Sunday, December 30, 2012

I survived Christmas at sea

Position: 04°54'N, 97°58'W

Christmas at sea was always going to be emotional. For weeks we had been
thinking of family and friends coming together to celebrate the day in
Ireland and New Zealand, pining for all the food and drink and craic
that we would miss out on. Christmas Day loomed like a big obstacle that
we felt we just had to get through and then we could mentally get back
to our adventure. However to our surprise, Christmas Day on board turned
out to be quite a pleasant experience.

To start with we checked our daily distance progress and found a weekly
peak of 89 miles distance covered towards Panama over the previous 24
hours. After a few days of mediocre progress and reduced speed due to
our new rig and sail settings, it appeared that Santa had indeed
received our letter. And that was only the start of his delivery...

Mid-morning the sun came out and the clouds disappeared to treat us to a
spectacular day. We picked up an east-setting current and found some
healthy 15 knot southerly winds. We cracked open a bottle of New Zealand
Sauvignon Blanc and relaxed in the warm sunshine, munching on snacks and
goodies, and leaving the sailing to Ashling who was in her sweet spot,
sailing at five knots due east.

While there was just the three of us out here for Christmas, we
certainly didn't feel lonely. After phone calls to our families in
Ireland on the satellite phone, we exchanged some unique Christmas
presents that had been purchased in the limited stores of our last port,
including a bar of soap, a Sudoku puzzle book and a Cadbury's Crunchie.
We also opened gifts from friends in New Zealand, finding ready-made rum
and cokes from Kirsten, and some Grow your own Animals (of the plastic
variety) from Derek & Fiona. Needless to say, the rum and cokes
vaporised within minutes but the animals will keep us occupied and
entertained until we reach land. Thank you!

Even at sea Christmas revolves around an oven and later in the
afternoon, the First Mate got busy baking chocolate muffins and
biscuits, followed by the much anticipated tinned Chicken & Mushroom
pie. We ate Christmas dinner watching a glorious sunset behind us, and
turned around to find a full moon rising in a cloudless sky ahead. It
had been an unexpected but much welcomed day off and all things
considered, we couldn't have wished for a better day.

Christmas involves a lot of looking back – recounting the story of the
nativity, digging out old decorations, reminiscing on happy Christmases
gone by, remembering when it was all about Santa. However New Year's is
all about looking forward – thinking of the new year, making fresh
starts, wondering what the next 12 months has in store. After the
emotional rollercoaster that we travelled over the past week as we
missed friends and family more than ever, we're happy to put this
Christmas behind us and look forward to what 2013 has to bring.

Since Tuesday, we have gone from strength to strength with daily
distances covered, reaching a record 127 miles on Friday-Saturday. Every
midday status check has produced beaming smiles as our prayers are
answered and the little boat icon on our chart plotter inches its way
another degree closer to land. In southerly and sometimes south-westerly
winds, Ashling is powering along, eating up the miles under minimal
strain. We have also picked up a super current, which is like stepping
onto a magic carpet current that boosts our speed by 2-2.5 knots an
hour. Now THIS is sailing!

Happy New Year everyone. May 2013 bring you health, happiness, and fair
winds and following seas on your adventures too.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Dear Santa

Position: 05°13'N, 109°25'W

Dear Santa,

Greetings from the Pacific Ocean.

It's been quite a while since we've been in touch but then, this is no
ordinary Christmas and no ordinary wishlist.

We've been a good girl and boy this year, working hard on land and at
sea for our big adventure. There have been many ups and downs but
overall our trip has already delivered the hugely rewarding and life
changing experience we expected. We've just had a tough few days,
dealing with foresail and engine issues but we're back on track now and
getting nearer to Panama every day.

For Christmas this year, we would like your help as we make it to dry
land over the next 2-3 weeks:
• 15-20 knot southerly or westerly winds
• A 1-2 knot east setting current
• A helping hand for the new headsail arrangement that we put in place
this week
• An end to the strange seaweed growing on the hull and in the engine
water intake
• A calm hour on Christmas Day so we can bake our last Frey Bento's
Chicken & Mushroom pie and a Betty Crocker's Instant Chocolate Cake
• A fish on the line

And if there's room for a surprise after all that, make it a good one
please :)

Hope you are all set for your own travels on Monday night. We'll be
keeping an eye out for you on the night watch so feel free to pop in to
join us for milk and cookies, or something stronger.

Bon voyage and Merry Christmas!

Myles, Eithne & Ashling

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Little Ship calling Big Ship

Position: 04°49'N, 118°28'W

Distance to Panama: 2,363 nautical miles
Distance to Port of Refuge A (Hawaii): 2,340 nautical miles
Distance to Port of Refuge B (Galapagos Islands): 1,654 nautical miles

While midnight marks the end of a day on land, midday marks a day change
for us at sea as we switch from one 24 hour period to the next. Using
our latitude and longitude at 1200, we calculate how many miles we've
travelled in the past 24 hours and how many miles remain to our
destination. A good result of 100 miles or more raises crew morale for
the day and the boat is a happy place.

This past week we travelled more than 100 miles every day (great!) but
many of these were to the south (not so great!). Panama is to the east,
not the south, so we were effectively sailing away from our destination.
It was hard for the crew to bear but there was no denying the logic of
promised stronger winds in the south versus the danger of storms and
squalls in the ITCZ above 6°N. We did make some easting every day – an
average of 57 miles towards Panama – but it was never enough. One day we
made just 10 miles, not a happy day. Hopefully the winds and current
align better this week so we can start ticking off these degrees of
longitude again.

We continue to be blessed with relatively good weather conditions with
only a few cloudy nights so far and just the occasional squall.
Cloudless nights are enjoyable for more reasons than one. No clouds mean
no squalls, no rain and consistent weather conditions. It also means
that we are surrounded by millions of stars, some so bright that they
are reflected in the water. Some, probably planets, seem to twinkle red
or orange and, if they appear on the horizon in the dark of the night,
we often confuse them for approaching ships. As night fell on Friday, we
almost dismissed a light on the horizon as one of these deceptive stars
when we realised it was in fact another vessel.

Ever the eager communicator (i.e. dying for a chat) the First Mate got
on the radio: "Big Ship, Big Ship, this is Little Ship, Little Ship to
your north. Over." The Bulgarian skipper of a car carrier ship en route
from South America to South Korea replied, kicking off a nice little
chat for the next half hour. The difference in vessels couldn't have
been greater. There was 25 crew on board, all of different nationalities
(Philippines, Ukrainian, Bulgarian) and they were 5 days into a 25 day
passage back to Korea after delivering a shipment of Hyundais to South
America. They had a chef, they had internet access, they had 24 other
people to distract and entertain them – for Christmas "We will have big
party" the Skipper reported in his deep eastern European accent. A
party! Just imagine!

However when the conversation turned to what we did to pass the time
every day, the daily routine of being on a boat at sea was strangely
familiar – books, DVDs, chores, sleep, crossword puzzles, card games.
Even with all the mod cons on a commercial vessel, the challenge of
finding something to do to while away the long hours remains the same.
We chatted back and forth about each other's boat, our experience in
French Polynesia, his recommendation to visit Bulgaria. It was an
interesting exchange and after three weeks at sea now, a pleasant change
from our standard evening routine. It was also a great comfort to us to
see a ship on the horizon and know that there is someone else out here
with us.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Taking the rough with the smooth

Position: 05°41'N, 124°52'W

The big push eastwards is going well and we've travelled over 500 miles
to the east over the past week – hurrah! At this part of the world, one
degree of longitude is equal to 60 miles so every degree gained east
gives us a great sense of achievement.

This week had its ups and downs. The ups included news from two close
friends in Ireland of a marriage proposal and a baby on the way; we
recorded our best day of progress on Sunday with 130 miles travelled in
24 hours; and we (read Skipper) finally found the source of a deck leak
that has plagued us since leaving New Zealand.

However in the middle of all of this, we had two becalmed days when we
were either on the engine or heading back to where we had come from. We
can catch water from the sky and we can generate electricity from wind
or water. However fuel is the one thing we can't replenish out here and
every hour on the engine in this first half of our passage adds another
line to the Skipper's handsome face. And heading back the way we have
come is mentally frustrating as it feels like all our hard work to move
forward has been for nothing. However this is all part of the sailing
package and if it was that easy, it wouldn't be an adventure. We're now
back in strong 20 knot south-easterly winds, the engine is off and the
forecast is looking good. Just gotta take the rough with the smooth.

Food has become an obsession for both of us as we come to the end of our
fresh fruit and vegetable supplies. The Skipper is dreaming about juicy
steaks and has decided to bring his own knife and fork from the boat to
the first restaurant we find in Panama, to reduce any possible delays in
getting red meat to his stomach. The other day, while looking for a
biscuit recipe in a cookbook, the First Mate came across pictures of
succulent roast dinner dishes – and nearly cried. It's hard but it's not
exactly the hardship as experienced by the sailors of old. Modern
canning and drying technology have enabled us to stock a diverse and
reasonably healthy amount of food on board - salami, tinned chicken and
a variety of canned vegetables (mushrooms, spinach, peas, corn, carrots,
beans, potatoes) give us a lot to work with.

For breakfast we have porridge with canned fruit. For lunch we have
cheese sandwiches, tinned soup, instant noodles, baked beans or boiled
eggs. For dinner, we have a list of 12 meals to choose from including
pasta carbonara, vegetarian chilli con carne with rice, vegetable curry
with noodles, kidney bean curry with rice, creamy chicken bake, tomato
tuna bake, hot potato salad with fried chorizo, couscous with
ratatouille and feta. This really makes life on board a lot more
enjoyable and we take our hats off to people like Joshua Slocum, the
first solo sailor to circumnavigate the world in 1895 on a diet of
coffee, dried biscuits and potatoes. Or Eric and Sue Hiscock who cruised
around the world in the 1960s without refrigeration.

Saying that, Joshua Slocum and the Hiscocks did manage to feed
themselves from the sea. Despite Skipper's continued best efforts, we
still haven't caught a fish. We did catch a sea gull though. After
circling the boat for a few days, he swooped just a bit too close to our
wind generator and plop, dropped like a stone into the sea. Somehow the
tables have turned so it is we who are feeding the sea, instead of the
other way around.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Settling into the Northern Hemisphere

Position: 04°55'N, 133°30'W

Ten days in and so far, it's been a world apart from our New
Zealand-Tahiti ocean passage. The wind has been steady at a comfortable
15-20 knots, the sun has shone every day and the moon has risen every
night. Ashling is sailing well, and the sea and sky conditions are
putting minimal stress on her rig so we are sleeping easy. Crossing the
equator on Wednesday gave crew morale a boost as we ticked off another
milestone on our adventure. The Northern Hemisphere never looked so good.

Now it's on to the hard part of this leg. Over the past ten days, we
sailed mainly north. Now we need to head east. Above us is the
Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), a belt of squalls and unsettled
weather that sits above the equator. Below us is the south equatorial
current, a current that runs from east to west and would send us back to
French Polynesia. So for the next two weeks, we'll be sandwiched between
both of these, doing everything we can to make our way east.

We are seeing a lot more activity in the ocean on this passage. As we
cracked open our beers for the week at sunset on Saturday, a large pod
of playful dolphins appeared around the boat. We have long given up
trying to capture sea life on camera so we raised our glasses and
toasted the playful creatures, jumping and diving beneath the boat from
port to starboard and back again. At night we often see big, round blobs
of pulsating light in the water around us and think these are some kind
of jellyfish, using light to either search for food or as a defence
mechanism.

Flying fish are a common sight, with many small ones landing up on board
and some adult ones even finding their way into the cockpit some nights.
They never fail to surprise us – our stomachs' sink at any new sounds as
our first thought is that something on the boat has come loose or
broken. However they soon give themselves away with their pungent fish
smell. Then it's just a matter of finding where they have landed and
chucking them back overboard. In any case, all of this evidence of life
in the waters around us has completely disproved the Skipper's
conclusion, after several unproductive fishing attempts, that there are
no fish left in the sea. So the line has been cast out again today and
fingers crossed, we'll have fish for dinner tonight.

On ocean passages such as these, we sail continuously through day and
night. The waters are too deep to anchor in and one of us must be alert
at all times in case of changing weather or sea conditions. So we have a
four-hours-on-four-hours-off routine:
• 0800 – 1200: First Mate on watch, Skipper sleeps. Breakfast.
• 1200 – 1600: Skipper on watch. Lunch.
• 1600 – 2000: First Mate on watch. Dinner.
• 2000 – 0000: Skipper on watch, First Mate sleeps.
• 0000 – 0400: First Mate on watch, Skipper sleeps.
• 0400 – 0800: Skipper on watch, First Mate sleeps.

'On watch' means keeping an eye on what the boat is doing and trimming
sails (loosening or tightening the sail) or making course changes
accordingly. It also means scanning the horizon for any sea traffic or
changes in weather that we should prepare for. So for the next month,
while you are getting up, at work, having lunch, watching TV or going to
sleep in your ever horizontal and stationary bed, one of us is here,
sitting at an angle of between 45° and 80°, watching out for anything
out of the ordinary.