Archive for July, 2011

The North Pacifog

Friday, July 29th, 2011

We have been sailing in fog for many days now. Space is condensed and time is expanded within our little gray capsule and without our electrical wizardry we would have no way of knowing how long we’ve been here or how far we’ve come. The ocean in this part of the world is not content to share with the atmosphere and struggles to blur the interface between liquid and gas. Altitudes that we knew to be dry in other areas are really just thinner water in this place.

These whispy vapors rise in a tide above our heads, spilling into our cranial through-hulls and displacing our cool gray matter with a cool gray mist. The result leaves us quietly and contently observant and as imperturbable as big-eyed baby albatrosses that sit in the middle of busy roads. Fog is an anesthetic in large doses and we love to sleep. All other business; sailing, eating and hygiene, is automated and un-remarkable.

47°35.17’N 143°11.60’W 29-Jul-11 17:19 UTC

North Pacific Crossing, Week 4 Update

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

We’ve just wrapped up our fourth week on this crossing since leaving Ailuk, and we’re two weeks out from our unplanned stop at Midway Island. All is well onboard. We found ourselves quite gun-shy for the first week or so since resuming our journey, staring with saucer eyes at all clouds for signs of lightning, but thankfully there hasn’t been any. We continue to be graced with albatross sightings, though we’ve left the tropicbirds and fairy terns behind. Now we have acrobatic petrels doing laps around the boat, and the occasional shearwater loping over the waves.
Now that we’ve been scrutinizing it every day for the past month, we realize the summertime North Pacific High is not the stable monolithic beast we once thought it was. It was hopping around quite a bit, doing a do-see-do around us for several days. Other highs popped up nearby and merged with it. Some of the more intense Alaskan lows impinged upon it. Its antics drove us further and further north in our attempt to get on top of it, but we finally got onto its north side and have turned east, following a fast beeline track to Vancouver Island. We’ve also entered a world of fog and chill, and have been covering our tans, layer by layer, in fleece and foulies, transforming ourselves back into numb-fingered, runny nosed creatures of the Pacific Northwest.

47°05.85’N 148°16.00’W 28-Jul-11 02:26 UTC

A Midway Stop

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

We’re sailing northwest again after 5 days of unplanned time in the Midway National Wildlife Refuge. Our initial course would have taken us 125 nm east of the atoll, but strange changes in the local weather drove us closer and closer to the island. After 12 days and 1500 nm of sailing generally to the northeast we found ourselves maneuvering to avoid the atoll like a bug afraid of impaling itself on the haystack needle. And then there was a great wall of rain and lightning that swept over us and delivered some extra electricity to the mast with unclear results at 3 in the morning.

Our impression of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Marine Monument was already well formed by our disappointment with the visitor permit process and the preference of remote managers to hide behind sloppy policy. We knew that it is managed as a multi-agency partnership, a bureaucratic petrie dish that has cultured its own special reality and a strange relationship with the citizenry who feed the coffers. But the new things we learned during our stay filled our heads and hearts, stocking us with hours of quiet reflection as the waves and miles slip under the keel and into our moonlit wake.

Wildlife will be the subject of a several photo essays in the fullness of time. We’ll never forget the hundreds of thousands of baby albatrosses of Midway, one parked every 5 feet over about 12 square miles, waiting patiently for a parent to return from weeks-long foraging trips covering thousands of miles of open ocean to collect food and bits of floating plastic in equal parts. We also feel the burden of our species for the obvious role we play in drowning thousands of these beautiful birds that launch into the harbor underweight and underdeveloped, driven by hunger, only to become waterlogged paddlers who succumb slowly to the sea or quickly to nocturnal sharks.

Every beach we’ve seen on this trip has carried its load of plastic trash, but nowhere was the impact of this trash more profoundly displayed than at Midway. So we carry home a cargo of shame for our disposable society and the trash that is fed to young albatrosses.

We would not want to repeat the circumstances that brought us to Midway. Yet there is balance, as our experience brought many blessings. We caught our breath at the sight of a young fledged albatross 50 miles north of the atoll, skimming the complex sea surface without effort and our hearts are still warm with the goodwill and hospitality of the refuge staff and the community of contractors who quietly helped us in ways we did not even know we needed. Well-evolved animals and good people prevail!

As for ourselves, we feel some ownership of this island as a place of refuge and restoration now that we’ve taken our place in the ancient fraternity of birds, turtles, seals, dolphins, sailors, and fliers who have found this small speck on the chart at just the right time to rest, repair, and continue.

32°26.82’N 174°41.07’W 16-Jul-11 07:28 UTC

North Pacific Crossing, Week 2 Update

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

We spent this week sailing a more easterly course, trying to get clear of a pressure trough that developed about 100 miles north of us near the dateline. The weather forecasters out of Honolulu were warning that there could be “isolated, moderate thunderstorms” within 180 miles of the trough, but our weather was fine, just the normal nightly rainsqualls, most of them passing in front or behind us without a raindrop on our deck. The trough was nearly stationary where it was, and after a couple of days we figured we’d gotten far enough away from the worst of it and started sailing a more northeasterly course.

We crossed the Tropic of Cancer (at 23°27′ north) Wednesday morning, then crossed the dateline Thursday morning (which made it again Wednesday morning for us). On Thursday, as we were nearing the boundary of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument (wherein lies Midway Island), we sent in our “notice of uninterrupted passage” as required, letting them know of our passage through the monument boundaries and our intended course, which had us passing about 35 miles west of Midway Island.

That evening at sunset while we were eating dinner in the cockpit, we noticed a great huge anvil shaped cloud on the eastern horizon. Wow, we said, look at that thing! Glad we’re not going over there! Well…little did we know that that thing was heading our way. By midnight we were doing our best to dodge bands of squalls as lightning lit up the sky a few miles distant. There wasn’t too much wind in the squalls but lots of rain. In between, the wind was fluky, so we turned on the engine and left Fritz the autopilot to do its work while we watched from relative safety down below. For a while we heard no thunder from the lightning, which we took to be a good thing. But around 3 AM we were totally surrounded by a lightning squall. We counted the Mississippis between each flash and the rumble. Then came one silent flash, and everything went dark. K hurried over to the instrument panel to reset the switches, and thankfully most of our instruments and equipment came back on. But the autopilot was no longer responding, and our radar was questionable, so we made the decision to head to Midway to see if they’d let us stop for repairs and to check our rig.

The next morning as we approached the island we were very happy to see that it showed up on our radar screen. When we called, we were doubly relieved when the Midway National Wildlife Refuge responded – meaning our VHF radio still worked – and said that they would allow us to come into the harbor and tie to their dock as we made repairs. Since one of the channel markers was out of position they even sent someone out to escort us in.

So here we are safely tied to a dock as we work to get ready to continue our journey home. The folks here have been super friendly and supportive, and we’re extremely grateful. It looks like K will be able to get all our important systems functional again and we’ll be ready to go in a couple of days.

28°12.85’N 177°21.79’W 11-Jul-11 05:52 UTC

North Pacific Crossing, Week 1 Update

Monday, July 4th, 2011

We’ve been reminded this week of the wisdom behind the adage: Gentlemen never sail to windward. We’re seven days out from Ailuk atoll and have covered a little over 830 miles so far. That’s slow, even for us, but somewhat intentional on our part. For most of the week we were sailing upwind (called “beating” – for good reason) into pretty consistent 20 knots of wind. With the story of Brick House’s recent dismasting fresh in our minds and over three thousand miles of ocean laid out before us, we stayed reefed for the first several days to go easy on our rigging and hull as we made our way over the short but steep northeasterly wind waves. The result was a frustratingly slow uncomfortable slog, but we made progress in the right direction, each tick of the GPS showing us getting a little closer to our destination.

We’re happy to report that there’s not much to report. Each day has been sunny and hot, and every few days a brief rainsquall catches us to rinse us off (we’ve noticed less squalls as we move north, and they’re not as boisterous as they were down by the equator). We had a noddie bird onboard for about 18 hours. He stayed long enough to be named Guanimo and to ride on the top of the dodger through an impressive 26 kt squall.

Over the past few days the waves have occasionally laid down a bit and we were able to pick up the pace. But this morning the wind petered out to the point where Twitchy, the wind vane autopilot, starts to lose his wheaties, so we started the engine and headed more easterly to try to dodge a weather trough to our north. We celebrated the 4th of July by doing a bit of much needed house cleaning, making a tankfull of water, and catching a small but delicious mahimahi. Fish tacos tonight!

The long term weather forecast shows the north Pacific high cooperating with our travel plans. It’s been spread out and actually showing up as two highs north of Hawaii lately, but the weather models predict it’ll consolidate into one and shift eastward, and we hope to latch onto its western flank in a few days.

22°20.28’N 175°20.35’E 04-Jul-11 02:47 UTC

Ailuk Atoll

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

Several of our new yachtie friends in Majuro encouraged us to stop at at least one of the outer islands on our way north. We felt pressed for time but decided we’d regret it if we didn’t take their advice. We were told that if we had to pick only one, Ailuk was not to be missed. Ailuk atoll is known as the “island of sails” because the residents still use the traditional sailing canoes in their everyday lives.

So we went through the process of applying at the Department of Internal Affairs for a permit to visit Ailuk, along with a couple other optional atolls. Miraculously it took only a couple of days before we had our permits in hand and we were off, passing north through Majuro’s Calalin channel almost exactly one week after our arrival.

We left with a little more room in our salon, having gifted our poor old dinghy to a Marshallese connection who, we were assured, would be able to obtain the glue needed to keep it in repair.

We arrived at Errapu Channel, one of four passes on the western side of Ailuk atoll, at high tide and found the channel about a third of a mile north of where our electronic chart said it would be. But as usual K was up at the spreaders and we passed easily through. We spent the next couple of hours making our way to the main island in the atoll to meet with the village representatives and pay our permit fee. Along with our $50 we passed along some items we’d bought back in Mexico to give as gifts – fish hooks, line, sandals, etc., as well as some rice and washing powder we’d been told the islanders were especially fond of. These were received graciously but without much comment. Later when we went ashore into the village we were rewarded with gifts of coconuts, breadfruit, limes, and some gorgeous hand-woven baskets.

We spent a couple days anchored off the village and met several villagers, all of whom seemed somehow related to each other. The tidy, quiet little village was a relief after the hustle and clutter of town in Majuro. We were looked after by Amai, the acting mayor. In exchange for lunch aboard our boat, Amai and his young associate, Jonathan, took us out for a wet but fantastic fast ride on his 18 ft outrigger one morning.

That afternoon we said goodbye to the villagers and headed north to anchor off Aliet Island. There we found truly gin-clear water and reefs that rival the best we’ve seen. The sharks were well behaved and we collected quite a few pixels. The pics will be posted on the blog when they arrive by sail in Canada next month. This will make it the slowest blog upload in about the last 150 years.

10°20.77’N 169°58.08’E 27-Jun-11 02:00 UTC