Monday, April 6, 2009

From s/v Circadia

Sunday, April 5, 2009, Day 15
Noon position: 3 degrees, 54 minutes N, 129 degrees, 52 minutes W
Total distance travelled: 1721 nm

It is odd to be moving for so long through a mono-geography. What makes place here? There are the animals. But most of the birds we see are ocean wanderers: shearwaters, petrels. The closest thing they have to a home would be the remote breeding islands where they were born and touch down on once a year to breed.
As for what lives underneath us-that is mostly a mystery, except for what emerges from time to time: squid, flying fish, a tuna. Yesterday we sailed through a huge group of Pantropical spotted dolphins. Scores of mothers and calves, groups of males, came rushing over to the bow. Apparently these animals have specific ranges of several hundred square miles-somehow they know what is home in this borderless expanse.
Mostly, it seems that geography on the ocean is not what is here, but what happens here-the effects of wind, current, and latitude. For instance, a few days ago we passed into an area where squalls lined up on the horizon. It is wonderful to sail into one of these-first the wind freshens, then, suddenly you are in a rainstorm. It reminds me of that scene in The Truman Show, when the weather program glitches and rain falls in a narrow cone out of a perfect sunny sky. We all ran above decks to stand in the downpour. Tavish and Farlyn collected 6 gallons from the foot of the mainsail in a few minutes.
This province of squalls is expected-a result of the mixing of the two systems of trade winds on either side of the equator. The doldrums are another geography expected here. In the last few days the winds have been steady and we have been flying the smaller, heavier spinnaker. It is a beautiful red sail, staining the chrome and the water at the bow raspberry with its reflection. We left it up a couple of nights ago and sailed on smooth seas. But last night the winds dropped and we are under motor.
Heat is the main event at our current position. Daytimes, we only stand at the wheel for about an hour at a time, occasionally dousing ourselves with seawater, which helps, despite the fact that it is 34 C. The rest of the time we stay below out of the sun, trying not to exert ourselves. Yesterday Tavish observed that he was breaking out in a sweat threading a needle. (He's sewing a stuff bag out of scraps of blue spinnakerů)
I look forward to the night watches, as they are so much cooler than the day. Plus there is the welcome geography of the skyů The moon is now bowl shaped, half full, and already so bright the stars are faint until it sets at around 3 am. The Southern Cross rises in the south and slowly tips over as it travels across the sky. For thousands of years it lay buried in the constellation Centaurus. Then, a few hundred years ago European navigators discovered that the upright of the cross points to the south celestial pole, and so they pulled it's little diamond (it is the smallest constellation in the southern sky) out of obscurity.
For now, our country is the small protectorate of Circadia, slowly approaching that invisible "landmark" (or as my dictionary says, imaginary line) the equator, a little over 200 nm away.


materfamilias said...

As always, your writing is lush and thoughtful and brings you back to sit with me, momentarily, here in my office on P.I. Your thoughts on place intrigue me, partly since I've been thinking about place and home, etc., with my 4th-year students this last term -- I hope we'll have a chance to chat about this on one of our walks some day. Meanwhile, sail on . . .

Colene said...

Lovely images and thoughts - it all sounds so fascinating and beautiful. And it must have been pretty exciting for the dolphins,likely made their day, to spot and observe you all for a while. Just two very different types of smart mammals in a really big ocean.