June 11, 2012
North Pacific Ocean (1,840 nm to go)
Yesterday (Sunday, June 10th) was the first day of our passage with no visible sign of other vessels. We had watched charter catamarans plying the Na Pali Coastline on Thursday and on Friday night I had seen the glow of lights reflected off the clouds from some ship just over the eastern horizon. I initially wondered if it might be a distant cruise ship on its way from California to Hawai’i but when a couple of small flashing white lights appeared ahead of us, I quickly realized that it was probably a fishing boat. I had to change course slightly to make sure that we stayed to the left of the left flashing light on the assumption that they might be marking a floating fishing line or net and it would be best to avoid going between the lights. It was a good reminder that fishing vessels will become a regular feature when we approach the mainland.
On Saturday, a ship showed up on our AIS (automatic identification system), crossing our bow from southeast to northwest. However, the closest we came was within 11 nm so we never actually saw it. Since then the only indications that we are not totally alone out here are occasional emails from “Cayenne” and the SSB radio interactions that Randall has with the Pacific Seafarers Network and with our nearest neighbors, “Allie Cat” and “Odyl”.
As we did on our passage to Hawai’i, we check into the Pacific Seafarers Net each evening to report our position, speed and heading, weather and sea conditions. Until last night we were boat number 21 and the last on the roll-call but we will steadily move up the roll-call order as boats before us make landfall and new boats get underway and are added after us. It is fun to hear boat names that are familiar either from our previous times on this Net or, in a few cases, boats we have met somewhere. Although they are traveling all over the Pacific, the majority of net users are somewhere between Panama and Australia on the South Pacific Island route.
Ten days ahead of us, Hannes and Sabine must we well over half way to Vancouver by now so, all continuing well, they should arrive there well ahead of their July 4th target date when they have guests arriving. Steve and his crew of three on “Odyl” set out from Hanalei Bay two days before us and have stayed a fairly steady 250 nm ahead. We did not meet Steve in Hanalei but after much mutual scratching of heads over the seeming familiarity of each other’s unusual boat name, we concluded that we were in Golfito, Costa Rica at the same time in June 2010.
Daniel and Leo on “Alli Cat” left Hanalei about 18 hours after “Odyl” but are starting to catch up to them. Both boats are heading for San Francisco and before “Odyl” left they had arranged to talk to each other on the SSB at 8 am and 8 pm every day, partly because neither has the General Level of Ham radio license that is needed to participate in the Pacific Seafarers Net. Once he knew that we were going to be just behind him, Daniel was happy to let us join in their mini-net so three times a day Randall is on the radio talking to someone. While the Pacific Seafarers Net has the advantage of knowing that something useful could be done in the wider world of international communications should it be necessary, our mini-net allows Randall, Steve, and Daniel to compare weather forecasts and current conditions, with us having the distinct advantage of scouts ahead of us. Of course, in an emergency, it would also be reassuring to know that someone is not too far away and in that way we are, so to speak, “watching the back” of “Allie Cat” and “Odyl”.
With these radio commitments for Randall (I defer to his superior technical prowess and great enthusiasm in this area), we have altered our schedule from the 6-hour overnight watches that we tried on the way to Hawai’i. Instead, we have 4-hour watches at night with a rather chaotic pattern of 1-, 2-, or 3-hour watches during the day to accommodate Randall on the SSB and my preparation of lunch and dinner. Breakfast has degenerated to a “get-what-you-can, when-you-can” affair because Randall is hungry when he awakes at 6 am after 4 hours of sleep, whereas I have a piece of fruit during that same watch but do not want something more substantial until I am awoken by Randall on the mini-net at 8 am.
Although it has inevitably taken a few days to settle into our new watch- and sleep-schedules, we both seem to be pretty well adjusted to them now. I am starting to read some more educational books on astronomy and navigation in addition to the less challenging mental diet of reading the “Alaska” novel by James Michener, learning more Beatles song-lyrics, and compulsively attacking crossword and sudoku puzzles. I am more than happy to report that the insignificant amount of water in the bilges has made boat-life much more relaxing.
Randall’s manhood has also been elevated by the landing of not one but two mahi mahi today. They hit his lures within just a few minutes of each other and they turned out to be good sizes to haul-in, i.e., not too big but worth the effort. He was very pleased with his catch, especially as sailing conditions were fairly comfortable for working on the stern of the boat. We will be enjoying the nearly 6 lb (3 kg) of fresh fish for several dinners.
Maintaining a good course and reasonable boat speeds of 4 to 7 knots despite some daily variations in wind strength has also helped us to maintain a favorable outlook. As of this morning, at 30° N we are about parallel with Cairo, Egypt, Jacksonville, FL, and Houston, TX. The periodic company of another black-footed albatross, several Bulwer’s petrels, and a pod of about 20 of the diminutive pan-tropical spotted dolphins frisking in our bow wave has also kept our spirits high.