Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Your Questions Answered

In finishing up our passage from the Galapagos Islands to French Polynesia I asked my family if they had any questions for us. They came up with some great ones. My answers are in blue, and Bob's are in green. I hope you enjoy the answers, and please feel free to ask any of your own queries in the comments.

Starting off with questions from our son, Rivers.

What was something that you loved that you didn’t foresee and what was something you were worried about that you didn’t need to be? 

Although it was not technically on this section of the passage, I loved the Doldrums. Admittedly we had a motor and so we were not relying on the wind to get us through, but I loved the stillness of the ocean. The absolute glassiness of it.

The things that I worried about I am not sure that I didn’t need to concerned about. We worried about them so that we would do everything we could to stop them from happening. 

Better than I thought was how fast the time passed, with special thanks to reading. 

I worried that sleep loss could become a cumulative problem, but that wasn't really the case.

What was the best piece of advice you received prior to your departure?

To stay safe.

There have been so many cruiser friends that have offered advice along the way it is hard to pick one. I am always asking, and listening and learning an appreciating the help offered by others.

The voice in my head that said make sure to get along with Sarah.

How was your experience extending a strange alternating sleep schedule over the long time period? Did you ever fall asleep on watch? 

Our watch schedule is a natural extension of our typical habits. Bob tends to fall asleep earlier than I do, and thus wake up earlier. We just push this schedule to its limits and it works well. Bob falls asleep as early as he can, sometimes as early as 7, then wakes up at 1 or 2 and takes over from me. I like to stay up reading, so I just push that to staying up later and later, then I get to sleep in the morning. There were certainly days that our rhythms were interrupted by weather or equipment breakage, but then we just take turns napping during the day.

My experiences on previous passages prepared me well mentally, however on this passage the motion of the boat was a greater challenge to both getting and staying asleep.

Sleeping on watch- Interesting how this question popped up from several people. This passage was quite different from other passages we have done. The extremes would be sailing near the Panama Canal and the shipping lanes, vs being out in the middle of the Pacific. When there are other boats around there is no sleeping on watch,  we are constantly vigilant.  Crossing the Pacific we saw so few boats that we could risk a small catnap here and there. 

There are those people who have fallen asleep on watch, those people who are going to fall asleep on watch, and damned liars. The key is to steal a few winks, with your phone alarm nearby, to sleep lightly with an ear tuned to any significant change in wind, boat motion, sounds.

What would you do differently if you did it again?

I would download more podcasts, they are great company on nightwatch. I thought I had done so, but most of them were gone by the time I wanted to listen to them.

I agree with more podcasts, but if we could find the right person, another crew member would be worthwhile.

What food that you provisioned did you wish you had more of and which food did you never actually eat?

We would have liked to have more non dairy ice cream but the freezer just couldn't hold any more. Also more lettuce would have been nice, but it is difficult to get it to last.

I agree with the lettuce and ice cream, and would add more hummus. We did not use many canned goods, but those are really provisioned for our remaining months before large groceries in Papeete.

What was the first thing you wanted to do upon reaching dry land?

Go for a walk and stretch my legs.

Walk, rest, walk, rest, meet someone new. Birds, blossoms, beer.

Did you think about people who had made this crossing before access to technologies you have? Anyone in particular? Did you feel connected to past explorers and sailors in some way out in the vast open blue? 

Thank goodness for technology! To do this without GPS, our chartplotter and our Sat phone would have been a totally different experience,  and not something that I believe it would have enjoyed. I did think about those who came before us and how their experiences differed from ours.

Certainly one cannot discount the advantages of GPS and the security that knowledge feeds you every day you are out of sight of land. When I think of the Polynesians, that for thousands of years, explored these same waters by reading the waves, the wind, and determining their location by holding their hand up to the stars, I am humbled. 

All who have gone to sea before us, and all our fellow cruisers today readily share information. Technology and information properly applied keeps us safe, and allows us to continue following in the path of the real explorers.

Sometimes I think about the early European explorers on boats not much longer than our, with 40-50 crew members aboard and I am grateful not to have quite so many crammed in.

At what point in your crossing did you feel most isolated?

For a while our text messaging app was not working.  When I wasn't getting any messages from the outside world I definitely felt isolated.

When the autopilot had troubles twice in one day, along with battery charging issues, I felt we could be out there days longer with constant handsteering and maybe a loss of refrigeration. But isolation is relative when you know you just have to fix things the best you can and keep going.

Which of your children are you most grateful for answering your questions and communicating with you throughout you journey?

We don't feel that it is appropriate to pick favorites among our offspring. Those that have communicated with us know they are loved and appreciated. 

I feel our first child was consistently helpful and supportive, however our last born was his typical slacking self.

Questions from my mother, Jane

How do you resolve differences of opinion?  

Light sabers

I didn't know I had the option to disagree.

In all honesty, we discuss it until someone brings up a point that is slightly better, or Sarah begins to pout until I give in.

Do you still love to be together?

Yes. I love sharing this with my best friend and having someone that I can trust implicitly. Someone that can fix my autopilot for me and change the fuel filters when the engine stops running because of crud in the fuel. And someone who I can explore with and who will share my excitement over seeing a rainbow or a shooting star or watching the sun set.

I wonder who she might be talking about...I think I'm jealous. Actually we do exceptionally well minimizing differences because we have to.

From my aunt Moira:

What was the most: Fun? Rewarding? Emotionally moving? Boring? Challenging? Unexpected?

Wow, that's a lot! Boring is easy - the lack of being able to do many things I love to do, go for a walk, make art, make music. There was just too much motion of the boat to feel comfortable enough to do the last two.

Unexpected would be the number of small (4-5 inches) squid that would be found on deck in the morning at the beginning of the passage. At night I could shine a bright light into the water and see the light reflecting in the red eyes of the squid. They disappeared about halfway through the passage, but on our list of things yet to do is to clean up the squid ink on deck.

Most fun was ten minutes with dolphins swimming along in our bow wake. Most rewarding was finally getting to prove we could do it. Getting the battery charger and autopilot to work again, thus avoiding minor calamities was a real emotional lift. Most boring was the first third of a book by William F. Buckley I gave up on. Most challenging was remaining able bodied and more or less upright for 20 days straight on a broken carnival ride. Unexpected, was how quickly the time passed.

Were there times when you were nervous or scared? 

We have made enough smaller passages that I wasn't really nervous or scared, but as is often the case, the most nerve-wracking is usually at the end. In this case in the last 24 hours we had winds up to 25 knots and 3 meter seas. We have had continuing issues with our bio growth in our fuel and clogging the filters. We (and by we, I mean Bob) changed the filters for safety reasons for the last hour before entering the harbor at Nuku Hiva. The winds we gusting up to 22 knots and the waves were 3 meters and coming at us from the side. We were motoring at this point to get into the harbor. At the mouth of the harbor are two very large rocks they call sentinels that we had to pass between. We were making plans as to what to do if the engine failed at that point (pull out the sails and turn back out to sea). For me this was definitely the hairiest part of the passage. All ended well, the engine didn't die, we made it past the sentinels, into the harbor and safely set anchor. 

Sometimes the way Sarah looks at me when she's handing me the hammer is pretty scary.

Did you learn anything new about Rhapsody?

Just had our trust in her reinforced. If we take care of her, she takes good care of us. We did learn that we need to find a way to prevent the chafing of the halyard when we are flying our Code Zero sail!

We reinforced that a lot of our planning, preparation, and experience is valid for the boat we have and the way we use her. We need more back up autopilot hardware.

Did you feel small surrounded by the vastness of sky and water? 

Certainly at times, it was amazing to look out in all directions and see nothing but blue, sky and water

Absolutely, but we feel small whenever we're on passage.

Did anybody fall asleep on night watch?  (fess up now) And just how hard was it to stay awake?

See above...

Favorite constellations as viewed mid-ocean? 

Transit of Venus and Jupiter every morning just before first light.

I loved watching the Milky Way and seeing the Southern Cross, but I have to admit that for all the hype that the Southern Cross gets, it is pretty small in comparison to Northern Hemisphere constellations like the Big Dipper or Orion. I think that the Souuthern Cross must have a pretty good agent promoting it.

What did you miss the most? 

Conversations with other people

Long walks off the boat. and new voices laughing.

How did the food provisioning work out?

Our freezer is not big enough for everything that we would like to bring, otherwise excellent.

Our chocolate stash of artesian chocolate from Chocolopagos lasted until the very last days, then we knew it was time for landfall. We still had some carrots, cabbage and potatoes left at the end, we did not have to resort to a totally canned meal.

Did you learn anything new about yourselves? About each other?

Just a stronger confirmation that we're doing what we should be.

And that we can count on each other when needed.

Here's something else I just got curious about.  What kind of medical just-in-case preparedness did you have along with you? 

A positive attitude is all important. Stubborn sense of good diet makes good health.

We have an off shore medical kit full of medications I hope we will never have to use.

And finally, questions from my Uncle Lee who submitted questions under false pretenses to be moved to the head of the line. For this reason he was bumped to the end

Dear Aunt Sara,

How do you handle sleeping -- both by day and by night? Do you ever both sleep and let the autopilot handle the boat?

The autopilot is always handling the boat, unless there is a problem with it, but one of us is always monitoring the autopilot, making sure it is working, looking out for other boats and watching the weather and the sails, being ready to put out more sails if the wind goes down, or take in some if the wind goes up.

What Sarah said. Awake or asleep you remain tuned into any significant change in sound, motion, or breeze.

Do waves break over Rhapsody when you are crossing the Pacific?

We do occasionally have waves break over the boat. Just this afternoon we had a hatch over our bed open to get some fresh air and a big wave came over the boat, through the hatch and doused the bed, actually only Bob's side of the bed, mine stayed dry. As we were approaching the harbor, on the very last section of the passage we definitely had waves breaking over the bow.

I've got to remember which hatch to to close and which hatch to leave open next time.

How do you navigate? Do you shoot the sun just for fun?

We have no sextant aboard. We rely on satellite GPS, either through our chartplotter or our handheld radios. GPS is worldwide accurate. Besides, too many billion cell phone users, militaries, and Uber drivers need it for it to fail. If by the strangest twist of fate GPS failed we would fall back to our compass, paper charts, the position of stars and planets if visible, and dead reckoning. You adapt.

We plot a course on the chartplotter before we depart and then over the length of this long passage we attempted to stay on course, often correcting for the wind and the currents which seemed to want to take us further south than we wanted to go.

Do you harvest and eat seaweed? Is there any seaweed in the middle of the South Pacific?

No, but small squid and flying fish offer themselves up on deck in frustratingly large and messy numbers.

We did not see any seaweed, as opposed to parts of the Caribbean which are covered with Sargassum, large mats of orangeish brown plants.

When crossing the Pacific, do you fly full sails all of the time?

No. the amount and trim of the sails change to meet the conditions.

If the winds were light we would fly full sails during the day, we would always reduce them at night because it was more difficult to see any approaching squalls.

Do you carry all your drinking water or do you make it? Is your watermaker solar?

We make it, through desalinization.

We have two 60 gallon tanks that we fill with our watermaker which generally is run by our solar panels. We have some difficulty on passage if the boat is heeled over too much, or the waves are too great and the intake thru-hull is not in the water. Fortunately we only needed a few calm days to make enough water for the entire passage.

Do you bathe in seawater?

No, we shower sparingly with fresh water.

When not on passage we are swimming a lot if we are in an area of clean water, and the initial rinse/cleaning is with salt water and we just use our freshwater as a rinse. We are a much more frugal with water on passage. 

What is the deepest part of the Pacific that you have crossed?

I think about 19,000 ft.

When we are sailing over the top we can't really tell if the water is several hundred feet deep or several thousand,  it all looks the same. And once the numbers go over several hundred feet our depth monitor just says: depth - - -

And the final comment from Uncle Lee, which is what sealed his fate at the back of the pack:

PS -- nothing wrong with deception to jump to the head of the queue

We love to hear your comments.

Andrew Holyoke said...

Very interesting reading. Now I dont have to do it myself. Nor build a boat to do it in….

Sarah said...

So glad to take that off your plate!