Clockwork email and 983nm to go

983nm to go. Funny how your perspective on things can change so quickly. 983nm is an awfully long way to sail, but compared to the 3,156nm that we already have under the keel since leaving Panama, it feels like we are on the home straight.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Pacific crossing would be a bit of a doddle. A long way, sure, but every book says that the “Pacific” is exactly that, that you can pretty much set the sails in the Galapagos and leave them where they are for three weeks and take them down on arrival. After all, if Thor Heyerdahl can float across in a dirty great big raft, how hard can it be? I can only assume I am either on the wrong ocean, or they were all smoking something interesting/suffering from significant amnesia by the time they wrote about their crossings. We have been beset by a miserably uncomfortable, confused, short and choppy beam sea since we set out from the Galapagos, which means that the boat rolls all the time, regardless of sail plan. We have tried reaching as well as running, we have tried every conceivable white-sail set up, to no avail (as there are only two of us on board, we have left the coloured sails in the locker for the time being) It’s unpleasant to live with and it causes so much wear to everything, not least our nerves. The upside is, the galley has been comprehensively cleaned several times now, thanks to unexpected wave slaps that have caused plates of food – and, on a separate occasion – 10 eggs to fly. And then hit the opposite wall. The most fun to clear up was the fish stew. Please note the sarcasm.

There is not much else you can do (apart from kitchen cleaning) on a rolling monohull except sit, drink coffee, eat, read, doze, occasionally tweak a sail or change the course by a few degrees. As a result, long distances like this give a person plenty of time to think, to reflect, to take stock. We will have been at sea for at least 19 days when we arrive. It’s a bit like the Big Brother House but without the omnipresent cameras or the Diary Room. Or the jacuzzi, or Z-List celebrities, or evictions, or plastic grass. If you choose to leave, the sharks will be the only ones to applaud you. Not that much like the Big Brother House at all really, come to think of it. But more than enough to mess with your head if you allow it to.

Communication with the outside world is limited to emails (we have a satellite phone on board but it is for emergencies only and we don’t want any of those, thank you) and SSB radio (for our land-lubbing friends, this is short wave radio, much like the old CB radios, but without the truckers and their calling names, or ‘handles’, You occasionally hear someone say Roger that’ (an affirmation, not a command) or the utterly risible “over and out” which means both “I am standing by/waiting for your response (“over”)” and also “I am now turning my set off, good bye (“out”)”. Very funny. But at least you don’t hear anyone say “That’s a 10-4, good buddy” and I doubt there are many sailors out there wearing baseball caps with wife-beater t-shirts and sporting pennants and velvet tassels in their cockpit. Anyhow, I digress. ) The SSB allows us to chat at agreed times with other sailors nearby (within about 500 miles). We huddle round our sets and over a crackly connection we exchange position and weather information and commiserate with each other over things that have broken or have temporarily (hopefully) ceased to operate on the boat. We also discuss fishing successes and failures (there are no fish just here, we have all decided), who has baked what (chocolate cake, anyone? Dietmar says it was delicious), and any interesting wildlife (only the occasional flying fish at the moment). It’s good-humoured, mutually supportive and very old-fashioned. At any moment, I half expect to hear Churchill…

Touch wood, we are doing really well by comparison to some of the other boats around us. Such long passages cause so much wear and tear; the combination of relentless dousing in salt water or spray and the ceaseless movement of the boat wreaks havoc on the rig and all moving parts. Other boats around us have some serious problems, such as broken generators or watermakers. Ours are working perfectly so far (more touching wood) – no more fish stuck in the generator inlet! – but we have had other issues (So far we have broken (and mended) our first reefing line, broken (and mended) a sail to main track car attachment and we have some repairs to do to our mainsail lazy bag (the bag on the boom that the main sail zips into when it’s not hoisted). The mizzen boom decided to try to break free from its sheet (the line that holds the bottom of the boom in position and steady) at 5am one morning in rough seas. To fix it, Dietmar needs to hang off the back of the boat or stand up in the dinghy. We will be doing neither of those things out here, so that will have to wait. It’s lashed down over a fender onto the back rail – it looks crap, but it should be safe until we drop anchor. We have foreseen and fixed a number of other little things in advance)

Email entails its own set of daily rituals. Email is also sent via a modem over the radio (if you remember dial-up network connections, this is very similar) and only works at particular times of the day. The sun has to be at the right height and the atmospheric conditions amenable. You then have to choose from a list of exotic destinations where a server’ is based, pick a wavelength and try to connect. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. We watch the messages downloading and for several minutes, all we know is the subject of the message so we try to guess who the sender is. We are easily entertained 🙂 Sometimes it takes a dozen attempts and the best part of half an hour just to send or receive a 4 line email. (Lord knows how long it will take me to send this to the blog !) Nonetheless, it’s worth it to receive snippets of news from outside our little bubble and every message is pored over and read and re-read. Sometimes the news is painful and you wish that you were home to help and support other people and sometimes the news brings a lot of joy and often laughter. Every message brings something new and we are always grateful.

Life is pretty simple on board: Make food, eat food. Talk. Sleep. Read. Play cards. Occasionally pray to every God/god you can think of. Shower in the fresh air. Try to download emails. Drink coffee. Smoke. Check the sails. Make water. Huddle round the SSB. Run the generator. Check the bilges. More talking. Lots of talking. And all of this whilst holding on with one hand, or wedging yourself somewhere on the boat so you’re not tossed around by the waves.
I’m loving it – but also really, really looking forward to a full and proper night’s sleep at anchor somewhere. Another week or so to go before we make landfall, all being well. I can taste the chips already. And the ice-cream

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