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

“Security is mostly a superstition. It doesn’t exist in nature.”

Helen Keller

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2010—0600 at N 30 22 55 W 73 41 00 (325 nautical miles northeast of the closest land: Abacos, Bahamas)

The cold front arrives at 05:15. I check the radar and see that the squall is three miles away and moving fast. It is enormous on the helm’s video screen, glowing yellow and red. First the rain hits. Then the wind. Then more wind. The instruments tell me we’re experiencing a sustained 35 knot blow with gusts to 45 knots, a strong gale according to the Beaufort Wind Scale. The canvas cockpit enclosure shutters like concrete in an earthquake. The GPS tells me we are moving at a potentially dangerous 11.7 knots across the surface of the world, but the other speed indicator tells me we are only moving 7 knots through the water. This later bit is the important information and I know the boat is under control. We are running happily in the swells despite the weather’s fierce roar. There is no need to deploy the chain drogue. I watch the boat’s balance and—surprisingly—we have too much sail area behind the mast. Despite the fact that we have only the forward sail out and the main sail is completely stowed, the auto pilot struggles to maintain course. It must be that the cockpit enclosure and sail cover are providing windage and acting like a sail. I hand steer. Dave sleeps. The front passes without event and it turns into a gloomy morning.

When the seas were roughest During Dave’s nap, the pilot berth flew out from the wall. After making the bed the other day and sliding it back into place, I missed putting the holding pins back in. It was such a tight fit I thought nothing of it. But in these violent seas, when Dave and kitty were fast asleep, the bed went sliiiiiiiide-BANG! Kitty’s eyes according to Dave were the size of quarters. First her whole world is in crazy motion, then the furniture pops out of the walls. What must she think?

After my nap, I am back at the helm at 12:35. Another front approaches. Chris Parker told us this morning that the end of the foul weather will arrive at around noon. Now a seasoned veteran of the wild ocean, I watch nonplussed as winds climb to a mere 28 knots with a bit of rain. The seas calm. A gentler blow shifts to the north. We sail east in what grows to be a lovely day. Because I seem to be at the helm when the foul weather comes, Dave has given me the knick-name “Stormy.”

We are always hungry but our tummies never let us eat too much. So, we eat often and we eat anything we want. Everything spills. Eating requires two hands so we can do nothing else when we eat. Further, we can only eat one thing at a time: one apple, one cup of soup, one egg. I stopped bringing food to Dave at the helm because I cannot carry food up the companionway and hold on at the same time. Kitty’s food is disappearing and there are deposits in her cat box. She is doing a good job taking care of herself.

It is nice to have hot drinks. So, I keep a press pot of boiling water tied up in the galley with a basket of teas, hot cocoa, soups and bullions next to it. The most dangerous activity in the galley is boiling water. To avoid burns, I wear full foul weather overalls and rubber boots as I pour the water from kettle to pot. Despite my most concentrated efforts, water goes everywhere. I make myself a cup of steaming hot chocolate with the little water that made it into the container. As I wait for it to cool, I notice my arm gimbaling naturally with the wave action so that I don’t spill. My mind sings, “Hey, ho, way to go, a pirate’s life for me.” I realize that pirates don’t conduct the orchestra with their rum; they swing their mugs to keep from spilling the precious contents.

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2010—0530 at N 30 12 56 W 71 36 16 (385 nautical miles north-east of the closest land: Abacos, Bahamas)

In our sleep deprived and nearly robotic on-watch-off-watch state, time is a blur. For 20 minutes Dave and I deliberate on the date. Having reached agreement, Dave turns on the computer and we are wrong—way wrong.

But, we are making magnificent progress. The skies have cleared and the waves have lain down. There is a superb wind, 12-15 knots from 030 (N/NE), allowing for a close reach toward our destination. We set the sails last night before dark and have cruised ever since at seven knots, like a Japanese Bullet Train. That’s the thing about cruising; when you get in the grove and the weather stays stable you can go for days without adjusting the sails. This is addictive.

Below decks, everything is quiet. The contents of our cupboards are leaning to starboard. The rush of water along the hull creates a whispering, sluicing sound the full length of the boat.

After getting some much needed rest, Dave is a bustle of activity: tossing garbage, making food, rearranging our sail plan for tonight’s predicted weather, and charting our progress. Amazingly, we are a mere six nautical miles from where Chris Parker told us we would be prior to our departure. Kitty feels better too. After days of dormancy she is feeling playful. Unfortunately, the rocking motion is still a lot for her small body so her play is limited to attacking our feet in the pilot berth. Given my bout of seasickness, I don’t yet feel a bustle of activity nor playful. I crave rest but I’m hanging in there.

Still sporting the bloody bandage over one eye, Captain Dave turns to me and says, “would you like to see my broken toe?” Yesterday it seems he charged up the companionway in bare feet, ignoring the wisdom that bare feet are a no-no on boats. The boat took a hop and he cracked the toe on an edge. Swelled like a purple and red balloon, I have never seen a toe look worse.

Our fresh water pump volunteered to break today. This is the pump that pushes drinking water from our tanks through our faucets. Not to worry; we have a manual foot pump in the galley that accomplishes the same thing. I am grateful again for the boat’s redundant systems. Plus, we have gallons of bottled water under the forward berth and strapped on deck. We won’t go thirsty—yet.

On this day, with consistent winds and smoother waves, Dave and I are learning to relax and listen. We don’t need to be wed to the helm. So today we enjoy meals together below decks and take care of ourselves, reading, cooking, and writing. It feels good to relax our guard.

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