The Last of the Doldrums? And a Ship

October 19, 2018

Day 15

Noon Position: 07 49N  129 41W

Course/Speed: SWxW 5

Wind: SSE 10

Sea: S 4

Sky: Squalls and Altocumulus, Rain

10ths Cloud Cover: 10

Bar: 1013, falling

Cabin Degrees Fahrenheit: 84

Water Degrees Fahrenheit: 83

Percent Relative Humidity: 77

Sail: #2 genoa; main, close hauled

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 95 (Our lowest mileage day this leg.)

Miles since departure: 2043

Avg. Miles/Day: 136

Light and variable overnight with heavy squalls of rain. I motored due south. It was either that or heave to. By morning, a usable wind. I made sail before coffee.

I’d say that by all appearances we’re out of it, beyond the gasping, sickly-hot reach of the doldrums. All day wind has been steady, if light, from just E of S. The sky is mostly blue; the squalls on the horizon are not so dark. The air feels dryer, and the water temperature has gone down one click.

But the forecast declares otherwise. A blob lays ahead of us, it says. But for the moment, I get to feel like we’ve pushed through to the (decidedly south) SE trades.

Just after dawn, a ship, the Ocean Echo, making 11 knots and dead for us. We’ve not seen many ships since getting below Panama, but each seems to have had a point of approach close enough to need attention. I fell off, and ever so slowly we passed.

Then, once our courses began to diverge…

“Moli, Moli…Ocean Echo.”

“Ocean Echo, Moli.”

“Hello. Good morning. You are a sailboat?” The voice was soft, even diffident, and carried an accent I did not recognize.

I don’t call ships. It feels presumptive–like yelling into a construction site just to shoot the breeze with the foreman. But I’m pleased when they call me.

“Yes. A sailboat. A sloop. Aluminum. 45 feet.”

“And…um…how there is room in such a…is there room?”

Ocean Echo is a bulk carrier. At 500 feet on deck, she’s small compared to the 1200 foot container ships common further north, but from her bridge deck, Mo must have been so tiny as to be difficult to see–even at our closest, 1.5 miles–a gray hull on a gray ocean, a mere spec being flung about by seas whose impact Ocean Echo didn’t notice.

I explained the room, the year’s stores; when departed and where, the destination.

“Oh. Ok. And your course. It is moving…very much. You do not steer…?”

I explained small ship, big sea and being steered by a wind device.”

“Oh. Ok. And your crew. How many are your crew?”

I explained I was “Singlehanding. Solo. Alone.”

“Oh. Ok.”

I feel a kinship with the mariners on these big vessels, at least after it becomes clear their behemoth isn’t going to run me down. The guys on Ocean Echo are 10 days out of Lima, Peru headed for Nindge, China with a heavy load of recyclables (I think); it’ll be two weeks before they make port. Long ocean passages, they understand. It’s what they do.

But I forget that my sense of a shared passion, of a common pursuit, is in my own head. The big ship guys haven’t the foggiest notion about sailboats. Likely they regard the crossing of oceans on such small, delicate craft–and without pay!–as incomprehensible, utter lunacy.

None have been so impolite as to say so, but the questions suggest it. For example, no bridge officer has yet responded to my answers with, “Oh, that sounds like fun.”

Evening. Wind is light from SSE. But the sea is large and lumpy, and Mo can’t get up the speed to point better than 60 degrees off the wind. Our heading is SW when our goal (Cape Horn) is SE. If I sail on, I sail away from our destination and risk sailing into a blob of calm, but at least I make some southing. If I tack, I’ll make east but no south and risk sailing back into the belt of calm. Such are the options of sailboats.

3 Comments on “The Last of the Doldrums? And a Ship

  1. Ships passing? Great picture! I think I would be happy to hear from a fellow traveler in such a remote place. While alone in your travels, you bear the hearts and mind’s of us landlocked arm chair sailors. Thank you. Good luck and Godspeed!

  2. I just LOVE your photos, thank you Randall! And I love being there with you and sharing your passage!! It looks rather squally there. Thank you so much, I really look forward to having my screen, dammit, be there right with you…… You are the lucky one!!

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