changing sails on the bow on hte horizon line blog brianna and rob pacific ocean

The Pain of Passage-Making

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Reflections on Life, Sailing

changing sails on the bow on hte horizon line blog brianna and rob pacific ocean

Many people envision sailing as a romantic and relaxing hobby. I still do, too, even knowing from experience that the romance and relaxation account for about 10% of the actual time on a sailboat. It’s easier — and more fun — to talk about the sunsets and stars, or even the more dramatic storms or near-disasters, than the daily routine of sailing across the ocean. But no one really mentions the parts of passage-making that slowly drive you insane. Or that there will be at least one morning when you’ll close your eyes tight against the new day, hoping to make it tomorrow already so that you don’t have to deal with the constant motion and maintenance of a floating home a thousand miles from anywhere.

No one talks about the frustration of flapping sails that grate like fingers on a chalkboard. About the persistent sideways swells that keep you gyrating like a drunk pendulum and make your brain feel like it’s on a merry-go-round with no way to get off. About the fact you’ll scream at the dishes to “just fucking stop it!” the 1,024th time they rattle, roll and crash to the floor. About the fact that you’ll need to change sails at midnight on a wildly swinging deck in the rain because no one can sleep with the boom banging in the light winds. About the rash on your butt from sitting so damn much.

No one told me that if my husband was seasick much of the first half, I’d have double-duty cooking and cleaning. Or about the fact that there are endless amounts of dishes on a boat with 7 crew members. Or about how dizzy you’ll get watching the gimbaled stove rock as you attempt to make a meal for those 7 people with the dishes flying every which way and bottles clanging out onto your head when you open cabinets.

It’s hard work, this sailing across the planet business. Tiring, monotonous, frustrating work. Luckily, Rob and I were under no illusions this crossing would be anything less. We came aboard knowing we’d have to take one day at a time.

Of course, to be fair, there are dozens of small miracles cruisers’ forums and sailing books forgot to mention, too, interspersed blessings that take the edge off. Like how the sound of your bow wave can calm those grated nerves. Or how standing on the foredeck will make you laugh aloud as you surf up, up, up and down the endless swells. And how luxurious it can feel to have the time and space to think — or not to think — as you stare aimlessly across the miles as they roll by.

We learned that it’s little things that are the most challenging to overcome, like dishes and rashes and moldy sheets. But we also learned that it’s the little things that keep you from going insane. The well-timed joke from a crew member that makes you giggle instead of scream. The flying fish and swirling storm petrels that come by to say hi. The thoughtful husband that brings you a pillow for your sore butt while you sit gazing from the bow. The game of Scrabble or the book that sucks you in and holds the world at bay.

The way I see it, a long crossing might be akin to what I’ve heard about childbirth: the pain pales when you hold the fruit of your labor. The daily frustrations of sailing evaporate when the dolphins appear or when you see the turquoise waters approaching land. The pain of passage-making will eventually fade in comparison to the romantic memories, even if they do only account for 10% of the voyage. And I’ll probably be another one of those people who forget to mention the flapping sails and rattling dishes.

Post-Script from Later in the Passage:

Day 29 of the passage. After a stellar post-fresh-produce dinner of chiptle chicken enchiladas with roasted red peppers, we were all sitting in the cockpit digesting and watching the full moon on the water. Gavin decided to start a sharing game. His brothers tried to joke it off, but he was adamant that everyone answer the question: “Why are you here, now, on this boat?” These answers are almost verbatim.

Gavin (10): “Because the ocean is fun and exciting. And you never know what might happen. I thought today would be the same as yesterday, but then that Japanese fishing boat passed 100 feet off our bow this morning and I made a horn from a conch shell.”

Bri (32): “Because I have no choice today to be anywhere else. A big part of why we chose this boat, though, is because of you, Gavin. We wanted to be with people of all ages, including kids, during the first part of our ocean adventure.”

Connor (18): “Because of a whole host of preconceptions and misconceptions, both correct and incorrect.”

Rob (37): “Because Bri told me she’s always wanted to cross the Pacific, and I let myself be convinced it’d be a good idea.”

Rowan (15): “Because there’s nowhere else to go. And it’s a good opportunity to explore. Plus, it makes me appreciate the things I like best about home and school.”

Brooks (53): “This is the type of adventuring I’ve done most of my life, in a different format. We chose this boat and this course as a means of addressing the tactical and technical aspects of climate change impacts on the planet. We’re expensing everything to make this trip: economically, emotionally, physically. And we’re hoping it becomes a way to pursue our passions while supporting us economically.”

Janis (49): “Because Connor went to Maine one summer and took a bunch of sailing classes. Next thing I knew, we bought this boat and here we are.”

communications sailboat, bluewater sailing, on the horizon line, cruising blog

Communications on a Boat

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Sailing

communications sailboat, bluewater sailing, on the horizon line, cruising blogA friend asked us months ago about the communications setup on sailboats.  I promised a blog entry, and the timing seems ripe now that we’re floating in the middle of the big blue Pacific puddle.

First off, every boat has a slightly different setup to communicate with the outside world.  Most offshore sailors have similar systems, which include a variety of complicated electronics to keep track of its location, chart a course, look at weather reports, chat with neighboring boats, watch for obstacles, or talk to family.  Llyr has all of these neat tools.  But there are still plenty of sailors who go with the less-is-more approach, too, and seem just as happy and safe.  After all, Captain Cook sailed from the Arctic to Antarctica and all through the Pacific with only sun, stars and a sextant – no batteries necessary.  We, however, like battery-powered gadgets.

As you know, Rob and I had most of our electronics stolen in Baja California.  Luckily, they didn’t take our most critical piece of communications equipment: a little 4×4 inch black box called a DeLorme InReach.  For only $10/month, we can turn on this box to set a track (have you checked out our travel map lately?), send one of three pre-set text messages (e.g: “we’re salty and sweaty, but sailing happily westward”), or hit an SOS button if the shit hits the fan to (hopefully) be rescued.  Pretty sweet deal, huh?

communications sailboat, bluewater sailing, on the horizon line, cruising blog

Our other communications device is a ham radio.  Rob got his general operator license before we left Missoula, which means he can do all kinds of rad stuff with a radio – including bounce information off satellites and then back to earth.  On the boat, you can actually use a radio frequency to send text emails through a specialized Pactor modem that interfaces between your computer, a radio and satellites.  His call sign acts as a free WinLink email account.  Crazy, I know.  It’s slow and tricky – kind of like a fax – but a cool feature if we want limited email contact.

Along those same lines, Llyr has a single sideband radio and a SailMail account to send limited text-only emails.  It works exactly the same as WinLink, but costs $250/year.  Sideband and ham radios also allow us to listen in to “weather nets” broadcast at certain times each day – these help us plan our course and prepare for changes in wind and wave patterns.  Llyr is also equipped with a VHF radio for short distance (~20 miles) communications, a GPS unit and autopilot to help steer our course, and radar and AIS to tell us where nearby land masses and big boats are located (so we can avoid them).  She has an antenna to make sure all these gadgets can access satellites, which shoots 60 feet into the sky and runs up the mast

All of these things suck electricity.  In fact, except for our DeLorme, none of them can survive on a few batteries alone.  Since Llyr doesn’t have solar panels or wind turbines, that means we have to run the diesel engine for an hour every couple of days to make sure the big 12-volt battery series (like marine-grade car batteries) is charged up and ready to go.  And it means we have to prioritize how and when to use these communications tools so we don’t draw down the juice when we might need it more.

We also have 3 laptops and 3 phones on board, but won’t have any cell nor wireless service until we reach French Polynesia.  They mainly serve to interface with the other communications equipment on board, play music, or write poetry or prose when the mood strikes (and the batteries allow).  Once onshore again, Rob and I have an iPhone and a small PC netbook to harness wireless internet, but no international cell phone plan.  We’ve found Google Talk, FaceTime, and Skype to work well enough for calling our family and taking care of random details (and it’s free!).


Questions?  Ask Rob.  I still don’t get how the hell radios and satellites can transmit my words over tens of thousands of miles.  But I certainly do appreciate how awesome it is.





on the horizon line - bluewater sailing mermaids, pacific crossing

On Noticing Mermaids

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Reflections on Life, Sailing, The M.U.P. Files

full moon brianna randall on the horizon line blogSome people never take notice of the Earth; some have to have it pointed out to them. But most, I think, are simply uncurious. You take notice. The whole point in going on this adventure is to take notice. You will experience so many amazing things. But you don’t have to share them to enjoy them.

A few words on your Pacific crossing: There will be many times when only one of you will notice a truly remarkable thing that the other did not or could not see and your description to the other about it will do an injustice to the unique sight you’ve witnessed.  Each of you can revel in the joy alone, taking notice and appreciating the Earth without the need to share it to make it seem more real.  You two had this hammered home after the Great Baja Electronics Theft—you don’t need to record and share everything to give it reality.

on the horizon line - bluewater sailing mermaids, pacific crossingBut, notice. You will not see the same swell twice. Spindrift will not shimmer in that light in that way again. The foaming crest of a sea will be one-of-a-kind in its beauty. And you will be the only person on Earth to see it. That particular sound of wind in the rigging with the beat of the thrumming steel hull and the singing laughter in the galley will create a melody both unique and mind-blowing. And only you will hear it. The dimpled reflection of a sunset on the calm ocean (from your vantage point lying on the bowsprit), or the moon’s white path on a gently rolling seascape at 3am will be a masterpiece. One of you will be standing at the mainmast looking aft as the boat tops a large swell and for three seconds, before she drops into the trough, you’ll be the only witness in the Universe to an amazingly orderly sea- train stretching to the horizon, each top highlighted in gold.

By taking notice you do it justice and that act justifies you and your entire trip. You don’t always have to share the joy to give it meaning beyond itself.

(This will not be true about your bluewater dreams which must be shared immediately, discussed in detail, and analyzed in depth.  And if you see a mermaid, shout about it!)

Though the oceanscape you’ll travel is immense, you’re only seeing a tiny sliver of the Earth’s surface. You are in a minute bubble. Llyr’s freeboard at the main looks to be about five feet, add about a foot for the cabin roof, so if you’re standing at the mainmast your eye will be about 12 feet above sea level. Therefore, your horizon line is about 4.2 miles. Your entire world is only about eight and one half miles around—with an unfathomable deep below and an infinite universe above—all traveling west at maybe eight knots. You are not going anywhere else. But that little world will be intense. That is what makes bluewater sailing so invigorating. Intellectually, you know you’re an exceedingly tiny speck on the surface of an enormous planet, but nothing brings that home like sitting on a (steel) cork in the ocean.

With seven people in fifty feet, you have to be tolerant because the little quirks of one person may drive you nuts. But don’t forget, your quirks are making others crazy, too. Things that would never concern you on land can bring great happiness on the deep. No night sky is as bright as a clear, moonless night at sea. By Day 25, pancakes mixed with hard raisins and dorado, topped with hard chunks of apricot jam will be a culinary breakthrough that you’ll think will be the basis of an amazingly successful restaurant chain.

When on watch alone or when working in some weather, please keep your PDF/harness clipped to a hard point. And Rob, make sure Bri gets more than her share of food. We love you! Be safe. Fair winds.

NOTE FROM BRI AND ROB: Happy Birthday, Dad!  We miss you and love you, and are celebrating with you in spirit today.  We’ll give the ocean gods some love to send you blessings for a wonderful year.

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