Friday, January 25, 2008

Passage Making

Current Location: Indian Ocean (underway from Thailand to Maldives)
Current Position: 05 59.4 N 079 39.3 E
Next Destination: Maldives

Ahhhh. The joys of passage making. The fresh sea air, crystal blue oceans, all the open space, and endless amounts of time. NOT! Try, motion sickness, headaches, never ending noise (either from the waves, winds, rigging, or sails), sleep deprived days, and endless amounts of boredom. I am not a sailor, and after four years of cruising can honestly and accurately state that I will never be one. I endure because it is a means to an end, but that doesn't mean there is an inkling of joy. Because of this it always entertains me to meet true, hearty, love-to-sail, sailors. I don't believe there are many of them, while most of us don't love passages, few hate them as I do, but few also relish in them. On this passage we are traveling with a couple who I believe actually enjoy the passage, even look forward to it. For a few days we were in VHF range with Uhuru, and Rudy (the husband of said couple), would call us occasionally to say hi. He sounded as though he was ready to spout rows of poetry at any minute. Ahhhh, he would say in his thick accent, this is beautiful, so beautiful, we have wind and are sailing, and ahh it is just wonderful. And he would say this as I watched their little 27 foot (yes, two-seven FEET) boat roll from side to side, just watching made me feel like hurling. They have no refrigeration and attempt to keep their boat light, so Chris and I spent much of our time pondering what they eat on passage since we know they hadn't done a major provision like us. When they caught a fish Rudy would call and tell us about the succulent meal they had. And when they caught extra fish, they salted them and set them out to dry. Rudy called as the sun was setting one evening to report, "this was a most magnificent day, I just took a perfect photograph, with freshly salted fish still dripping from the lifelines, dolphins playing beneath, and the white caps of the waves in the background." Then he sighed with what sounded to me like full contentment. While I didn't share his enthusiasm he did make me smile, and I could almost imagine that maybe I too was enjoying myself.

The one thing I can agree with Rudy on is the fishing. Finally, after the fishing drought of Indonesia, we are enjoying catching something other than plastic bags! On our third day out we caught a 1-1.5 meter Mahi Mahi. Fresh fish tacos at last. Then on the evening of the next day, just as the sun was setting, all three lines went - bam, Bam, BAM! We've got three fish, Chris yelled, as I started clearing cushions away. He unhooked the first (a yellowfin tuna) and threw it into our fish bag. He was dropping the line back in the water (to get it out of the way while we pulled in the other two), when BAM another tuna hooked on! The hook was only a few feet from the stern, he hadn't even finished letting the line back out. This was a true feeding frenzy! After that he left the lines piled in the cockpit rather than throwing them back in. We kept two of the four tuna, and I was a happy camper eating sashimi the next day at lunch. We didn't fish for the next couple of days, waiting for room in the freezer to open up, but with three to four days left till we reach the Maldives we are at it again, and I have no doubt Chris will reel in something tasty.

The tuna came in handy for Chris' birthday as well. On the 23rd we had a birthday celebration with heaps of sashimi followed by some warped brownies (brownies don't set too evenly when baked in a moving boat, they come out looking a bit like a topography map of the ocean floor).

And then came probably the most tiring night of the passage. As we came by Sri Lanka (where we didn't stop because of civil unrest), the shipping traffic was amazing. Huge freighters everywhere. We would've preferred to pass the area in the day, but as it was we were in the thick of things around 10pm and through to the morning. I took first watch, with Chris telling me to wake him for anything at all. I should explain that I'm not very good with freighters, especially at night. There is something about their lighting scheme that causes me trouble with figuring out how far away they are, and more importantly whether I'm in their way! Chris had only been down for about 30 minutes when he heard me turn the radar on. He asked if I was okay and I said there was a light that looked close but I couldn't see it on the radar and would he mind looking. One look and he said, That ship? It's miles away! He turned on the computer and the AIS (a very-nice-to-have ship tracking unit) and sure enough it was 12 nautical miles away. But it was sooo bright! As Chris went back to bed he commented, this is going to be a looong night!!! After that I managed okay on my first watch, now having a sense for the distance of all the lights on the horizon.

A few hours later, about one hour into Chris' watch I woke up and could hear him yelling. I had one ear plug in so I couldn't make out what he was saying, but I also noticed a bright light shining into our boat. I jumped up and rushed out, realizing at the same time that his voice didn't sound stressed, and he was saying, "No, no smokey, sorry". I put on a shirt and asked if everything was alright, yes he said, just a couple of fisherman. They stayed another few minutes asking again, "Smokey-smokey? Beer?", to which we replied no. By now my heart was back to a normal beating pattern and Chris and I had a good laugh over the visit. Probably the only three English words the fisherman know are; Smokey, Beer, and Fish. Throughout Indonesia and on into the area we will be traveling into, fisherman like to scope-out vessels going by. Curiosity, the chance for freebies, and probably boredom, send them buzzing like mosquitoes to a light towards yachts. If you aren't expecting it (and even sometimes when you are) it can be disconcerting; a fast approaching, unlit boat racing at you in the middle of the night. But in the end they tend to be very friendly and full of smiles (even if it is midnight). I think that a lot of the bad press some waters get is from such events. Even a boat ahead of us reported back a couple of weeks ago that they had been approached and had to turn on the engine to, as they put it, get away. Our guess is that it was just a curious fisherman taking a look and that the cruisers didn't 'get away' from anything. But it is hard not to be paranoid when you are out here alone, and perhaps the fisherman would be more successful at getting some freebies if they approached at more appropriate hours!

At about 4am I was back on watch. About an hour into my watch more lights appeared in front of us. I watched them for a bit; I could figure out the general direction they were traveling, but was having trouble (as usual) with the distance. I'm sure it's a good 10 miles out, I thought. But I figured I'd give the radar a look anyway (the lights did look a little bright). Chris, of course, heard the radar go on and asked if I wanted him to look. I told him no, that I thought it was pretty far away and was only double checking. About that time the radar had finished its warm up and I said, "OH, it's closer than I thought, only 2 miles away!" Chris got out of bed, looked out the cockpit and said, "Um, go starboard, now!" We went as far starboard as we could (we were already tight on the wind), and Chris looked at the AIS. About the same time the huge shape of the ship took form in a dark, massive way. Yep, I was just a wee bit too close for comfort. It was no dramas, we missed him, and neither of us panicked, but it puzzles Chris (and myself) how I can't tell the difference between a boat 12 miles away and one only 2 miles away! At that point we decided just to leave the AIS running, and boy did it make my life easier. I told Chris it's a good thing we didn't encounter this much shipping traffic in our first year of cruising, otherwise I might not still be out here! In our first three years of cruising (up until Australia) we hardly ever saw a thing out here, and now, on an hourly basis we see more ships than in all those years of cruising. Anyway, I'm so glad we have the AIS system, I'm guessing it will save us both a few grey hairs!

As I write this it is just after lunch on Friday. We are now close enough (about 410 miles) that I've started working out the math, on how much longer it will take pending various speeds. We've had good wind almost the entire trip, up, of course, until now. Now it is on the nose and quite light. On top of that we have a current against us. Boats last week reported terrific positive currents and so we've been looking forward to them since leaving, but have yet to find this magical current. I was quite excited this morning because all we had to average was 5.4 knots and we could arrive by the end of Sunday. That should be so easy, especially if we have current with us. But, alas, things don't look good, we are now barely making 4 knots, and since we aren't on course (thanks to the crappy wind direction), we are really only making 3.5 knots towards our destination, and are over 12 miles off course (by the way upon waking Saturday morning we were more tha 22 miles off course). At this rate we'll be lucky to arrive by Tuesday afternoon! Ah, yes, the joys of sailing!

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