Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Its getting cold out here

Things are still going well on the SV Moments.  We are dried out, aired out and still making good progress.  We were becalmed for the first time yesterday and had to motor for a while.  Now the wind has picked back up and we are again headed north.

One of the biggest challenges of this particular voyage is the weather.  Although Adam and I are far from experts, we have learned quite a bit about marine weather systems and weather predicting this year.  From Hawaii to Seattle we head through what sailors used to call the horse latitudes.  This area of relatively light winds earned its name when sailing vessels in the past got stuck here, ran out of water, and had to throw the horses overboard because they had died or in an attempt to lighten the load and sail faster.  Although we do have plenty of bacon and cold cuts aboard we decided to shy away from livestock so lightening our load is not possible unless our crew member decides he would like to go for an extended swim :) 

Unlike the sailors of yesteryear, we also have the advantage of a diesel engine which we have run for a total of 15 hours since leaving Kauai.  To put this in perspective, we only motored about 20 hours total on our way from Mexico to Hawaii; today, we have almost reached that mark and are not even 1/3 of the way to Seattle.  We have heard from a number of boats making this same trip and they have all motored more than expected.  It seems like in this year of extreme weather (remember that cold winter you had? It is all, most likely, connected) and el nino conditions the northern Pacific weather systems are not behaving as they typically do.

I have mentioned this before, but sitting in the middle of the northern Pacific, right on the rhumb line between Hawaii and Seattle, is a cold mass of air called the Great Pacific High.  The name is a little misleading because often there can be more than one high, but every year from June to September the High condenses, stabilizes, and moves south.  This enables us to get up and around it on our trip to Seattle.  Why do we have to go around it?  Well, not only is it cold inside the High, but there is no wind.  As a sailboat, no wind is a big problem.  There is no way we can carry enough fuel to motor through the High, the main body of which is well over 600 miles in diameter.  I say the main body because, surprise, surprise, this year there are multiple highs and they keep moving around! 

Using our SSB radio we download weather information at least twice a day and try to make course decisions to the best of our ability.  NOAA supplies all of this information for free and we use antiquated technology (basically a slow fax machine) to receive the charts via transmissions from Honolulu, Kodiak and Pt. Reyes.  Much to our chagrin, in the last few days a new high has formed and is moving towards us from the west as we try to avoid the even larger high to the east.  Over the next few hours/days we will be trying to thread the needle, praying that we can get north of the primary high and finally start to turn towards Seattle.  However, if we get stuck I don't think we will starve as yesterday we caught so many mahi-mahi that we ended up throwing most of them back!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Northward Bound

Although I am not typically a superstitious person, I hesitate to comment about our progress.  Each time I did so on the way across the situation would change drastically within hours!  Oh, well, here we go.

We are 430 nautical miles out of Kauai and just beginning our fourth day of sailing.  Our progress is much faster than our speed of 120nm/day from Mexico, currently averaging 150nm/day on this leg.  We are aiming for a way point at 40 degrees north, where we will finally turn east towards Seattle.  Hopefully, the North Pacific High will stay out of our way and we wont have to motor like many of the other boats we have heard from making the same journey.  We are carrying enough diesel to motor close to 100 hours, but motoring on a sailboat can be very miserable because the boat is much less stable and the engine is so loud!

During the first two days of the trip I think that everything on board got wet.  Luckily, since leaving Santa Barbara last fall, most of our electronics are stored in ziploc bags and before leaving Hawaii we wrapped up all of our books in garbage bags anticipating a wet sail.  We were drenched for a few reasons.  First of all we were beating north (sailing close to the direction the wind and waves come from) and there was a lot of salt water coming over the bow and spraying whomever was on deck.  Also, for a large portion of those first two days it was raining, a parting gift from tropical storm Wali.  We also saw some lightening, but none close enough that we could hear the thunder.  Lastly, this one our own fault, in an attempt to cool down the cabin we left a port light open and got hit with a wave just right to get, what seemed like, the maximum amount of water that could possibly fit through such a tiny opening.  Things have dried out somewhat in the last 24 hours but there is still this damp, clammy feeling about everything.  Surprisingly, the weather here is much warmer than it was on our way to Hawaii, so we haven't yet suffered being wet and cold at the same time.

In addition to sailing up wind getting us very wet, it has also resulted in more bruises than I have ever had at one time.  Andrew, our crew member, actually bounced out of his bunk and onto the cabin floor, clearing the lee cloth rigged to keep him from doing just that!  Luckily, he was not injured.  I on the other hand received the most serious injury so far when I was cooking.  I had reached over the stove to grab a plate from the cabinet and suddenly the boat moved.  The gimbaled stove, excellent for keeping food in the pot while it is cooking, tilted in such a way that the top of the hot pressure cooker caught the underside of my forearm while I was desperately trying to figure out how to stay upright.  The burn, about 3''x1'', blistered immediately and is definitely the worst one I have ever had.  Luckily, we have a very extensive first aid kit and plenty of antibiotics on board if it comes to that.  Hopefully, when we make our turn towards Seattle in a few days things will calm down again and just living will not be such a challenge.

Miles traveled: 430
Fish count: 2 (Mahi Mahi)
Days until the big right turn: Hopefully less than 5!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Rain, Rain Go Away

The last week has been a big one!  In case you haven't heard from Facebook, we have decided to return to Seattle with Moments.  I know that, at least for me, this seems like an odd decision.  We will be trading sunshine, warm water and palm trees for rain and cold.  I know that the rain is not all Seattle has to offer, but for me it has always been the major deterrent.  Still, we decided to return because it makes the most since for us during the coming year.   Adam was offered a job here but has elected to pursue opportunities at home, partially because his remaining in Honolulu to work would mean yet another long period of long distance for us.  So, we embark on this voyage hoping to have a few months together in Seattle before I have to start traipsing around the country for residency interviews and return to North Carolina to graduate!  We are no longer in Honolulu and will be leaving for Seattle from Hanalei Bay on Kauai where we are currently anchored.  Having stayed in Honolulu for three weeks we were definitely sad to leave our friends and all of the wonderful things that city had to offer.  We are already talking about the "next time" we come to Hawaii!

Another big thing that happened is that our crew member arrived!  For this northern passage we decided that having an extra set of hands on board would be helpful.  The boat is definitely a little more crowded but even after the 24-hour sail to Kauai we are already glad that Andrew is with us.  Yesterday he reeled in the first Mahi Mahi of the trip and we had an excellent fish dinner after dropping anchor in Hanalei.  Andrew has just finished grad school at the University of Wisconsin and is an instructor for the Hoofer's Sailing Club, where Adam and I met.  Speaking of Adam and I meeting, that is another big thing that happened this week: on Friday we celebrated 5 years together!  We actually didn't celebrate much because we were running around trying to get out of the marina in Honolulu before they charged us an extra day.  Isn't it every girl's dream to leave for a month-long voyage with minimal sleep and bathing opportunities on her anniversary?  Well, it was definitely a way to mark the day!

We wouldn't have been able to provision this boat without the help of my friend Rachel from college.  She and her husband Kevin (who I met on my first day at UNC) were just transferred here with the Navy and we spent a wonderful afternoon sailing at Waikiki with them and their two boys.  Rachel was kind enough to drive us to the gas station, auto parts store, hardware store, and Costco so that we could really load up.  Adam and I then made an epic produce buying trip to Chinatown, the best place to buy fresh produce in Honolulu.  We brought it all home in our backpacks and a wheeled cart on the bus during rush hour, an adventure in itself.  Then, the morning we were about to pull away from the dock, we checked the weather for the last time and all we saw was bad news.  Tropical depression Wali, which has been lingering out in the Pacific, finally decided to make a slow move for Hawaii.  I madly scoured the internet and radio for whatever information I could find on its projected course and then finally called NOAA where, when I explained our situation, I was both surprised and pleased to be put right through to a forecaster who could answer all of my questions about Wali and discuss the weather possibilities for our trip.  We decided to leave Honolulu after all and as I write this we are currently being pounded by rain from the dissipating outer arms of the storm.  Luckily we will not see any of the stronger winds that such a storm could have brought with it.  We plan to spend the next 24-hours in Hanalei to rest and complete some final projects while we wait out the rain.

For this trip we plan to continue checking in with the Pacific Seafarers Net and make our regular position reports.  We expect the trip to take about three weeks as this is a much shorter distance than from Mexico to Hilo.  However, due to the North Pacific High, an area with no wind in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, we may have to head to about 40 degrees north before turning west at all.  It all depends on the position of the system which this year seems to have a nasty tendency to more around more than it typically does.

Check back with the blog.  We will try to send a few updates like we did on our last crossing.  So long landlubbers!