Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In a Fog of Exhaustion

Distance: 128/296

Experienced passage makers told us that the first three to four days are rough. The body takes time to adjust to the sound, the movement, the altered schedules due to watch, and the physical exertion of the sail itself. But they reassured that by after those initial days the sheer exhaustion starts to fade.

Pretty please let this be true. We went from doldrums to strong winds and a complete washing machine sea that left the entire crew exhausted and cranky beyond words... though actually there were quite a few unpleasant words. Even had the seas been relatively stable, the middle of the night watches and constant leak of energy would have had us all stretched thin. But the banging around and associated sound and movement, the whistling whine of the sails and generator, it just took their toll.

We added to our troubles by deciding that we didn't like the reefing system. What seems perfectly reasonable during a coastal cruise or even crossing the Sea of Cortez looks just wrong when you calculate the results of maintaining a particular set up for twenty straight days. A knot in a jack line that rubs the sail becomes a possible source of chafe and sail destruction rather than just an aesthetic nuisance. The bulging of the bottom of the sail and the consequent stretch on the sail cover while reefed looked simply horrible when we calculated what the battens at that odd angle would do if left there for two weeks. So we basically rerigged a good fraction of it, reducing points of chafe and wear and reorganizing how the sail lies when the reefs are hauled in. We're still not 100% satisfied, but it is better and unless we think of something further, the best we can do until the next doldrums hit.

Oddly, it wasn't like we didn't look at ourselves, the engines, the sails, the rig, and say, "Hmm... what is that going to do during our three week passage?" We did. Yet, here we are exhausted to the point of collapse with certain bits of our boat that just scream to be modified in ways you would have thought we could have known... but just didn't. It's just that I find this experience very similar in basic nature to riding across country. The common question, "How do you prepare for XYZ? ..." to which the only real answer is, "You do XYZ." The last months, we've looked at our boat in a way we never looked at it before as we prepared her for this journey. We look at her today after just a few days out, and our eyes are opened again. I can only imagine the extent to which our perspective on her systems will evolve over the coming weeks and months. And too, this experience reinforces why salty sailors look at folks new to the scene like they are crazy mad. Without the experience, you do not know what you do not know and no volume of reading of blogs or books is going to really help out that much. Unlike riding across country, however, people's lives are at risk in this little boat. Salties must wonder how any n00bs ever make it during those first few years and passages.

We will make it, however. The kids are stepping up to their responsibilities admirably. Jaime in particular is a fine crew member, and I would recommend her to anyone considering a delivery or passage. She might complain a bit, but she does her jobs with good will, handles the helm like a pro, and pitches in whenever something needs to get done. Aeron is game to try, but we are finding that the weather helm is just too much for her to handle. Mera times her watches to the second and spends a good fraction of her free time just watching movies, but she's adapting. Historically, she has always had the strongest sea sickness, and I believe she is feeling ill, but trying to avoid complaining.

We are largely hand steering the boat the entire way to baby the auto-pilot. It's not that we have any reason to believe that there is something wrong with it, but we have heard far too many stories about auto-pilots dying to believe ours would last over weeks of constant strain. We use the auto-pilot almost exclusively when helm wants to go get something, visit the head, or check the horizon or radar with full concentration. We have the luxury of short watches so hand steering is not the incredible drain it might otherwise be. However, I am embarrassed by how much better a sailor the auto-pilot is than I am a substantial fraction of the time. I feel like our Machine Overlords have extended their clawed finger towards Don Quixote and are giggling. The only consolation is that it gives us an excuse for Loose Pointer's gradually increasing lead. They have a wind vane, the lazy pikers. However, there is absolutely no getting around the fact that the only reason we don't have a wind vane is that they suck on catamarans. Yes, point in the monohull column on this one.

~ Toast (April 20, 12:00 UTC)
18 11.34N 114 01.76W

1 comment:

Rowan said...

I feel like I should say something like "Long time reader, first time commenter" but that's too dorky. Anyway I enjoy your blog and have been following it for some time. Your comment regarding windvanes on multihulls caught my attention. I am of the monohull tribe (classic plastic clan) and I guess I just assumed that I rarely (ever?) see windvanes on multihulls cause the multihull folks are into new fangled modern stuff like autopilots vs. ancient technology like windvanes. I did not realize the autopilots just work better for you. I feel much more culturally enlightened now :) Thanks again for the great blog, it's always informative and entertaining.