Many people consider nineteen days at sea to be a lot. And it can be, or not, depending on the voyage and how it is remembered. I’ve been fortunate that most of my Pacific crossings have been, as I recall, overall, fun. Of course, as I was once told by someone, it helps a lot to have a really poor memory. In fact, that trait seems to be a pre-requisite for recalling extended sailing trips as ‘fun.’ At least I sort of remember thinking that while underway….
My most recent trip was on a well-appointed 47 ft long solent-rigged sailboat (Garcia Passoa) owned and operated by Michael Jefferson and based in San Francisco bay. I met Michael in 2012 during the single-handed transpac, my first, his 4th. This year, Michael completed his 5th SHTP, his 2nd time on Mouton Noir. MN, with an aluminum hull and swing centerboard, was designed and built to sail the high latitudes. And Michael has improved and maintained her systems, and in 2012, sailed her to Sitka and then back to San Francisco. After another sailing opportunity I had looked forward to evaporated, Michael invited me to double-hand back with him, and I accepted.
We departed Hanalei Bay, Kauai on 26 July and headed north, enjoying lovely trade-wind sailing in 15 to 20 kt easterlies. We sailed thus for almost two weeks as we chased an elongated Pacific High north. There wasn’t a whole lot to do during my watches so, after reading a few books, I borrowed the ships’ sextant and did sun sights. I hadn’t planned that activity so had no forms. Fortunately there was a 2016 Nautical Almanac and scratch paper aboard. Sun sights are relatively easy, especially noon shots which yield latitude and longitude. The trick with a noon sight is to remember to be on deck with the sextant at the right time, and for the sky to be clear enough to see the sun. A wrist watch alarm facilitates the former, luck is needed for the latter. Here’re my notes for a typical noon sight:
UTC GHA Dec
22 148-33.4 N16-22.7
23 163-33.5 N16-22.0
Time (PDT) Readings
14-50 GPS: N43-29.7, W146-27.0 (for comparison)
14-52 horizon 0-56, 4′ off Index error
Cloudy and rain
14-58-13 Hs = 62-33.6 Sun LL
14-59-40 Hs = 62-35.7 Sun LL <- use this
15-01-38 Hs = 62-32.4 Sun LL
Sun LL +15.5
LAN ~ 2200 UTC, 90+Dec=106-22.7
Interpolating from LAN @ 14-59-40 yields 148-30 Longitude
The result is pretty close to the GPS reading! Thus, the satellites must be working correctly. To my squadron Navigation instructors, Nils Lindman and Gordon Specht: Thank you! (I also acknowledge Frank Worsley, Shackleton’s ship captain and navigator, as my celestial navigation hero.)
And so the sailing went. Books, music and messing about with the sextant and sight reductions. During my long watch from 0300 to 0700, I even wrote a few poems. Looking at them now, I see they all (mostly) revolve around the fact that the ocean and sky are incomprehensively enormous.
If I were one with the sea
I’d be water salt and debris
Better to sail on her surface
Enjoying the vast expanse
Without being too nervace
And we also ate. It turned out that we ate dinner together every day, and I was the cook. Michael did the dishes. We were rather lax in preparing our menus. In fact, our provisioning method was to walk the aisles in a Hanalei grocery store and fill a cart as we went. I’m not used to having refrigeration so didn’t buy some things that I would’ve, but we didn’t starve. The trick to cooking, while bounding along heeled over, is to only prepare meals that require one hand for most of the preparation. Here’s a list of the meals I prepared:
- Buttermilk pancakes from mix with melted butter and maple syrup (or honey)
- Stir fry with onions, cabbage, peanuts in olive oil
- Glop of sautéed onions and rice with canned corn and canned chicken with a splash of olive oil and butter
- Egg buttered scramble with left over Glop and more onions
- Egg poached in Bush beans with onions and hard cheddar (option: serve on tortillas)
- Steamed onions, cabbage and potatoes in pressure cooker served on sautéed rice (and onions)
- Nachos: Corn Chips baked on a cookie sheet with onions, Stagg chili, and grated hard cheddar cheese
- Mac and cheese with onions and canned tuna
- Cabbage salad with onions, olive oil, pepper and canned tuna (option: add peanuts)
- Tuna salad sandwiches with onions (option: add melted cheese)
- Rigatoni with red wine Ragu sauce, onions, and canned chicken with parmesan cheese (option: replace chicken with chopped hard salami)
Except for buttermilk pancakes and steamed veggies, they all start with ’chop a ~1/4” thick slice or two of onion and sauté in olive oil and butter using the skillet or sauce pan you will be using for the rest of the meal. Most of these meals require one pot; a pan or skillet as well as a large spoon and knife. When alone I eat out of the pan I cooked in. Note that none of these require ingredients that need refrigeration (at least for three weeks or so). The only beer I’ve found that remains palatable without cooling is canned Guinness, and I drank one per day with my dinner.
Finally at 44N we turned right and sailed for CA in diminishing winds. We sailed as much as we could because we didn’t have enough fuel to motor all the way home. As the winds eased we ran through the headsail inventory going to larger and lighter sails. And finally the iron genoa for a couple of days. Fortunately, before our fuel was spent, we picked up the NW winds a few hundred miles off the CA coast and so sailed again. What a relief from that the endless whirring vibration!
Even at 44N, 150W it was tee shirt weather. But as we headed east, it got cold, which is normal, and so the sun showers stop and the layers go on. And. as is often the case, gales blow off the northern CA coast and we sailed into one. Fortunately the wind was on our beam and then went aft, and MN is well prepared and, by adjusting her dagger board and centerboard, easily managed. In 35 kts we surfed at 10-15 kts broad reaching with a 95% staysail and two reefs in the main. It was roaring on deck but surprisingly serene inside.
By the time we reached the Farallones, some 25 nm outside the golden gate, there was little wind, and we motored again. This was my 12th time sailing under the gate and still, every time, I am moved and want to snap pictures and take in the sights just as I did my first time. The Golden Gate really is a portal from one world to another, and what a great feeling to cross over! The next thing, after admiring that beautiful entrance, is generally to strip down as it is much warmer inside than out, and all the layers needed off shore aren’t necessary most days on the bay.
Finally, after securing the boat in her Alameda slip, the next to last ritual: staggering along the walk way and to a nearby restaurant for food and beer. It takes a few days for my legs to forget the sea, and for my organs to regain their traction with land life. The final step is for that less-than perfect memory to kick in and discard the bad, while polishing the good, leaving me to look forward to another ocean sail.