects that failed to follow my orders.

The frustration is due, at least partly, to lack of sleep. With this active weather cycle, I’ve been up more frequently than usual. And it’s been rough. Mo’s berths have lee cloths for protection against being thrown to the floor, but they don’t keep one from flopping around as the boat heaves and rolls. I use extra cushions and pillows to create full-body wedges, but the result is not always satisfactory. Nights have been broken up due to this and being on deck. And for some reason, naps of late aren’t producing any actual napping.

This “boiling over” is now something I watch for as a cue that I’m beginning to run tired.

Not that I have an immediate solution, except to note it and be extra careful.

On the bright side, we are making miles (165 yesterday) in the right direction and are now closer to the Cape of Good Hope than Cape Horn.

I’ve also discovered that my fingerless wool gloves do an excellent job of keeping hands warm even when sopping wet. The hand warms the wet wool which acts as an insulation against both wind and hand contact with cold metal rails, and such. I can now go indefinitely without needing to take a break for a hand warm-up.

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Noon Position: 47 09S 19 28W

Course/Speed: E6

Wind: WNW 20 – 25

Sail: Working jib, one reef

Bar: 1010

Sea: SW10

Sky: Overcast

Cabin Temp: 54

Water Temp: 49

Miles last 24-hours: 152

Miles since departure: 9849

Wind went southwest 35 to 45 in the late evening. Absolute dark. Without deck lights, not even the bright orange storm jib is visible. One gets the sense of being locked in. The sail is set; Monte’s wind angle is chosen. The are no decisions left to be made. Now the course, and success, will be up to the wind and the sea. All I can do is watch. Watch the boat work and hope she is strong.

I am cold. I have been cold all day. Especially my feet, which are like bricks of ice. The cabin is 55 degrees, a temperature which does not warrant such feelings of chill. A few days ago as we ramped up to this event, I noticed that my cold-all-day feet would warm with the evening beer, which comes from the bilge and is 45 degrees. The warmth could not be from the alcohol, either. It must be the simple act of relaxing that does it.

There’s a gust to 50.

The roar in the rigging is that of a commercial jet engine. When a sea crashes just before it reaches the boat such that the white-water turbulence flows under Mo, knocking her to one side, the sound is that of a commercial jet afterburner kicking in, a low pshhhh. When Mo is broadsided, it’s like the blast from cannon. It always stops my heart.

I have nothing to do but watch, the chart plotter, the wind gauge; I flip on the deck lights and watch the sail. She’s still drawing cleanly. But I can’t see the waves, only feel them.

The sublime, according to William Fox in TERRA ANTARCTICA is “that which is simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.” Tonight I can’t see the beauty but I can feel the terror that comes of being in the grip of something utterly beyond control. It’s grim; it’s fascinating; it is, I decide, why I’m here.

But even being gripped in the middle of a southern ocean gale can be boring. Scared out of ones wits boring. Watching isn’t helping. So, at midnight I hit my bunk. The bag is like ice. Boat motion is extreme. I doze unsatisfactorily until dawn.

In daylight the waves are majestic. Steep and crashing. The main train is southwest, but there’s a large swell from the west and a much diminished one from the northwest. When the two larger meet, the sea becomes pyramidal, leaping straight up and crashing onto itself.

Our course is now northeast and winds light enough for more sail, but I remember the knockdown in December and Moitessier’s notes about the double train. Heading east would put Mo close to beam on the larger swell. Care for the boat is more important than easting. So I wait.

By noon the sea is down. I open the working jib, douse the storm jib and put the boat easterly. Ah, lovely…at last every mile counts.

Dark. Another, smaller low moves through tonight. I’ve left the working jib up. My feet aren’t nearly as cold.  

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Day 74

Noon Position: 48 21S 22 13W

Course/Speed: e5

Wind: NW 20 – 30

Sail: Storm Jib

Bar: 974

Sea: N and NW to 12

Sky: Overcast with rain

Cabin Temp: 56

Water Temp: 45

Miles last 24-hours: 158

Miles since departure: 9697

On day 74, Randall and Mo are 1800 miles east of Cape Horn and working through a low pressure system from the North.

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Day 73

Noon Position: 48 03S 26 04W

Course/Speed: SE 6

Wind: NE 20

Sail: Two tucks in the working jib, two reefs in the main

Bar: 985

Sea: NE5

Sky: FOG and rain

Cabin Temp: 58 (how I do not now; I’m freezing)

Water Temp: 45

Miles last 24-hours: 137

Miles since departure: 9539

Early this morning I came about onto starboard tack close hauled. Winds had been pushing Mo south when I thought I needed more northing. The sails filled, we heeled over and charged off. I set Monte on his new course, tidied up the lines in the cockpit, admired the day (fog) and … OH NO!…

Above the companionway ladder I have a small sign that reads “Stop. Think.”

Beyond being a practical admonition generally, this sign has a specific intention–to remind me to close the galley sink drain valve when we come onto starboard tack (something we have not done since I can remember). The galley and sink are on port side, and as the boat heels, sea water can back-flush through the drain into the sink, fill it, and spill over into the cupboards and pour into the bilge.

The first time I failed this test was departing Hanalei Bay for home in 25-knot trades.  I’d nearly filled the bath-tub sized bilge before I discovered my mistake. This time I was “lucky.” Only one cupboard had to be emptied and dried, and the bilge took only 20 stroaks to clear.

Clearly I need a better memory aid.

Each new forecast shows the approaching low has changed slightly such that I’ve given up aiming for a particularly beneficial position and am just pushing east as fast as we can reasonably go.

Winds have been from the north at plus 20 most of the day. With two tucks in the working jib and two reefs in the main we are comfortably averaging 7+ knots.

Every hour the bar drops another point. And the fog continues without a break–three full days of featureless gray and visibility no further than a few waves on. I had no idea an ocean could contain this much fog. Today rain was added to the mix, sometimes heavy. All of which heightens the sense of foreboding and unhappy inevitability of what comes next.

But what comes next? We all have to wait till it gets here to know.

Tonight I’ll make a double-sized portion of stew, enough for two days, maybe more. Along about daybreak I’ll drop the main and secure the boom in its crutch. I’ll rig the second running backstay and make sure both are good and tight. Then I’ll run the storm jib sheets and prepare the halyard. And with that we’ll be ready.

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Day: 72

Noon Position: 48 25S 28 45W

Course/Speed: ENE 7

Wind: NW 20

Sail: Working jib full, wind port quarter

Bar: 1005

Sea: NW 4

Sky: FOG, fog, and drizzle

Cabin Temp: 56

Water Temp: 42

Miles last 24-hours: 161

Miles since departure: 9402

The theme of these last days is fog, a thick, wet fog not satisfied to simply occlude one’s view of the horizon; no, it has to double the insult by coating the pilot house windows and my glasses if I’m on deck, rendering boat and crew blinded near and far.

Except for radar, on watch this last thousand miles and into the foreseeable future, we would have been making our 7 knots of foreward on a hope and a prayer. But I sometimes wonder if it’s a good thing that the radar sees nothing hour after hour. Surely there must be something out there to ping. I wipe a window and peer past the bow for what the radar must be missing. I see only gray, and then I recall the last 72 days of empty sea.

I’ve been running Mo easy, just a headsail, the big genoa if the winds are light, the working genoa when they pipe up. We’ve been fast enough on that rig (162 and 161 miles the last two days) and I’ve wanted to get rested for later in the week, which portends to be exciting. With Mo minding her business, I’ve been sleeping full nights, napping in the afternoon, and making big dinners, because come Thursday, I may be on duty for some time.

There is a biggish, fast moving low approaching from the NW with winds on the trailing edge upwards of 40 knots. Because its dropping down diagonally (it began its career up near Uruguay) rather than marching easterly like its civilized brethren in the 50s and 60s below us, how to position Mo has been a puzzle. In fact, there hasn’t seemed much I could do but wait for it to overtake us and be ready. Hence my course due east.

But as of this morning, there seems to be an opening. At ten o’clock, I altered course to NE and have plotted a target of 48N and 27W. This position appears to be just high enough to get above the eye and avoid the strong southerly winds I’d get (albeit briefly) a mere half a degree lower and one degree further west. If I’m lucky and can work even further east than 27W, I may avoid the hottest of the winds and be able to maintain an easterly course throughout the blow.

We shall see soon enough.

6pm. Winds quite calm now. We are close hauled NE. Been on deck tuning Monte and sails this last hour and I could swear the breeze carries the rich funk of animal life. That and the sudden sense of cold makes me feel there is a big berg to windward that hosts a penguin colony. The radar could not disagree more.  

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Day 71

Noon Position: 48 31S 32 31W

Course/Speed: E7

Wind: NW to 20

Sail: Big Genoa, out full, wind on port quarter

Bar: 1010

Sea: NW6

Sky: FOG!!! And drizzle, all day

Cabin Temp: 56

Water Temp: 45

Miles last 24-hours: 162

Miles since departure: 9241

How far is it back to Cape Horn? How long should the circuit take? What can I expect when I get there?

I do the distance math every day it seems, if not on paper, then in my head, each time hoping to find a carry-the-one error that will magically reduce the miles. It’s a long, remote, and exposed route under the best of conditions, and with the unexpected stop in Ushuaia, I’m behind my initial schedule, a schedule designed around approaching Cape Horn during the “least bad” times of year.

But what’s it mean to be behind schedule? What effect will it have?

First question: How far is it around?

My target latitude for the southern ocean circuit is 47S (subject to change without notice). The distance in nautical miles around that parallel is the circumference of the earth times the cosine of that latitude. So, 360 (number of degrees in the circle) times 60 (nautical miles in a degree of latitude) equals 21,600 (circumference of the earth in nautical miles) times the cosine of 47 equals 14,731 miles.*

I will need to drop back down to 56S in order to round Cape Horn again, but the further south I go the shorter the distance around the circle such that it’s nominally shorter to go from 47S around the Cape and back to 47S than it would be to sail a rhumb line between those two points, even if such were possible.

So, let’s stick with 14,731.

But that number assumes we maintain a perfect course due east for the entire circuit, which we won’t do. Sometimes I’ll want to head NE or SE to take the wind around the lows at a more beneficial angle. So how can I factor in this “inefficiency?” Not sure. I can say, by way of example, that over the last three days of easting, we have been 3.1%, 5.7%, and 5.0% inefficient respectively. Yesterday we sailed 162 miles from noon to noon based on our movement over the ground. However, the “miles made good,” the distance between where we were at noon yesterday and where we were at noon today was 157 miles. That’s a difference of only 5 miles or 3.1%.

Is that typical? Dunno. Unlike most other routes anywhere, my sail around the south will be almost entirely with the prevailing wind. So, let’s assume my miles made good each day will suffer from an inefficiency ratio of 8% (double the average of the last three days).

Total miles to sail, then, are 15,909.

Second question: How long should that take?

I’m budgeting 150 miles per day on average for the southern ocean loop (an average of 6.25 knots per hour). Mo’s hull speed is somewhere around 8.3 knots, so getting to 6.25 is no trouble if there’s wind. Our average for the first leg of this voyage (San Francisco to Cape Horn) was 136 miles per day just before steering failed; that included the doldrums and some painfully slow sailing on either side. Our average for the first eleven days of this loop is 144 miles per day, including three days of unusually calm weather just east of the Falklands. This is the windiest damned ocean on earth–I think 150 miles per day is achievable.

So, 15,909 miles of loop divided by 150 miles per day equals 106 days of sailing. I departed Ushuaia on January 12th, which puts us back at the Horn on (or around) April 28.

Third question: What can I expect?

A look at the Pilot Charts** suggests the “only difference” between a March, April, or May rounding of the Cape is an average increase in the number of gales per month from 2% to 3%, and not in every quadrant. In either case, that’s less than one per month. But we should note that the charts make no comment on changes in severity, just the percent of winds over Force 7 on the Beaufort Scale. Also note that Mo has already weathered two gales on the Pacific side and will encounter another by Friday. So, there’s that.

On the plus side, Tony Gooch notes that though the chartering sailboats that make the summer hop across the Drake Passage between Ushauai and the Antarctic end their gigs in March, they do so because they are making the passage with wind abeam and they are on a schedule. We have no schedule but to make it there and back, and we’ll be running with the wind.

Also, an interesting comment regarding late roundings comes from Moitessier’s THE LONG WAY, “Vito Dumas picked the end of May or early June to round the Horn from west to east. In his book, he considers that that was the best period. Being Argentinian, he was well informed.”

So, where does that leave us? Heading east with alacrity and being thankful for a well found boat with lots of food and water aboard.

*Many thanks to Matt, currently cruising on DRINA in South Georgia for the cosine formula. I hope to repay the favor someday by teaching him how to diagram sentences.

**Cornell’s Ocean Atlas, Jimmy and Ivan Cornell, South Pacific Ocean.

On a lighter note, I opened Kelton’s jar of Apricot jam today. That on my home-made bread, toasted, was a delicious way to start the day.

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Day 70

Noon Position: 48 01S  36 23W

Course/Speed: ESE7

Wind: WNW25

Sail: Working jib, one tuck

Bar: 1011

Sea: W7

Sky: Overcast, Fog

Cabin Temp: 62

Water Temp: 50

Miles last 24-hours: 146

Miles since departure: 9079

After a fantastic three-day flight, the poled-out twins came down around midnight. Wind had faded with the day and shifted north, and I couldn’t bend that rig round any more without feeling silly.

We ran till dawn with the large genoa full and free, a breeze on the port quarter just strong enough to fill it. The sail glowed like a white balloon under a starry sky so packed with moonless light that Orion could almost hide in the clutter. Winds were 20 by morning and increasing, so I shifted to the working jib, which now has a tuck in it. Today has been soupy, alternating between fog and drizzle and, for a change of scenery, just plain gray, a seascape so dull the birds have retired elsewhere.

With Mo sailing herself, I’ve used my time to make and mend. Yes, even after the work done in Ushuaia, there’s still a to-do list. We’ve got some weather coming our way later in the week, so of special focus are the jobs that make us more ready for big wind and waves. For example, the electronics locker that took water during our knockdown in December is now gasketed with coax tape (good stuff, coax tape–lots of uses); the deck hatches have been resealed; the anchor locker and aft bilge have been inspected and drained (not much there, but good to have a baseline); and chafe on the Jordan Series drogue bridle has been repaired.

After days of trending north, Mo’s course now has some south in it. That’s because the coming low looks to be most intense in its upper half. My current strategy is to head down to 49S and 30W, likely there by Wednesday noon, and then trend due east. The low should roll over us on Thursday and give us strong S winds that veer to SW on Friday, allowing us to make our way back north. At least that’s what the long range forecast suggests.  

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Day 69

Noon Position: 48 05S 39 44W

Course/Speed: ENE 6-7

Wind: W 17

Sail: Twins poled

Bar: 1014

Sea: W to 10

Sky: Clear, bright sun

Cabin Temp: 58

Water Temp: 51

Miles last 24-hours: 179. Best single day for miles yet, I believe.

Miles since departure: 8993

I am a stranger in a strange land, an alien exploring an environment for which he is wholly unsuited, can barely comprehend. I cannot swim with the white-sided dolphins. I cannot fly with the chocolate petrel. I cannot surf the waves they both surf. Disassociated from my ship, I am dead meat in half an hour.

From my windows I observe beings that share nothing with humans except, in the case of the chocolate petrel and the black browed albatross, a certain curiosity about the other. All afternoon the petrels cruise the waves in and around Mo. They swing high and low and circle endlessly eyeing the boat as if they are the field biologists for their race, as if they are making notes they will report at the annual meeting of the Petrel Oceanographic Society, Southern Chapter, concerning the recent discovery of the previously-unknown-to-science creature with great white wings that does not fly.

For my part, it is interesting to consider what makes them alien–or, put another way, what of the thousand and one normal human experiences they will live and die without experiencing, ever even suspecting.

For example, their world contains…

No fresh water

No squishing mud between toes

No daffodils in spring; no peaches in summer; no squash soup in fall

No hamburgers, no pizza

No hot coffee

No hot showers

No hot anything except the blood that fills your beating heart

No baseball

No algebra


No piano, No violin

No road rage

No elevator conversation

No Bright Lights, Big City

No smog

No Pledge of Allegiance

No national debt (no debt)

No fire drills (no fire)

No sexual harassment seminars

No dreams, no sleep

No corner pub

No holidays

No friends

No holding hands

No church, no school

No priest, no president, no god.

The singular defining element of the petrel world is an abstraction–motion, a triad of movement that is the constant heave of the sea, the wind that pushes it skyward, and the petrel itself, surfing endlessly; perpetual motion in which there is no fixed point, no roost, like the sparrow’s bush or the hawk’s tree. Unlike the heron that sleeps in the sun after its morning feed, the petrel keeps flying, always flying. Colors in this world include blue, gray, white, and a pale turquoise and ranges in between. That’s it. Temperatures are inconsequential because somehow you don’t get cold. Territories do not exist; there is no kingdom of Petrels East into which Petrels West may not trespass, and there are no boarders, as such–the sea and wind go round and round. Days are no different from nights except for the change in the quality of light, because at night the wind still blows and the waves still heave and you are always flying; every day, all day you are gliding; for an entire life, you surf that interstice of wind over waves.

As you glide this world of motion, your own body hardly even moves a muscle. Movement defines you, but you are a study in stillness. You are the fixed point.

Unless you are a gadfly petrel, and here the one difference is that you do not glide, ever! Instead you flap your wings madly 24/7…in wind and rain and sleet and snow, in calm, in storm, and on clear days and cold nights. Endless, utterly frantic self-propelled motion. So, for the gadfly, there is yet one more element that makes him alien–his is a life without rest.

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Day 68

Noon Position: 48 40S 43 54W

Course/Speed: SE 7+

Wind: WNW 25

Sail: Twins poled out, heavily reefed

Bar: 1002

Sea: W8

Sky: Rain

Cabin Temp: 61

Water Temp: 51

Miles last 24-hours: 164

Miles since departure: 8754

We’ve been sailing with the twins poled out for three and a half days.

It’s a fine way to make miles.

The Commodore, whose father, Warwick Tompkins wrote 50 SOUTH TO 50 SOUTH, tut-tutted when he saw Mo’s sail configuration. His boat, Flash Girl, was undergoing a refit at KKMI in Richmond at the same time Mo and I were readying for sea. “Don’t like that rig,” he said as we stood on the dock admiring my boat (well, I was admiring my boat), “she’ll roll too much if you ask me.”

And, yes, twin headsails *can* be rolly when out full in light winds or when sheeted flat. But in heavier weather, as we have now, Mo runs as if on rails.

Wind started to come on yesterday afternoon, and by the time I woke this morning, we were cruising the leading edge a low whose center is down around 60S. By noon winds were NW to 20; then 25; then 25-30. Only this hour (5pm) has wind gone W as the low’s center passes under and ahead of us.

I furl a bit of sail, and as things intensify, I furl a bit more. Because the poles are quite long, this shortening of sail has the effect of pulling the poles forward, which bellies out the head of the sail, and that belly acts as a damper to the boat’s tendency to roll. It’s magical to watch.

A nice illustration of this comes from a water color by Marin Marie, a copy of which I keep taped to one of Mo’s cupboards. Here the two twins on poles are also quite full and forward. I presume Marie is running on a brisk day in the tropics given he’s in white shorts and wears a pith helmet.

7pm. Of course, then there’s the question of just how much wind the twins can take. I’ve been on deck the last two hours trying to answer that. Wind strengthened as it went into the W, a steady 30-33 knots at times with gusts to the high 30s. Now the twins are the size of pillow cases, and I think I’ve reached the extent that I can roll them and still get sufficient pull.

“Sufficient,” might be a misnomer. We’re averaging 8 knots an hour these last four.

This run of days is also the first, best illustration of how I’d like to make this circumnavigation of the southern ocean, which is to say, surfing the top third of the low pressure systems that go round and round down here. The problem to solve is at what latitude. For the moment, I’m staying further south than I had planned because of the calms above me and because the lows are also deeply south. I don’t think this will last the further we get from Cape Horn.

A thing to be watched. Closely.

Getting into the swing of things on day seven by forcing my head down for a nap. Was a bright day, so I used my sock cap pulled low to block out the light.

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Day 67

Noon Position: 48 42S 47 48W

Course/Speed: ESE 5

Wind: WNW 10

Sail: Both headsails poled out

Bar: 1006

Sea: Flat

Sky: Overcast, squalls to windward

Cabin Temp: 65 (because I’m baking bread)

Water Temp: 49

Miles last 24-hours: 89

Miles since departure: 8590

I put myself on short sleep last night because the weather forecast called for an increasing wind that would shift into the west. Both big headsails were poled out at the time, Mo could be easily overpowered, and I wanted to be ready to take action if needed.

Each hour I rose, it was the same. Wind south at 6 knots. We crawled along, sails filling and then crumpling like paper. Filling and crumpling.

At 2am, I saw a faint, flat glow on an otherwise black horizon to the east. It seemed too early to be dawn coming on. It must be an iceberg. A big one. We are, after all, near the iceberg zone. I switched on the radar, which I’d left off to save the batteries and because I intended to be on deck frequently. No reflection. Two hours later, that part of the horizon turned red. It was dawn.

The day was the same as the night. The barometer kept rising, 1005, 1006, 1007, the sky was low and squally, and we wafted along as though we were on the edge of the doldrums.

So I made bread.

When putting together the provisions list so many months ago now, I budgeted a fresh loaf of bread every five days. Nothing speaks to home comfort more than bread and comfort is often in short supply aboard.

But in the tropics it was too hot. And in the south it was too rough. And I was worried I’d not have enough fuel (even though this too was budgeted). Baking never happened. Fifty pounds of flour aboard, and not a bag has been opened…until today.

The bread I’m making is the “no-knead” variety. Put flour mix into a bowl, add yeast mix, stir till a compact ball, let rise for 30 minutes, bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. That’s it.

The mix I like best…

1 1/2C All Purpose Flour

1/4C Whole Wheat Flour

1/4C Flax Meal

1T Sunflower Seeds

1T Flax Seed

1T Psyllium/ground

1T Whole Bulgar

1T Sesame Seeds

1 1/2t Salt

2 1/4t Yeast

1T sugar

Judging temperatures in the new stove is a bit of a guess, but it worked. By noon I had a hot loaf with a crunchy crust, which made a great base for the massive egg scramble that came next.

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Team Figure 8 Made a bit of an error and missed this post. Instead of depriving you we decided you should get to read it too.

Noon Position: 51.53S 56.36W

Course/Speed: NE3

Wind: W7

Sail: Big genoa out full

Bar: 1006

Sea: W3

Sky: Clear

Cabin Temp: 56

Water Temp: 47

Miles last 24-hours: 149 (previous 24-hours: 159)

Miles since departure: 8144

The south is dealing gently with me these first few days, as if it can sense my ambivalence.

Wind on port quarter has been 15 to 30, and I’ve run with the working jib only, making way to the NE that seems effortless. Downwind of the Falklands the sky cleared to blue and sun and the breeze backed off to but a whisper. The sail went limp like laundry on a line. Except for the temperature and the Wandering Albatross, we could be in the middle Pacific, but even temperatures are warm. The cabin is 65 degrees as I type, up from 49 this morning.

Probably the ambivalence needs no explanation. The Figure 8 has but one goal: to get around the route and return home safely in one year. But I had personal goals nested inside the bigger endeavor, like going non-stop from San Francisco to Greenland, like rounding the Horn twice in a year. Both now gone. Then there’s the disappointment of having prepared so intensely only to be stopped two days from the first big achievement, the Horn, by failures no-one would have suspected. When particularly morose, I think to myself that I planned like Amundsen but was dealt a Shackleton. Then add the uncertainty of the next three months in the Roaring 40s and a second attempt at the Horn on the cusp of inauspicious southern fall.

Please don’t take this as complaint. When Jiver of SIR ERNST, the boat rafted next to Mo in Ushuaia, says, “It is a beautiful cruise you are making,” part of what he means is “you lucky bastard…look at what you get to attempt,” and this from a man who is recreating the cruises of Earnest Shackleton. I do understand my inexplicable good fortune to be out here at all. But I presume you are reading this because you are interested in what goes on inside the mind of a man who would try such a thing, and what goes on is not always guts and glory.

So I am grateful to the south for dealing gently with me these first few days.

I came on deck yesterday morning to find Lt. Wattsy’s (Watt and Sea Hydrogenerator) propellor had come off. What I pulled from the sea was a bare stainess steel shaft, clean as new. The day before a school of dolphins were at Mo’s stern nibbling at Monte’s retrieval line. I watched until they dispersed, but half suspected they’d returned to have a go at Wattsy, with the result being that they’d sheered the pin holding the prop in place.

Not so. The pin simply unwound and it and prop wandered away in the night.

I have one extra of the right size. Now in place with a screw that is doubled-down with Locktite.

By way of breaking the mood this afternoon and reminding Mo and me that we aren’t beyond the pale just yet, I looked up from the cockpit where I was hanging damp clothes to dry to see a C134-type aircraft giving us the once-over. Ah yes, the Falklands are just over the horizon to our stern, I thought.

After the fly-low, it took off to the south.

The wind has filled in from the NW to 20 and we romp on at 8 knots under all plain sail toward our rendesvous with 48N.

Steady as she goes.

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Day 66

Noon Position: 49 27S 49 11W

Course/Speed: NNE3

Wind: S7

Sail: Both headsails poled out full, flopping around

Bar: 1002, steady

Sea: Small rollers from the N and SW

Sky: Clear

Cabin Temp: 60

Water Temp: 48

Miles last 24-hours: 92

Miles since departure: 8501

Some birds are more curious than others. The Wandering Albatross, for example, can’t be bothered. It approches until it recognizes that odd object on the horizon that is not a wave and is not a fish. “Oh, a boat; never mind.” And then it glides away with as much effortlessness as it used on its approach. It’s a big bird with a big belly to fill. It doesn’t have time to chat.

The smaller Albatrosses–still the biggest thing around–like the Black Browed and the Grey Headed, are more social, will circle in for a thorough examination. This happened frequently on the approach to Bahia Cook when I was hand steering and had time to notice. A particular bird, of the many on the wing near that coast, would take a fancy to Mo. He’d surf around and around the boat, hover over the cockpit, even land nearby and watch as Mo and that unusual being clad in red, made their slow way east.

I would often shout, “HELLO!” at the top of my lungs to the hovering birds. Possibly this served to intensify the stare I got, but no bird ever condescended to make an answer or even look startled.

Today, it was a wholly brown petrel (Great-Wing? or some other of the “dark” petrels south of his region?) that came calling.

It was our second morning of wind so light I could barely feel it move, and yet Mo made way and (somehow) Monte kept her on course. I was at chores on deck when I first noticed the bird. The salon hatches leak a bit when water is breaking over the house, and today’s bodger for that was to put a layer of coax tape over the rubber so as to create a gooey (and we hope watertight) seal when the hatch is compressed closed. That and the lifelines needed tightening. And then there’s always some chafe to chase.

I saw the bird plot in the water close to our minimal wake and didn’t think much of it. Five minutes later I noticed another plop. Same bird. Nearly same spot. This time I watched. The bird paddled furiously for a minute attempting to keep up with Mo’s 3 knots. Then gave up. Then swooshed its beak in the water for a bit. Then yawned. Then took off, circled, and plopped nearby. This process repeated for several hours.

A Black Browed cruised in but didn’t stay. The fly-like-mad-till-your-wings-fall-off gadflys flew like mad all around but seemed not to notice Mo or her attendant. Only the brown petrel hung close.

Late in the afternoon the wind came up 12 knots from the SSW. Finally Mo’s sails filled. No more rattle and bang. The brown petrel too decided to stretch its wings. Around and around Mo it went–over the cockpit where I stood watching, under Mo’s spread-wide genoas, over waves and swoop high, then back toward Mo for another close-up. Over and over and over.

Finally, I went below for a cup of coffee, and when I came back on deck, the bird was gone.

Even as a child I thought Doctor Doolittle had missed his calling. Here was a guy who could talk to animals, but he never talked to anything but the cows and chickens. He never went off to ask questions of the snow leopard or the condor or the sperm whale.

Because even as an adult, I’d give anything to be able to invite this brown petrel in for cheese and crackers. I want to know what it eats, how it finds what it eats, how it knows to cant its wings this way or that over this or that wave, how, when I’m on drogue in a storm and in survival mode, it can fly over gray beards the size of city blocks with the same nonchalance it employs today. Mostly I want to know what it’s like to live, day and night, on the ocean.

The odor in the forepeak, where I store all more food, is producing that stale scent of rotting vegetation. Likely this is the cabbage that went missing some months back, but for all my sleuthing I can’t find it. I did find, however, five oranges, packed aboard the morning Mo went under the Golden Gate Bridge. All are still in perfect order, except the two that I ate, whose sweet deliciousness is being happily digested.

Heavy wind is slamming into the west coast of South America. Seven hundred miles east of us, a very tight low with gale force winds is dropping down from the northwest. But here, puffy cumulus; cobalt blue water; an (almost) warm tradewind-like breeze…at 50S. It’s weird.