When I checked our progress on Friday evening, the ineffable iPad said we had 477 miles to go. Not quite halfway there, but not bad considering the storms and unfavorable winds. By Saturday, things weren't looking so great. We had made very little progress through the night, and the south-ish tack we were on was incredibly uncomfortable with seas hitting us on the beam creating this yawing effect that made it nearly impossible to sleep. We tried a northeast tack but could get nothing better than due north straight for New Orleans. So then we'd go back to the southeast tack and the sloshing and the rolling. This happened all day long.
We weren't getting very far, very fast, but we were still moving. Then, came the Russian. The sun had been down for several hours, and Vlad was on watch with David and I getting some sleep below. All seemed pretty copacetic when a man with a thick Russian accent called out over the crackling VHF, "Wessel, heading 128, speed 2.6 knots, eet eez danger. Eet eez danger."
The Russian hailed again, "Wessel, heading 128, you are danger."
At this point Vlad had woken up David, and they were both in a huddled discussion that went something like this: "Is he talking about us?" "I think he's talking about us."
Vlad got on the VHF and replied, "This is the sailing vessel heading 128. What do you mean I am danger?"
The Russian responded, "Eet eez danger. You are danger. Am towing five mile cable. Change heading now to 240."
David said, "That's in literally the opposite direction that we're going. Ask him if we could go north instead."
Vlad asked him if north was an acceptable heading, and the Russian said, "Yes, eez perfect. Will notify you when it eez safe."
I'm not completely positive, but this evening also seemed to be the busiest in terms of shipping traffic that we'd encountered, maybe because we were closer to New Orleans. And the Russian with his five-mile-long cable was causing quite the kerfuffle. Someone from one of the big ships said they weren't picking him up on their AIS, and the Russian was like, "I have not this AIS. Pilot boat maybe, but me, no." Eventually, someone, perhaps the Coast Guard, had enough of these shenanigans because we heard a stern voice boom out from the VHF speaker saying, "Vessel reporting danger, identify yourself."
The Coasties had nothing on that Russian though, because he hounded us for the rest of the night. Vlad would radio him, asking if we could change course back to the southeast, and he would always give the same reply, "No, eet eez danger." We really liked it when he said, "You are danger,"be cause we'd invariably shout out, "No, dude, you are danger." Anyway, this went on for something like eight hours, and he never would give us his heading so that we could work around him. Each time we'd ask his position and heading, the VHF would go silent. I don't know, maybe it was some sort of spy cable, but whatever it was that Russian put us so far off course that we were still behind where we were Friday afternoon on Sunday afternoon, accentuating my moment of "I hate this and the Gulf too," a huff that lasted about 12 hours.
But then the winds changed.
Life at 25 Degrees
My mom had a barrage of questions for me when we finally arrived in Key West, one of which was "what was your favorite point of sail?" My response was "close haul because that's the only point of sail we did." This reminded me of a phrase in sailing circles - "A gentleman never goes to windward." Well, after this experience, I think Vlad, David and I are in need of some charm school because we were sailing into the wind almost the entire time.
And there are things about heeling over 25 degrees on the ocean for several days that are different from a four hour sail in the bay. You just don't consider how difficult it is to do things such as cook lunch or use the bathroom or how much of your stuff will end up on the floor. The stuff on the floor thing is very, very bad seamanship and potentially dangerous because if the boat gets knocked down anything not stowed can cause you physical harm by flying through the air and smacking you in the head. We are in the process of going through everything we own and jettisoning as much of it as possible. Lesson learned.
In order to cook a meal at sea, I had to literally strap myself in to the galley, and by the end of the 10 days I had bruises on my back from where the strap would dig in as we got tossed about. Though it was not the best cooking environment what with the flames and the swinging stove, at least the recipients were pleased with pretty much anything I scrapped together. My Annie's Mac and Cheese with a can of tuna in it got rave reviews. One suggestion I do have is to cook as much stuff ahead of time as possible. I made some lasagna that went over well the first few days. Also, I really liked using the broiler on our stove because the flames were contained, making the multitude of quesadillas I made much less intimidating.
Sleeping was another thing I hadn't really thought about, but our bed doesn't have a lee cloth or board that keeps you safely in the bed while the boat is heeled over. Yet another item we need to add. Unfortunately, the tack we took was also the one that threatened to tip Vlad and I out onto the floor. I developed a coping strategy that I called "the gecko." This maneuver involved spreading out my arms, legs and even my fingers so that I covered as much surface area as possible. I would then whisper to myself while falling asleep, "Be the gecko. Be the gecko." It kind of worked. Kind of.
What the Heck Do You Do for Ten Days on the Ocean?
I think that picture pretty much sums it up. I read five books: two trashy Anne Rice books, a young adult dystopia novel, a Bill Bryson travel book and a nonfiction piece on French parenting (aside: I've decided that I want to be reincarnated as a French baby. They get to eat fancy cheese in preschool!) David, on the other hand, took the highbrow approach, finishing off two Rudyard Kipling novels, that same Bill Bryson book, and get this - The Sound and the Fury. I mean, way to put me, the English major, to shame.
Vlad spent his spare time fixing all the stuff that broke and installing - can you believe this? - actually installing various pieces of equipment while underway. He was like a machine, or at least a fixer of one. Here's a quick list of all the stuff that broke within the first week: the mainsail tore out a reef point during the storm, the engine busted a belt and broke in various other ways, the line for the roller furling on the genoa snapped and a shackle that connects the boom to the traveler broke. Vlad and David fixed the mainsail using sticky back and gorilla tape, and they replaced the broken shackle. Vlad fixed all of the engine problems, including more water intake issues, the choke and the broken belt, though his entire torso was covered in bruises from getting bashed about in the engine compartment. He managed to fix the roller furling, while clinging to the bow sprint and getting doused in waves. He installed the sump pump, fixed the radar and even considered installing the macerator while underway before we were like, "No, stop! Please stop!" But he only read a third of a Tom Clancy novel. Slacker.
|More nautical spelunking!|
Other than that, we did a lot of staring at the ocean. A lot of staring at the ocean. And if you do too much staring at the ocean, you wind up looking like this: