Friday, September 5, 2014

Brad Thrives, Gay Survives!

Some people really take to this cruising life, and Brad is one of them. Me, not so much! I am very proud of him. He adapts easily to sleep deprivation, relentless pitching and rolling, spontaneous problem-solving, and to diplomatically dealing with our crew. I, on the other hand, have just been trying to endure. Thank you, Brad, for being extremely well-prepared and for making this voyage safe and as painless as possible for me. I love you!

Just so you get a feel for what it's like out there on the sea, I will try to share some of my experiences and impressions. You can live vicariously if you like... So here goes...

First of all, I can't say I am crazy about traveling non-stop in a boat. I only get to sleep for two or three hours at a time because someone has to be on watch at ALL TIMES. With a 4-hour watch schedule, at most you can get three hours of sleep. (Unless you are Brad, who can go to sleep within 20 seconds of laying down, the lucky bastard!) On a 3-hour watch schedule, you can really only get about two hours of sleep. And then, your sleep is fitful at best because your body subconsciously clenches as it tries to brace against the forces rolling your torso back and forth on the mattress constantly. And I do mean constantly. Then the sea throws in a shuddering sideways slap against the hull from the opposing swell about every minute or so to really shake you up. Did I mention the sound of madly gushing, gurgling water about your head? Makes you want to pee all the time, at least it does me! I feel like I know what it must be like to be a boulder in a rapids during a flash flood. Tumultuous and roaring! While you are sleeping or attempting to do so, you can't help but think of impending doom. It's just so damn rough that you have to sit on the floor to put your pants and shoes on or risk getting thrown into the hull. (Yes, I have countless bruises and I have no idea exactly how I got them.) Then you get up and go topsides and find out that the seas really aren't all that bad. It just seems so rough in the v-berth that you can't believe the seas aren't gargantuan!

I am happy to report that although one of my biggest fears was being seasick all the time, at least so far this hasn't been the case. Don't get me wrong. The first two days at sea out of Neah Bay were hell on earth! I was just waiting for the wave that was going to do us in. Fortunately, the really big, bad rogue wave never came and the boat performed remarkably well in the heavy seas. Although I never got truly sick (as in vomiting), I DID get a little queasy that first day and I ate only saltine crackers. Food became more appealing to me the second day. By the third full day out, I realized the boat could handle the big seas and we would probably NOT die. (At least, as long as we didn't encounter that submerged container that I am always worrying about.) So I relaxed and was able to enjoy the trip, although I don't know that "enjoy" is really the right word.

We were shrouded in fog as we left Neah Bay, near the "mouth" of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As we rounded Cape Flattery to fully enter the Pacific Ocean, the excitement truly began! We followed behind Andante, the only motor vessel in the Coho Hoho rally, and we were followed closely by Friday, a small 27-foot sailboat. Within minutes we lost sight of both vessels in the dense fog and big waves. Our bow and its two anchors would plunge under the approaching wave and our boat would literally shudder, then climb up to the top of the wave, then plunge down the backside into the trough and rise up and do it all over again, wave after wave. Fortunately, we were able to take these huge waves straight on so we only pitched up and down, with minimal side-to-side rolling. (Rolling is what makes most people queasy.) Thankfully, once we turned the corner, the wave height lessened. This was a good thing, but now things got really rolly due to the fact that the waves were hitting us more broadside off the stern. I have since talked to other folks in our rally and many of them fed the fishes repeatedly so I feel pretty good about my performance in that regard. Of course, Brad never experienced any seasickness.

I realized one good thing about sailing/motoring at night: You can't see a damned thing, so there is nothing to be scared about! (If you can't see the waves or the crab pot floats, then they aren't there, right???) Also, it is amazing to learn that even though you are dog-tired and feeling punch-drunk, you can still rise to the challenge and keep awake during your 4-hour night watch. Why? Because your life depends upon it! (I can relate it to mountaineering. Even when you are so tired you can barely push on for the summit, you do. You just do.) If you think I am being melodramatic, please consider some of the close encounters we have already had. Commercial fishing vessels and their nets are a huge problem. They do NOT alter their course for you. They expect YOU to avoid them. Period. And most of them don't equip their boats with AIS (a type of computerized position reporting system) or radar reflectors. This means you can't see their boats on AIS or on radar. Their lights are all we have to go on. In the fog, we can't see their lights until we are almost upon them. We can't tell which direction they are traveling nor how fast they are going nor how long their nets are. (Yes, they do have port and starboard lights but that only tells you which way their bow is pointed, and only roughly so. The fog can truly play tricks on you!) So far, we have missed crab pot floats by mere inches and fishing nets and a few fishing boats by just 20-40 feet. (Again, it's hard to tell distances exactly in the fog.) So far, no containers. Whoopee!

Another freaky thing about traveling at night is the sea gulls that love to play chicken with our boat by flying across it just forward of the mast. Just imagine yourself staring ahead into total darkness, almost hypnotized by the monotony of it all, then whammo! You see a flash of white appear from left to right and disappear in a fraction of a second as they zoom past the steaming light attached to the front of the mast. The first couple of times it happened it scared the bajeebers out of me! Once I realized what it was, it was actually comforting in a way. Like moths, they too appear to be attracted to the light.

We did have some white-sided dolphins swim along with us for about five minutes while they enjoyed playing in our bow wake one night at dusk. Since it was so cold and rough, we took no pictures or videos. I am hoping to capture this once we get further south where it is warm enough and calm enough to risk life and limb trying to get video.

Note: I considered calling this piece "Brad's Best Vacation is My Worst Nightmare!" but that would be (a) plagiarizing a bumper sticker that our friend Ron Sheats used to have on his car and (b) it would be a tad dishonest. This trip hasn't quite reached nightmare status, although at times I was plenty scared. I just love the humor of it because as with mountaineering, there are folks who think we are crazy wanting to do such a thing. So it is with sailing.

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