Monday, June 8, 2009

from s/v Circadia

Sunday, June 7, 2009, 1:15 am
12degrees 4 minutes S; 147 degrees, 45 minutes W

The Gimbaled Life
We left Moorea three days ago, sailing into light winds. We are expecting to sail to windward on this leg, especially towards the equator, which we must cross to the east so that we can have the right sail angle in the NE trades to Hawaii.
The winds and seas built quickly and for the last two days we have been sailing upwind in 15-20 knots, a tough start to this long crossing: sea sickness, heeling boat, the effort required to do ordinary things like prepare food, brush your teeth, change into dry clothes.
Living on the boat becomes like living in the intertidal: water comes in any open hatches, or down into the cabin with us, dripping from our rain gear. Everything is slippery. Skin becomes clammy with salt and hair feels like the wall-to-wall carpet in an apartment I had once in the 80’s.
Last night and all morning we passed through a vast area of vicious squalls, one lined up after another, some with winds of 30 knots, all with driving rain. At one point the sea and sky was so grey and stormy in every direction it felt like sailing off the coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands. The last squall was a huge dark mass, like a black hole, that seemed to suck everything in towards itself: light, water, wind. We shot out the other side, as if out the last gate of hell, into the blue.
Now we are sailing gently on easy waters, under a full moon. And, as if the gods noticed we deserved a break, the wind is westerly, so that we can make some precious easting.
Once again I think of our gimbaled stove, that simple but essential concept of swinging level no matter how thrown off balance, and how difficult it is to achieve. It’s important to remember the third law of sailingdynamics (see post, April 11): THINGS CHANGE.
On these night watches I think of what people I love are doing. My computer is still set on west coast time, where it is early morning. Maybe my friends on Protection Island are already up, having a cup of coffee, wandering through their gardens to see what’s in bloom and what the deer have eaten.
In Victoria, my son will be waking, planning his Sunday. My daughter will have just arrived on Baffin Island for her summer job. It will be, I think, around 9 in the morning. She will not have seen darkness at all tonight.

It has been strange to spend a year in perpetual summer. ClichÈ perhaps but the northern summers are so much sweeter, being hard won—like this perfect night of moonlit sailing.


Maureen said...


Around about the time you were writing this, heading north on Circadia, Kevin, Paul, Lila and I were heading north on Maple Leaf.

And at some point, I thought of you two briefly, about where you were and whether you would come home at all!

It was 5 a.m. Alaska time when you wrote this post, and I was trying to ignore our alarm clock. Unlike you and Kim in your ocean-going boat, free of land in the blue, blue sea, we were creatures of the coast, dropping anchor at night, travelling by daylight.

We were on a crew-only transit from Sandspit to Sitka. While you were bucking those tremendous squalls in the south Pacific and thinking of the Queen Charlotte Islands, we were in the North Pacific, moving away from the Charlottes, bucking waves and a building wind in Hecate Strait. Sunshine, though, no clouds.

At one point, the day we headed northeast toward the mainland, you could have shot a straight line from your boat to ours and not hit a single island in between.

Since you know the area, I'll tell you what we were doing.

We'd dropped anchor 7 hours before you wrote. We'd tucked into a bay filled with rocks, just out of the huge copper mirror that Clarence Strait had become in the Alaskan sunset. That sunset seemed to fade not to black but ever pinker, while we stood and watched a humpback whale, no doubt incoming from Hawaii, slowly breathe and sound, swimming the path up the channel we'd abandonned for the night. The whale was more like you than us, travelling on without the need to put out a chain and rest.

The sunset stayed through hanging the anchor light, opening a bottle of shiraz and sharing 2/3 of it. It was hard to stop looking at the sea. I realized that since we'd rounded Cape St. James on June 2, we'd been heading northwest into a brilliant sunset every night. I noted this because we were always out on deck taking pictures of the bow in the sunset.

We slept and had to wake early.

Within three-quarters of an hour of you writing, the anchor light was away, the coffee, tea and GreensPlus Energy drink were brewed (three people, three different stimulants!). We were following that humpback north for another long, long June day, crawling ever farther up the chart of southeast Alaska, still two days away from our own turning point (Sitka).

It's frightening and comforting to think about us both on the same ocean, so very far from one another but doing a similar thing ... so far away that if this technology didn't exist we'd never have an inkling of the others' existence right now.

That day was epic, a calm run and chores in the morning. Then a brief opening to the Pacific, that allowed some sea otters and us to share a brief inspection of each other. Then into Rocky Pass between Kupreanof and Kuiu Islands, where Kevin and Paul turned Maple Leaf about 120 times in 90 minutes. We traversed The Devil's Elbow at exactly high slack. The pass was so shallow it felt like we should be kayaking.

(A moose and her calf on shore, another sea otter in the water and a great big black bear ... and no ability to stop and watch.)

Then onward, out past Kake into Frederick Sound. I was at the helm and looking for humpback whales as the wind increased to 15 or 20 knots over an ebbing tide.

After five minutes of constantly having to re-find a whale's splash in the growing whitecaps, punctuated by closing hatches and staring into the sun for logs and debris, I decided I was trying way too hard to whale watch.

We spent 90 minutes in the exciting sea hanging out in the wheelhouse as waves hit the hull from the port side and sprayed over a deck ... foredeck, well deck, aft deck, whereever the wave happened to hit.

Great mats of rockweed, the size of a livingroom floor, were sloshing around Frederick Sound and once when a wave sprayed against the bow it broke not only into water drops but also flying bits of rockweed.

Then we were across and surfing downwind, up Chatham Strait, into Warm Springs Bay for the night.

I love reading your posts!

xoxo. Maureen

Alison Watt said...

Word from home and friends has been so important for me this year--keeping me connected to all the different pulses. And this beautiful piece of writing is something I will go back to. I love the thought of both of us in the same ocean on our own voyages. I have missed my own part of the Pacific and I could see it, smell it, all so clearly in your descriptions. Give my love to your crew,
looking forward to seeing you soon