Thursday 16 April 2015

20 Days at Sea, Part1: The First 1000 NM

Thursday April 16th 2015

Flying fish are found on deck every morning

Our fresh eggs, unrefrigerated, are vaselined and rotated every 24 hours

Our fresh provisions, found at the local farm on Santa Cruz

Meg pulls her weight

One of the 19 beautiful sunsets we sailed into

This is a BIG deal mom !”, she tells me. “I know, I know!” Although we sure aren't acting like it, leaving for a 21 day (more or less) crossing from Galapagos to French Polynesia (3000 nm with an average boat speed of 6 nm/hour), IS a BIG deal, so why are we so casual about it as we pull anchor at sunset from Santa Cruz ?? Well, I guess we are just feeling ready ! After one year living onboard, hard work and compromises, we are ready as we will ever be, and the boat is ready, thanks mostly to Mark for all of his hard work and dedication to get her there. 

The Galapagos were a big deal too of course, and for me, a dream come true: They did not disappoint! I could write for days and talk to you for hours about all the things I loved (we ALL loved) about these Enchanted Islands, but we are moving on, on to our next Chapter, French Polynesia and a much different world. 

We have been sailing for 7 days ( 8 nights) and its been going very well. The seas have been a bit disorganized at times, (swell hitting us from different directions) but nothing major, the winds have varied from low to great. As I type this we are currently in the GREAT phase, with winds around 20 knots coming from behind us. We have a 24 hour watch system, so there is always someone on watch even though 'Otto" (our auto pilot) does most of the steering. The night watches are : MC from 19:00-21:30 then Mark from 21:30-03:00 ( he is a night owl!) and MC from 03:00-07:00. I am surprised by how much I am enjoying this watch. ( I get to see the sunrise everyday and feel a true sense of renewal at each one!) I have sustained uninterrupted "alone time" to let my thoughts wander and follow along to see where they take me. I have the time to appreciate all the beauty around me, with just the sound of the waves and wind, pushing Amelie along, to keep me company. 

Here are a few thoughts that have been with me on the first part of this journey. 

Fear : I think of the people back home who might be worried about us and I wish they could be here to experience this. I feel no fear here, In fact, strange as it may be, I feel safer here, in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean than I have in most places in my life. I think without realising it, I carried an anxiety with me , a low grade , undetectable fear of bad things happening, such as someone breaking into our home, or hurting us, or of the kids being exposed to violence, car accidents, stress from being in the rat race all the time, out here there is not much to be afraid of. It feels SO good to be away from everything, " being away from all the things of man” * . Here all I really have to think about is keeping an eye on weather, and keeping the boat floating. I hope that no one is overly worried about us, because we are truly safe and happy. Also sea sickness has vanished! Perhaps a reward after one year afloat, I can now read, watch movies and spend time below without feeling queezy ! What a relief this has been ! 

*This is a quote from Meg Ryan’s character in the movie: "Joe Vs the Volcano" 

The days slip by quickly as we stay busy, while still enjoying the slow pace. After my early morning watch, I set the fishing lines out at first light, prepare a simple breakfast for the rest of the crew and head back to bed. Once I am up (again) it is 10:00 am and Meg and Mark (and sometimes Matthew if he is up before me) have been up and usually are having a great time together (either playing chess, Monopoly or some other game), I make the beds, clean up a little bit , prepare a snack (or 2nd breakfast), and break up the fun by starting school by 11:00. We are usually all in the cockpit at this point, and its been going great, even with the swell and healing of the boat. I am really happy with the way that is going. 

The day goes by quickly, with occasional exciting interruptions such as a fish on the line ( We've caught a few Mahi Mahi's, even though the big one got away-and we've let a few small ones go-but the huge SAILFISH who snapped our line and then jumped out of the water behind us gave us a real thrill ! ) , the dolphins are always welcome and everything stops when they pop by to say hello. Yesterday we had a pod of 6-8 LARGE dolphins and as a bonus, amongst them was a pilot whale (we think it was a pilot whale)! At first when I saw it underwater I was saying " wow, that's a BIG dolphin, what do you think Mark 7-8 feet ?" and Mark says " Yeah, At least that..." and just as he was saying this the "dolphin" rolls out and we see his black and long back and dorsal fin, ”whoa, thats a WHALE, swimming right along side the boat with the dolphins !" SO Cool! One night during his watch Mark called me up : "Come and see this”, and he and I were given the most spectacular show ! There was no moon, it was completely dark and a pod of dolphins were swimming on either side of us (maybe 8-12 dolphins) but we could not see them, all we could see was the resulting phosphorescence in the water, this time it was white (usually is a green) and looked like a million shooting stars , following the path the dolphins were making in the water like electric white light, swerving and spinning around us. Mr. Walt Disney could not have done better, it was breathtaking ! 

More fun with the wildlife: The wide eyed night gulls followed us on our journey the first three nights. These are endemic to the Galapagos and are unique birds. They hunt at night, and they look eerie fluttering beside us making their cool sound (they sound like a roulette or "Wheel of fortune") It was like the Galapagos were giving us a chance to to say goodbye,and to gently let them slip away behind us. One night as I came on for my watch Mark told me jubilantly told me that he had been hit by a flying squid ! I am not sure who was more surprised, him or the quid, but I'll bet that the cephalopod was not as happy about it as Mark seemed to be. 

One another night, I was sitting alone in a small corner of the cockpit, the only dry place as it was raining hard, trying to make myself comfortable. It was completely dark with no moon when all of a sudden one of the bananas (hanging in the "banana hammock" :) above me) fell at my feet. I bent down to grab it in my hand but the "banana" felt cold and slimy and it began to wriggle violently in my hand ...I let out a loud "UGHHH" as I let go and turned on my head lamp.....a flying fish was desperately bouncing on the cockpit floor, until I was able to grab hold again and send him back home. 

So far: 

We are 1/3 done, having covered about 1100 nm) and we have daily updates (by email and SSB radio) from our friends who are also on their way to the Marquesas. There are two monohulls and two cats (catamarans) and we are in the middle of the pack, keeping track of everyone's position on the charts. Getting updates from everyone makes this all the more fun. These are all kid boats (ie families traveling) and there are more on their way soon. We met another two families in Galapagos, from Australia this time, who will be doing the crossing too ! 

The challenges: 

Sure it s not a picnic all the time, here is an example. A couple of days ago I had a bad day in the galley. The swell was worse than usual, and the simple act of getting a meal ready became a frustrating exercise in futility. It went something like this : 

First I needed to make a fresh batch of bread, so I got all my ingredients ready: 

I sifted the flour to make sure there weren't any weevils, (and the sugar too, because I am that paranoid about the little buggers), then I mopped up my tea which had spilled all the way down into the cupboards and into the floor compartments, then I got back up to realize that my mixing bowl, which I had wedged into place, was no longer where I had left it, once I located it at the other end of the kitchen, I swept up the flour from the counter and remeasured the flour, then I had to locate the yeast packet which had ALSO gone missing, as I hung on to the mixing bowl with one hand,and help on to the counter with my other hand, (keeping the same wide "Yoga" stance as I always do in the galley) I grabbed on to the elusive yeast packet with my teeth and that's when Matthew showed up (his timing is always stellar), and asked me for a drink, I drop the yeast packet and call out (with as much love and patience as I can muster) to the crew above, to see if "Someone can please help Matthew find his cup....", then I go bak to my bread making, after I gather the rest of the ingredients from the floor and mix them together as fast as possible before the next wave hits (or before I hear a warning call from above "BIG ONE coming hang on!") . I have learned to always crack the eggs in a separate bowl, in case it is rotten, finding out the egg is rotten AFTER you've dropped it in to the rest of the ingredients is NOT fun! 

Once the bread was made, I had three or four more major spills....including three juice cups that went flying across into the saloon (and again into the floor compartments) and a rice cooker which spilled it contents TWICE, picking out the rice grains from our pens and pencil holders and our junk drawer,and one by one off the floor, I entertained the crew once again with a new combinations of swear words.By the end of it all, I could fully appreciate and understand why the British navy gave its men a daily ration of rum! 

This day was rough sure, but its teaching me all kinds of tricks and the spills are getting more rare, although I still have days when I envy my friends on their more stable catamarans, but that only lasts a few hours, being on a monohull is just so much darn fun otherwise ! 

So, you want to experience this too ? Besides the galley, another challenge is 'getting dressed'. For those of you who want to experience just a sample of the reality on board Amelie, try this : 

Get up at 3:00 am, pull yourself out of bed using two hands (you have to climb over the lee board which is keeping you in your bunk after all), steady yourself and hold on to the wall as you slowly walk to the bathroom. Now, (and this is going to sound bad but) spread your legs wide apart and wedge them between the toilet and the door and hold on to the sink with one hand or else face the real possibility of flying head first into your closet ,ok, now you are ready to attempt to get dressed : While still hanging on to the sink with your one hand, and with legs wide apart, take off your Pajamas bottoms, lift one leg at a time, carefully, anticipate the motion of the swell as you bounce up and down, use your toes to pick up the PJ's and throw them on your bed. Now grab your sweat pants (it's cool outside at 3:00 am!) and repeat the steps in reverse (never let go of the sink!)once those are on, repeat for your top. Don't bother looking in the mirror, your hair is beyond help, get your head lamp and safety harness on, you are ready for your watch ! 

Mark's answer to people who say they would like experience life on a boat is " Just throw a glass of salty water in their face and then hand them a warm coke." 

A friend of ours spent most of his time trying (and finally succeeding) in fixing his broken down autopilot for most of the 3000 nm crossing says that anyone who is looking a buying a boat should take a good look in the engine room, to decide if there is enough room to set up a bed in there, because you might end up needing one in there ! 

I am still having a great time and loving life on board. I am grateful that we are able to do this with just the four of us together, it feels comfortable and relaxed. Sure there are some inconveniences and it is hard work, but watching Megs eye's light up when she sees a whale or when we catch a fish or hearing her say things like, " You know mom, after this trip is over , I have a feeling that I could do anything!" , makes it all worth while. And Matthew? Well, it quiets my mind to see him so content and comfortable. After all those years of therapy and demands put on him from a very young age, I think that he is at peace here, the way he looks out at the sea and his smile, I think, says it all. As for Mark, the same could be said: he is also clearly very happy out here, there are more smiles and joking around, and he is clearly enjoying the time with the kids! 

That's all for now, we will try to send another update in a week or so, for now, just know that we are safe and having the time of our lives out here, its been great so far ! Much love, 4Ms at Sea 

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