Adventures of s/v WILD HAIR


Our land life took on form, solidity, routine. We had mastery of a limited set of skills. We had habitual expectations of others and ourselves. Going sailing, we let go of our attachments to our roles, views, and rituals. We persist because we are growing in this shapeless and dynamic world.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

“I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space.”

William Shakespeare

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2010—0600 at N 30 41 21 W 78 49 23

It was a great night. I took my long REM sleep from midnight to 04:50 so I woke feeling refreshed and ready to relieve Dave from watch. Typically, our shifts are two to three hours. But once a day we each need a deep sleep. Dave will take his now.

Before sleep, Dave tells me of the horror he experienced in the night. He witnessed a cruise ship come toward us over the horizon. Then, the ship burst into flames. In a few moments, with the orange colors intensifying, he figured he was watching the full moon rise. Dave’s upset ebbed as he came to understand our journey would be blessed by the light of the moon.

The sky is lightening enough to turn off our radar, our evening eyes. The sun bursts the horizon at 07:48.

I’ve written before that sailors don’t actually enjoy sailing offshore, but I’m not sure that is universally true. The past 24 hours have been wonderful. Perhaps with a good attitude I can rest well, move about the boat safely, and stay attune to the boat’s needs. If I get in my head about missed comforts, I will be miserable. I can ward off boredom by journaling, doing exercises, reading, charting our course, and snacking.

Our boat is like a little space ship traveling into a non-human world. We are dependant only upon what we have brought on board: food, water, fuel, spare parts, navigation aids, communication tools, and life raft. This will be the first time in my life when it will be impossible to pull off the road and get what I need. I more fully appreciate the creativity of nomadic people supporting their existence in a harsh environment with only the items they can carry on their backs, a horse, or camel. We are loaded so heavily that the boat’s stripes have sunk below the water line. Dave and I could never carry all the supplies we have on WILD HAIR.

It is an odd day. The fickle weather had us sailing unproductively south and west to avoid storm cells. The lap top isn’t accepting the satellite phone as its modem so I can’t send emails. Then the satellite phone speakers don’t work so Chris Parker can’t hear me when I call for the weather. The bilge pump is going on every 20 minutes so we must be slowly taking in water. We will have to troubleshoot.

Indeed we are through the Gulf Stream and the winds have arrived. The engine is off and WILD HAIR shushes through the water. Besides the 60 gallons of fuels we started with in our tanks, we have 40 extra gallons of diesel fuel in jerry cans on deck. With relatively calm seas and a desire to keep the boat ready for anything, Dave and I pour the jerry cans into our tanks being careful not to create a toxic spill. It is supremely challenging. Heavy and smelly, the cans do their best to cause us to lose our balance and our lunch.

At an evening shift change I learn Dave got hit by a flying fish. Or he would have if the “glass” of our cockpit enclosure hadn’t preempted the fish’s terrorist mission. Dinghy spotted it just before contact and made a leap to intercept. Like the Secret Service, she would have saved Dave. Good kitty.

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2010—0600 at N29 57 18 W 77 30 20 (360 nautical miles east of Cape Canaveral)

Happy Thanksgiving!

What a struggle we have had. With winds vacillating from the east we were forced to tack and tack. In 12 hours we only made 12 nautical miles of progress. But now the winds have shifted and we are bucking like a bronco in the waves right on course.

For dinner today I’ll make a canned turkey-stuffing-gravy casserole with canned green beans, powdered mashed potatoes, and canned cranberry sauce. I’ll top it off with pecan pie (purchased frozen by the slice). The meal doesn’t sound a thing like my traditional holiday meal. But, it is what I can manage at sea and it should recall the spirit of family, friends, and food.

The single side band radio is a finicky creature. Successful communication depends upon the ever-changing ionosphere. But this morning, Chris Parker came through loud and clear at his 06:30 broadcast. His news wasn’t good. Tomorrow night through Saturday a cold front will overtake us with gusts to 40 knots. It will be a gale. Thankfully, the winds should be from behind. If the boat gets going too fast and are at risk of breaking rigging or tearing sails, we can hang a line of chain off the stern (known as towing a warp) to slow the boat, allowing the waves can pass. We’ve never done that before. We’ve never sailed in weather this big.

Today is the day to make everything storm proof. We stow our coffee pot, secure sharp knives and silverware into drawers, and tie down the refrigerator lid. We double tie the dinghy, jerry cans, and all other hardware onto the deck. We re-read chapters on heavy weather sailing so all of our options are at the top of our mind. Most importantly, because the bilge pump is now cycling every five minutes, Dave will find and stop the leak.

Dave is so smart. He just discovered the problem was with the second bilge pump, the one that would go on should the water rise to a higher level. Because the boat is healing to one side, the secondary bilge pump is actually siphoning water into the boat. To make the repair, I bring the boat about to a 225 heading so that WILD HAIR leans on its other “hip.” This raises the side that was siphoning above the water line and Dave performs surgery on the stuck valve. The good news is we no longer take in water. The bad news is that the valve couldn’t be saved so we’re going into the storm down one bilge pump. Not to worry; we still have the two electric and two more manual pumps that work. Boats are all about redundancy, especially in the life support systems.

I wash my hair and bathe. Ahhhhh.

Of all the travels Dave and I have done, this is by far the most unusual. Trips of the past been about a destination, sightseeing. This trip is about the journey itself.

Our Thanksgiving dinner is sub-par, nearly inedible. We did connect with our closest family members through the satellite phone, but the conversations were necessarily quick and unsatisfying. This traveling over the holiday stinks.

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2010—0600 at N 30 22 21 W 75 45 28 (240 nautical miles north of the closest land: Abacos, Bahamas)

I did a cruel thing to myself. With our crazy around-the-clock schedule, I inadvertently skipped a day of my hormone medications. So yesterday, as is customary when a pill is forgotten, I took one in the morning and one in the evening. Side effects to this medicine are nausea and dizziness. In this environment, the double dose did me in. Suddenly, I was violently ill and had vertigo so bad that the entire room spun—even while lying on my back. I had been doing so well! Poor Dave. He did more than his share of watch this morning as I did the only thing I could do: sleep it off.

It is noon and I feel human again. We must re-rig our lines into new combinations so that they will not chafe when we have tiny amounts of sail up for the strong winds. Lines chafe in a heartbeat when they touch an edge in the wind. We even lash our drink bottles and flashlight to the helm.

We have 10 to 12 foot seas which makes moving about very difficult. I lost two mugs full of chicken soup and Dave lost the cottage cheese. All were ejected from their counters in the style of a B-grade horror film. The waves are like those experienced on a trampoline with more than one person jumps. You can anticipate the regular pattern but then you are catapulted by a Super Bounce that shoots you at great heights into an unpredictable direction. Unfortunately, Dave was In the middle of storm preparation, strapping on the life jacket and tethers that attach us to the boat, when the boat took a Super Bounce. He shot from his cockpit seat and gave himself a nasty gash above is eye. Like all head wounds, there was a lot of blood. Were we at home I would have taken him to the hospital. Here, we dress the wound with antibiotic cream, gauze, and apply pressure with a wool cap. We are grateful that he didn’t hit his temple or fall through the companionway.

The winds are now 22 knots, gusting to 30. Dave is finally getting some rest. He is severely exhausted as he hasn’t had a deep sleep since the trip began. The sun is setting as the storm approaches. Why does the worst of it always happen at night.

With my seasickness, the storm prep, and Dave’s injury, we didn’t email family and friends. I hope no one worries. Anyway, the lap top got stowed in its water tight case early in the day to protect its fate. Our last computer had so many concussions from bouncing onto the floor it turned “brain dead.”

I can’t help but notice all my stories sound negative, miserable. If this is true, why do I sail? I guess I know there are downsides to living anywhere. In my land life they include standing in lines, getting caught in traffic, having nightmares about work. We don’t have those discomforts while sailing; we traded them in for a different set. Here, I get to be with my husband, my best friend. I like playing house in our tiny but fully functional space. I like living outside, learning new things, and being surprised by beauty. I like being self-employed and meeting new people. I like our sails and keel and how they make the boat go forward when the wind blows from the side. I like how nothing stays the same. Ever. I like that you never know what will be demanded of you.

Now, the water moves so aggressively that it feels like an entire men’s basketball team is bouncing on my trampoline. I work to stay upright. Below decks, the noise is deafening. The contents of every floor board, cupboard, and cranny is flung from port to starboard over and over again. Sometimes you can make subtle adjustments in course to smooth things out. This is not one of those times. I can almost guess the contents in each hide-away by the clatter it makes.

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