Send Money, Guns, and Wind

Despite often being the longest passage completed during a circumnavigation, many sailors consider the leg from the Galapagos to the Marquesas to be among the most enjoyable. The winds are supposed to be fair, the seas are said to be relatively calm, and a favorable current tends to add a couple of knots of speed. Having only been sailing for less than a week with well over three-quarters of the trip remaining, the verdict on this passage is still out, although the first few days have not been without difficulties and setbacks.

We departed on Monday afternoon, around 2:00 PM laden with 125 gallons of diesel (85 gallons in the fuel tank and 40 gallons in jerry cans) and 150 gallons of fresh water (all in the water tanks). The wind in the anchorage ranged between 15 and 20 knots, allowing us to kill the engine soon after hauling up the anchor. With any luck, we could set the sails, leave the engine off, and enjoy the journey to the Marquesas. In reality, the good sailing lasted about two hours before we were becalmed. Being a sailboat, wind is a fairly important factor in moving from one point to another. Lacking wind, we are just another piece of flotsam drifting aimlessly across the ocean deep. For the first several days, the wind ranged from an excruciating 0.0 knots to an only slightly less painful 5.0 knots. The current did push us along at about two knots towards out destination, but every check of the charts provided a reminder that at our current pace, we would reach the Marquesas on August 26th. The calculation did not specify if it would be in 2006 or 2007. Unable to motor all the way to the Marquesas, we had to exercise patience and slowly drift westward. Some excitement was provided the first night when we miraculously hooked a fish at 3:00 AM. As I struggled to pull the handline in, the leviathan came into view, its vast bulk illuminated by the eerie moonlight. Drawing the catch closer, the lethal beak of the marlin came into full view. The fish was five feet if it was a foot and he had no intention of coming aboard without a fight. To say that I allowed the fish to dive in an attempt to tire it out would attribute more strategy to my fishing tactics than is deserved. I decided to allow the billfish to swim around for a while and retired for the evening while Anna began her watch. In the morning, the marlin was still fighting and a couple of attempts to pull the combatant in were met with failure. The danger of damage to either of our persons or some equipment on the boat encouraged us to delay an attempt at landing the beast. Being almost 3,000 miles from medical help and boat supplies, prudence prevailed over pride and our good sense was, as usual, rewarded with abject failure. In a desperate attempt at escape, the fish managed to tangle himself in both of the lines and lures that we were trolling and, in the process, broke free, taking two good lines and lures with him. The lesson here, as always, is that I should have a gun on board.

On Wednesday, impatient with the slow rate of progress, I raised the asymmetrical spinnaker. This cruising chute is the light wind sail that I am counting on to power me across the South Pacific. Twenty seconds after raising the spinnaker, the flaky wind shifted and the spinnaker got caught on the spreader tip, ripping a two-foot hole in the fabric. Quickly dropping the sail, Anna and I attempted to repair the sail with emergency sail tape. Whether the spinnaker will be functional for the remainder of the trip remains to be seen. We need to have wind before we can test it. On her first passage aboard Audentes, Anna must be wondering what she has gotten herself into. When she turns on a light, the stereo mysteriously comes on. The forward starboard navigation light came loose and fell in the water, a development that would have been more concerning if the light had worked in the first place. There is a very real possibility that our days of eating warm food are numbered since neither of the two butane lighters work and we have only one book of matches remaining, fire being the only method of lighting our liquid propane stove. Every day brings to light a new shortcoming on the boat and with the passage expected to take at least a month, there is a constant fear of what will break next. In “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” James Joyce describes the eternity of hell as a huge mound of sand reaching from earth to the stars with a bird removing one grain of sand every million years. The time that it would take the bird to remove the entire mountain of sand represents only a single moment in the eternity of hell. Now, imagine that the bird is stuck on a 40-foot boat jolting violently from side to side and baking in the hot tropical sun. The bird wants to read or study Spanish or do something remotely productive on his way to the sand, but the constant flogging of the sails and resulting rattling of the mast renders concentration impossible. I give you hell.

In a pathetic attempt to change our luck, on Thursday we appealed to Neptune, God of the sea. According to Anna, naval superstition dictates throwing a pair of shoes into the wake of the boat in the hopes of stirring up some wind. After delivering an inelegant plea for wind and casting the sandals in the stagnant water that passed for our boat’s wake, the waiting began. Surprisingly, after only an hour the wind piped up a bit, at least enough to stop the sails from flogging and for us to temporarily outrun the pursuing shoes. However, the Gods were appeased for only so long before they probably realized that the sandals I provided as an offering were purchased in Grenada for fifty cents and were beyond useless as footwear. Thus, instead of appeasing the Gods, I likely will continue to incur their wrath. Nevertheless, the success of the ploy has led us to take an inventory of the shoes aboard. With 2,700 miles to go, Anna has five pairs of shoes to offer and I have three.

On Friday, we finally had enough wind to test out our patchwork repair job on the spinnaker. The good news is that the cruising chute held together where we taped it up. The bad news is that the first wave caused the spinnaker to wrap around the spreader and ripped it in a new place. The no drinking while under way rule has now been lifted. Each morning, I am inspired by a glorious sunrise over the vast ocean. Today will be the day that things go well, that I will establish a routine, and that I become a little closer to the person that I imagine myself to be. Soon, something goes wrong. Resolute, I persevere. Another setback is dealt with as just one more challenge. Then, a series of events unfold that slowly breaks down my confidence until, in the evening, I am but a shell of a man. In the morning, I imagine myself a great man. In the evening, I know better. This is the process repeated daily and this lengthy passage could test just how much humbling one man can take. Thus far, I have whined and moaned my way through life as a pessimist and the results have been undeniably unspectacular. So, in an attempt to try a new approach, instead of complaining, I will instead look at the positive side of this situation. Sure, in the first week I managed to barely make any forward progress towards the Marquesas, I inflicted still untold damage on the boat, tore my favorite sail twice, caught nary a fish, and lost the last remaining ounce of self-respect that I have been clinging to for the past few months, but things can only get better. Next week, as long as I make any progress at all, manage to keep the boat afloat, only tear my favorite sail once, open a can a sardines, and medicate myself sufficiently to achieve a few hours of sleep, then things will have improved. I have learned that happiness in life is all about managing expectations. In this regard, the first week has set a pretty low bar and it is the newly found optimist in me that truly believes that things can only get better.

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