We spent a week in Hampton prior to departure getting to know other boats, watching Obama win again and waiting for a weather window. The Porters were in Hampton of course so we had fun with BJ and Kathy while Graham pal’d around with Danielle and Will. We left Hampton, VA 11-9 at 10:20 am – Matt, Graham and I plus our crew Angie who is not only an extremely capable sailor but also an excellent buffer for a family of three who lives within 40 feet of each other all year long. I made fresh banana nut muffins for the crew and off we went. I have meals planned for 12 days and then we can always eat CLIF bars or each other. I was not stressed this year like I was last year about the planning. We will not starve. We will make it there. This trip is further than last year (7 days). We hope to make it in 12 days and arrive just before Thanksgiving. Otherwise it will be deli turkey and powdered gravy mix.
I served dinner to the three of them at 6 while Angie and Matt were on the single side band radio checking in with all the other boats (about 60) in the Salty Dawg Rally. I served Graham in the cockpit as his watch is 6-9. I was so seasick that the only comfortable place for me was in the cockpit – no dinner for me. As I was up there anyway, Graham took advantage and delegated his shift to me. My shift was next, 9-12, and by the time Angie was to come on, 12-3, I was so awake, I told her to sleep through. Part of it was selfish as there was a spectacular meteor shower going on and I was having a dance party to all the music I had added to my iPod the previous day. I have had it for a year – a gift from my brother which meant that it was heavy on Grateful Dead and funk music. Now it is balanced by the James Taylor and 80s tunes, so there are lots of solo dance parties up here.
There are 6 other sailing vessels in sight during my watch tonight which is comforting as we are usually quite alone out here. All is quiet on the boat during my watch – Matt has been in bed since 7 as he gets up at 3. Angie went to bed after dinner too so the only sign of life are Graham’s multi-colored fleece clad feet and the glow of his new computer as he plays his new puzzle game. He is sitting on the floor because if he sits on the settee, he slides off – it is still that rough. So I keep seeing him slide under the table while sitting crossed legged and disappear and then slide back and reappear as the boat pitches the other way. In the cockpit, standing up, holding on and dancing, I have much more stability. I had back pain all day and it amazingly disappeared when I was out here finally seeing the stars again. Millions and millions of them. Hard to imagine seeing millions of anything that you can actually distinguish but it’s true. There are so many out here – more than they show you in planetariums even.
The top of the mast is 55 feet in the air and as I look up at the tell tails to see whether the sails are trimmed correctly, I am amazed that I am not overwhelmed by the enormity of it all – the mast, the mainsail, the ships passing by, the ocean. The sail is luffing wildly and I am grateful for the preventer which keeps the boom from swinging and hitting my head each time the sail luffs. Listening to Rocky Raccoon now……
I sit up here and I make lists. Matt is the only one on the boat who has ridden his bike across France. Graham is the only one who has been to Egypt. Angie is the only one who has made this trip before (ten times!). I am the only one who has been in labor. At some points I think I would prefer labor to this – more intense perhaps, but shorter.
We made it to the Gulf Stream about 6 am in a lot of chop and stayed there motorsailing till about 3 pm Saturday. It is finally kind of quiet and we are just sailing, making yummy food with our still fresh veggies before we move on to canned food, listening to the rolling stones (specifically “Angie, aaaaaaaangie”) and laughing. The weather is beautiful and we expect a green flash this evening for sunset.
Sunset on passage
So that was Saturday. Today is Thursday. I have had nothing to report and no way to report it since then. What I mean is we have been bouncing so much I can’t hold my computer and we are now in the vast Atlantic ocean — who could fathom (ha ha) it is so big? In my twenties I spent some glorious days in South Africa and at one point went waterskiing on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Town and thought that felt really weird but that was nothing like this experience of being in the middle of this immense sea. Remember when I said I was amazed that I am not overwhelmed by it all? Well, scratch that.
We have gone four days without seeing any other sign of life. When you are on watch in the middle of the night and everyone else is asleep, it definitely feels like you are the only person in the world. Kind of cool and scary all at once. I think about things like, “What if I fell overboard – how long would it take for anyone to notice?” Of course I am clipped into the boat so I would likely be dragged alongside until the next person came on watch and either thought I was taking a long time in the head or noticed the clumpity clump clump off the boat. Just kidding to the grandmothers and Aunt Betty – no one is falling overboard.
One thing that is fascinating albeit again a bit scary is that when the waves are ten feet and the sea is really rolly, you cannot see the horizon. When you are keeping watch at night, mostly what you are doing is looking for traffic. We are going south/southeast so we don’t have to change course a lot yet and the autopilot does the steering. Sounds easy but when you can’t see the horizon because the huge waves block your view on all sides, a ship could come upon you relatively unexpectedly and that would be most unpleasant. Angie says that you don’t see much traffic when you are this far out but interestingly enough you have to look around more often because you might not have much warning.
I remember years ago when my friend Kate and I were studying for the CPA and MCAT exams respectively she read somewhere that if you went two weeks straight with no real sleep that you would go insane. I thought of that last night when, after 3 days of not much consecutive sleep, Angie and Matt were sleeping very soundly. Graham has been in bed seasick for 3 days. On watch my mind started playing tricks on me and I thought I finally had contact with another life form. I was sure I saw a ship off the port bow and I panicked – it was as if I had forgotten how to deal with the situation. First I realized that our tricolor light was not on atop the mast so the ship couldn’t see us. I was rehearsing my speech in my head while I kept a beady eye on the ship. Just as I had sorted it out and was about to get on the VHF radio to say “Vessel heading north/northwest off Bermuda, this is sailing vessel Troubadour off your port bow. Can you see us? Do you copy?”, I took one last look at the ship which by that time had morphed into a twinkling star rising in the dark night. This is not the first time this has happened to me and I’m sure won’t be the last. Alas, no human contact. I have taken to singing “Twinkle Twinkle” to myself at night, asking the lights in tune, “Twinkle Twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are, Are you a ship that’s coming after me, or are you a star as benign as can be……”
Before Graham got seasick we were keeping watches together, well, at least his watch. We read a new Andrew Clements book, About Average aloud all in one evening. A couple of weeks ago in school Graham asked if he could skip the poetry unit. He felt as if he had had enough last year and particularly didn’t want to write haikus. He was capable of defining them and iambic pentameter and the like and reciting some so I concurred. When reading this book under the stars in a less regimented atmosphere we started singing a different tune. The protagonist in the story won a poetry contest, specifically haiku, and then she had haiku on the brain and couldn’t stop making them up in her head. The same thing happened to Graham and me while tossing and turning and keeping watch. It began with:
The waves are mighty
Hope we don’t fall overboard
That would really stink
And went on from there. Living on the boat has really shown me that education can come from anywhere. And when material is presented to him in a fun way rather than something he must do, he is much more interested. Another example of how he learns so much from all aspects of the trip is when we were watching the liferaft demo in Hampton, the instructor told us we could live for more than 2 weeks without food but only 3 days without water. This information sinks in for Graham and somehow that information seems more vital to me than how to diagram a sentence.
Today is beautiful. Foul weather gear has been put away until next year. We are all in t-shirts and shorts and the sun is shining brightly. Angie and I are in the cockpit once again having munchies, music and girl talk. It’s like having grown-up girlfriend talk anytime you want – so fun. The sea is calm and tonight we will be able to cook a nice flank steak without worrying about things flying around the galley. Matty and I spent hours in the cockpit today playing Name That Tune. It was the runaway best time I have had so far on the crossing. Have heard wonderful things about the British Virgin Islands and surrounding area – first stop The Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda – can’t wait!
In shorts and T-shirts again
So that was Thursday and now it is Saturday. Matt is our hero. First I will tell you the unsung hero part, the more appropriate to share. Geographically speaking, we are in the middle of the rally so we can hear people at both ends via single side band radio. Everyone checks in at a certain point on the doo dah net with their positions of latitude and longitude. Matt often has to act as relay because the vessels at the back of the rally can’t be heard by those at the front and vice versa. Mostly it is just passing on positions points and weather information, however, this morning a woman was having a rare and severe reaction to a medication and he was able to aid her through relay to a doctor in the fleet, suggesting checking in with the Coast Guard off Puerto Rico and also setting up a check-in schedule to monitor her progress. All is now well and we are all very grateful.
The other reason Matt is our hero is more of a situation that no one talks about. This next paragraph is not for the faint of heart so skip ahead if you need to. Specifically, if this is being passed around the Beal family Thanksgiving table, take it out of Katya’s hands at this point. The head got clogged and was out of order for almost 24 hours. The aforementioned liferaft demo and other similar situations never talk about how one would accomplish going to the bathroom in front of others with no such facilities. I decided it was time somebody talked about it so people know that these things do happen and there are real solutions. Of course people have written chapters in books about how to take apart a head. But that is not what I mean. I am referring to the practical details. I will mention no names. Somehow a baby wipe got pumped through the head and stuck in the pipes, no idea where so the whole things had to be dismantled. Inside the pipes was just what you would imagine to be there – it was not clean. The whole boat smelled. We don’t flush anything, not even toilet paper, and the baby wipe did not break down, not even after sitting overnight. The seas were too rough for even the males to relieve themselves overboard so bottles and cups were used (and reused – individually) — by all. One person had go Number 2 in a bag in the cockpit. There was no privacy for anyone. Matt had to find a wire coil thick enough to snake through every piece of disconnected pipe in this intricate head. I was so worried that something would explode and infect Matt; we have heard of a man who became septic because of a pipe bursting when he was working on the head. Eventually, after 10 hours or so and breaks in between for showers, Matt and Graham located the culprit. You would have thought we were kicking off Mardi Gras with the way we celebrated.
The Hero of the Head poses with our new outboard
Silly me thinking we would be in Virgin Gorda by now (Tuesday) or even that that would be our first stop. We are a few hours from San Juan, Puerto Rico where the winds are forcing us to go in and refuel both the boat and our bodies. We need diesel, groceries, laundry facilities, big showers, and rest. We will likely spend Thanksgiving – in 2 days – there and do something special for the crew.
Troubadour arriving in San Juan, Puerto Rico