sail south pacific ocean crossing travel brianna rob

Third Watch

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Ocean Tales, Sailing

sail south pacific ocean crossing travel brianna rob

So, this is “fair winds and a following sea:” pitch-poling like a drunk college kid as we surf down dark frothy waves. What the hell would it feel like in rough winds and a big beam sea? Terrifying.

I have third watch tonight, the pre-dawn shift from 3am to whenever someone else wakes up in the morning. It usually takes my mind and body several minutes to get used to night sailing when I start my watch. For some reason, it always feels like we’re going a million miles an hour at night. I check the heading, and make sure the sail plan is still the same: wing-to-wing with the wind dead behind us, careening down 10-foot swells as we sail due west. Even though we had the same gig happening all day, something about the moonless dark makes the boat feel faster, and slightly more out of control than during daylight.

sail south pacific ocean crossing travel brianna rob

I furl in the genoa a bit to see if it eases the motion. “We gotta slow her down!” I think to myself as I winch away at the sheet. Next, I hook up our state-of-the-art navigation systems (my iPhone paired with our Delorme spot tracker) to check our speed. 4.5 knots. Oh. Right. Maybe we weren’t going as fast as I thought. I let the sail back out and settle into a corner of the cockpit to brace against the rocking.

Third watch is my favorite. You know the dark will end. You get to stare at Orion as he ushers in the rising sun. You can watch the water change from black to charcoal to grey to silver to blue. And, best of all, you can drink coffee without worrying about whether you’ll be able to get back to sleep after your shift is over. I love coffee, and brewing a perfect little cup is my reward as the sky starts to lighten at 5:30am. Sadly, my perfect little cup flew across the galley during a big wave, and I ended up with coffee grounds in my hair, eyes, teeth, sleeves. Sigh. I went with instant coffee for round two, admitting defeat in this squirrely sea.

I plot our position and calculate how long it will take before we reach our next destination at an average speed of 5.5 knots. 3 days, 12 hours. I ignore the rattling in the lazarette behind me, the dishes slamming to and fro below, and the occasional flap of the main when it back-winds. Instead, I turn the iPhone to my favorite mix and sing along, write in my journal using the red light on my headlamp, and practice finding southern constellations. I read a bit on the Kindle.

sunset at sea sailing ocean on the horizon line blog

I hand steer the boat for a full hour when the autopilot gives up under the weight of turning the rudder through the swells, pretending I’m Captain Cook steering a tall ship in unknown waters. It is fun to be in control of the boat for a bit, to feel her surf the waves and to use stars as my navigation. But hand steering is not nearly as romantic as one would think, and my shoulders tire quickly.

I’m grateful when the autopilot sputters back to life at sunrise, and the bright light signals the end of my watch. Time for another attempt at the perfect cup of coffee.

 

sailing pacific sunset

Yup, we still hate passages.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Ocean Tales, Sailing

sailboats at sunset south pacific travel

We were scheduled to make landfall in Palmerston at sun-up. But that was when we were averaging 6.5 knots. The wind, as usual, had her own ideas.

Rob and I sat in the cockpit on the last night, watching the crescent moon sink slowly after the sun that just left us. We were making 4 knots in the light air, the genoa flogging and the boat lurching more sharply side to side without the speed to cut through the swells.

“Crack of noon arrival,” I joked. “An exact 5 day passage from anchor to anchor.” I had thought that the 5-night passage from Bora Bora to Palmerston would feel like peanuts compared to 33 days at sea on our Panama to Marquesas leg. But two months of bopping around French Polynesian islands on short jaunts made me weak. I forgot the monotony, the endless frustrating rocking, the noise, the sleeplessness.

sailing pacific sunset
Yup. Passages are just as un-fun as ever. Rob and I tried to be positive while we watched the moon careen back and forth overhead. We listed what we liked about passages:
1) The beauty of the sea, the sun, the night sky. The solitude of this wilderness ocean.
2) The fact that two hunks of canvas can cart us across hundreds of miles.
3) Our increasing ability to manage our bodies and the boat at sea. (No one got seasick this time.)

And that’s about it. We didn’t bother listing our dislikes, as we exhausted that discussion a couple passages back. All this is with fair winds and a following sea! Imagine storms and 30-foot seas (or don’t).

So, if we hate passages so much, why the hell are we smack in the middle of the largest ocean on earth, with plenty more crossings still to come? Because we love everything in between.

bora bora beaches travel

To me, passage-making is like flying or driving long distances. I hate sitting still, being cramped in small spaces and tight seats, breathing stale recycled air, filling the monotonous hours and minutes as best I’m able. Yucky. But I absolutely love arriving at the destination. The excitement about what awaits after the long transit is what gets us through the discomfort. Same with sailing — every time we see a new island on the horizon, it feels like Christmas Day. What will we discover on shore? What presents await beneath the surface?

Maybe Rob and I aren’t real sailors at heart. We are, however, water people, through and through. And to get to the best water, you gotta pay the price of passage. Thus far on our journey, the price is still a bargain for the bounty we’ve received.

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.”

kung fu ninja kick on the horizon line blog rob roberts

Magic Mood Mixture (nope, no illegal substances included)

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Dance, Yoga and Fitness, Sailing

kung fu ninja kick on the horizon line blog rob roberts

I know many of you who followed our voyage across the Pacific are secretly asking yourselves this very important question:how the hell did Bri and Rob keep from losing their minds during while bobbing around the ocean blue for a whole month?

First off, don’t kid yourselves: we definitely lost it at times. Second, we each quickly learned what would bring us back from the brink of insanity, and what would keep us as pleasant as possible during the crossing. For me: 1) music 2) exercise 3) caffeine 4) naps. Most of you know that this is the exact same mixture that keeps me sane and bearable on land, too. Just give me some espresso, a dance class or bike ride, and some good tunes to sing along to and my bad mood usually lifts.

Napping is new, though — I’ve always hated that groggy post-nap disorientation, and feeling like I was missing out on something exciting. Nothing like a weird night watch schedule to change my tune about the value of naps. Plus, watching Rob’s impressive cat-napping ability inspired me to follow suit. Rob’s magic mood mixture is about the same as mine, if you double his nap quotient and replace caffeine with mini-projects (fixing broken binoculars, rigging fishing lines, inventing a way to detangle all the ropes at the mast, etc.). Here’s some details on our passage sanity formula:

1) Music: Me playing the shitty nylon-string guitar we bought in Panama City (thank god we found it), and Rob learning how to play his first-ever song on the guitar. Either of us zoning out to favorite tunes with headphones blasting to cover the fact that you’re sharing a very small space with 6 other people, 3 of whom are bickering brothers. Me dancing as best I can, using the stays and shrouds as my partners as I kick, spin, arc, and flail to the beat of a bass. The whole crew singing to Johnny Cash as we cook dinner and do dishes, walking around the tilted cabin like drunk sailors (who haven’t seen a drop of alcohol for a month).

2) Exercise: A fascinating, innovative, hilarious endeavor given the motion and lack of space. I exercised a few times a day, although the definition of “exercise” is totally stretchy compared to what I’d do in regular life. Squats, lunges, pushups and crunches were ubiquitous, along with some fancier strength training moves that required holding on for dear life to something bolted on the deck. I tried out various creative cardio routines, consisting of jumping jacks, running in place, can-can kicks, mountain-climbers, and pretending the single step on deck was a stairmaster. Yoga stretches were a mainstay, of course, throughout the day. The end result? I’m more toned than I’ve ever been in my life, but a dying tortoise could beat me at a 100-yard dash. It’s tough to maintain any sort of aerobic activity when you can’t really walk without falling over.

3) Caffeine: What I would give for an espresso machine … sigh. Next time, I’m bringing lots of good teas and coffee. This trip, though, we made do with crappy instant (Buen Dia!), and some sketchy tea bags that barely tinted the water after steeping. I horded the one tin of stellar green tea, meting out one bag per day when at my crankiest.

4) Naps: Learned to love ’em. Not only do they refresh after getting up in the middle of the night for watch, they also make time go faster, provide an exciting position change from sitting on your butt, give you some alone time, and offer relief from intense midday sun. Rob brought napping to a new level, sleeping sitting up, in the cockpit, splayed out on the yoga mat, or folded into weird positions. While I couldn’t quite match his napping enthusiasm, I’m definitely a convert to taking one per day.

The biggest challenge was trying to add something new or creative or interesting into each day. Something that differentiates it from all the other rolly blue sameness. For me, even a new dance move or a new ingredient to spice up a coffee drink could push me over the edge from a low to a high. Rob and I both learned (and continued to re-learn) that there’s a very fine line between despair and contentment on a boat out at sea.exercise sailing dance yoga on the horizon line brianna randall

sunset at sea sailing ocean on the horizon line blog

Daily Routine at Sea

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Sailing

sunset at sea sailing ocean on the horizon line blog

The last 33 days at sea seem lost in space. May evaporated like the spindrift from the waves we rode to the Marquesas. Where did those days go? What the hell did we do that whole time? Well, a lot of the same thing.

Mark Twain summed up passage life pretty well: “Being on a boat is like being in prison, but with the possibility of drowning.” We didn’t drown. We definitely lost track of days. And we mitigated the confinement jitters by sticking to daily routines that helped pass the time. Ironically, Rob and I both shun routines back home, preferring impulsive last-minute activities that change as often as the Montana weather in spring.

Out at sea, the routine — boring as it became — was what fended off madness, and allowed us to cope with seemingly endless quantities of time bobbing through the exact same scene. The upshot of making a 4,000 mile passage right off the bat, though, is that the upcoming sails between Pacific islands will feel like a walk in the park.

Here’s a snapshot of our version of groundhog day the past month:
0000 Connor knocks on our berth: “Bri, you’re up for watch.” I mumble and stumble out to trade places with him.
0200 My watch ends, after some yoga, star-gazing, sail-trimming, and storm-watching. I stay up til I get sleepy again, usually around 3:00am
0700 Daily “net,” a radio check-in with ~15 boats scattered over 2,000 miles. We share positions, make sure everyone’s ok, and brag about any fish caught.
0800 Oatmeal and tea. Maybe some granola if it’s the first week. Catching up on interesting night events, like flying fish landing on your pillow.
1000 Read. Or stretch. Or work on a mini-project, like baking bread, macrame anklets, personal grooming, sail repairs, changing fishing lures.
1200 Lunch, ranging from Top Ramen to crepes to three-bean salad.
1300 Naps. Reading. Maybe some guitar playing.
1400 Jumping jacks or yoga or dancing.
1500 Games organized by Gavin, like Scrabble or poker or hearts.
1600 Kids’ game time on the SSB radio. We gathered round to listen to nearby sailboat kids play Battleship, 20 Questions or Hangman. Good times.
1700 Pushups and lunges and situps. Maybe more jumping around.
1800 Dinner preparation: we perfected one-pot wonders onboard.
1900 Story time and stargazing in the cockpit.
2000 Rob’s watch starts, while I read or write.
2200 Rob comes to bed, and I try and nap for an hour or two before Connor comes to wake me … starting the whole cycle over again.

The routine didn’t change much, really. Interspersed at all hours were sail changes (which took up most of the day during the first 2 weeks before we hit the tradewinds), watching birds and flying fish and any visiting marine mammals (which disappeared week 3 and 4 for some reason), and reminiscing about our favorite foods that were currently way out of reach. I’ll write more about a few exceptional events that broke up this routine in upcoming posts.

When I write down here what we did all day, it suddenly sounds like a long, relaxing vacation. Reading, eating, playing games? It makes for a great Sunday. But when you stretch it out to 30+ Sundays with no real choice on ways to break the cycle … well, let’s just say Mark Twain knew what he was talking about.

on the horizon line blog sailing pacific graduation at sea

Land Ho! Kaloha, Nuku Hiva.

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Ocean Tales, Sailing

WE MADE IT!

33 days at sea. 52 days total on the boat. 4,178 miles of ocean. 2 full moons. 3.5 time zones. 1 proxy high school graduation ceremony. 25 pounds of rice. 3 minor sail repairs. 4 avian hitchhikers. 8 new constellations. 18 degree shift in water temperature. Dozens of flying fish on deck. Hundreds of oatmeal packets consumed. Thousands and thousands of waves under our keel.

We arrived in the Marquesas today, the easternmost islands of French Polynesia that are a much welcome raft of green mountains and waterfalls in the middle of a big, big, big ocean. Landfall at Nuka Hiva inspired many emotions, the first of which was relief and the second of which was awe. The crew of Llyr moved at an average of 5.5 knots this past month (with an occassional 7-knot sprint thrown in), which is basically the equivalent of jogging from San Diego to Maine and then down to Florida. Read: it was a LONG journey. 150 square miles of solid ground never looked so decidedly delicious.

The Pacific crossing inspired just as many emotions as landfall, many of which will be shared in upcoming blog posts. For now, let’s suffice it share the basic summary: our first ocean crossing was a resounding success. No one got scurvy, went overboard, or was banished from the boat. Rob and I have lighter hair and darker skin, and we still like each other, too. The injury list is relegated to a few bruises and one burn I got while making cookies in a swaying boat (they were worth the pain).

Stay tuned for a whole host of stories and reflections from our month at sea. Sadly, the internet connections in French Polynesia are slow and scarce, so we’ll be going light on photos for each post. I promise to post photo albums when wifi speed allows. Meanwhile, check out this scene of the crew attending Connor’s surprise high school graduation ceremony on May 18th, which substituted (sort of) for the one he missed in favor of joining this journey.

on the horizon line blog sailing pacific graduation at sea

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