Monday, July 25, 2011

The Eight Day Slop

By now, some of you know we have arrived in Cascais, Portugal. (Capt. Matty Black here.)

And to clarify a technical issue: We have heard that SPOT didn’t transmit tracks after the first 200 miles. We don’t know why, but I hope we warned everyone that such things happen. It is still a new technology in its infancy. We don’t know when it is working and when it isn’t. Our unit just blinks indicating a message was sent. Apparently those messages got re-routed to oblivion.

Cascais is the first harbor you come to on Portugal’s Atlantic coast. It is a cute little European seaside resort town with cobblestone streets, many restaurants, but not too cutesy.

We arrived after an eight-day ocean crossing from San Miguel island in the Azores.

And let’s just be blunt: The crossing was miserable. Absolutely miserable.

The crew was Joseph, who had done the first leg with us, Beth (our good friend and a sailor herself), Jennifer and myself.

Beth and Jennifer had never done an ocean passage. I had promised them a “milk run.” Ha! The only milk that ran was spilt milk when I tried to make myself cereal in 12- to 15-foot, pounding waves, driven by 20 to 35 knot winds for eight straight days, with nary a glimpse of the sun.

A slog, from the day we left until we arrived.

Many times someone had a bowl of cereal or soup or chili knocked out of their hands, skittering across the cabin floor. Bodies went flying. Everything got wet and soggy. Equipment broke.  

The cockpit would fill with water from crashing waves. The water would often crash over the bow so fiercely that it would shoot under the lashed down dinghy into the crevices of the dogged-down hatch over the head (the toilet) and douse us with water while we struggled to maintain our position on the can until we finished our business. Beth started wearing her rain jacket before going to the head.

In honor of Joseph's love of “shakey cheese” (canned, grated parmesean) which he poured on everything, the head became known as “The Shakey Can” for obvious reasons.

Other parts of the boat acquired their own monikers. The settee bench, which was one of our three berths, has a lee-cloth which straps the lying person in so a wave can’t knock you out. The settee became known as “The Burrito.”

Our new super-delux mattress which we afforded ourselves for this voyage is great and soft in port, but out on the high seas, it bounces you up and down so much that your body, at times, will rise and then slide across the mattress before coming to rest again. That bunk became “The Bouncy Castle” (like those air-filled children’s playhouses.)

The Quarterberth is the long berth in the aft end of the boat, which became preferred by some since it is quieter there and lower to the waterline, making it less bouncy. But it was a bit stuffier and got its own douses of water when waves would crash so forcefully into the cockpit that they would wash into the companionway of the boat and then through cracks into the quarterberth. So that moist and dark womb became known as “The Afterbirth.”

Beth, like Goldilocks, tried all the beds and still couldn’t get good sleep and so she eventually crawled into the curved settee around the dining table and wedged herself in with pillows and cushions and backpacks and towels and created “The Rat’s Nest.” And there she would scurry after every watch and bury herself in most of her belongings, nestling down into the smallest of shapes. 

Don’t be shocked. She was not alone in this eventual loss of interest in maintaining land-based standards of hygiene or decorum. I was asked how many times – or if at all – I had changed my underwear, and I refused to answer, invoking the Fifth Amendment protecting against self-incrimination.

But Jen, she crowned us all. On the flight to the Azores, she and Beth received eye-shades for sleeping. They both used their eye-shades extensively, until Jen’s disappeared toward the end of the passage. It was lost for three days. Finally Beth noticed Jen was walking around looking like she had a load in her tights. Out came her eye-shade.

Meanwhile, we had to deal with a bilge pump that was back-filling from the exit drain. We found it would stabilize at a reasonably safe level, but we had to relocate the float-switch so it wouldn’t run incessantly and drain the battery.

And after just two days, our ship’s steering wheel began to seize up. It got tighter and tighter. We dissembled the binnacle post (to which it is attached) to see if we could lube it. No luck. We wondered if it was because I had changed to a new lube in the Azores and the tube warned ominously: “Caution – clean out all old lube since some lubes are incompatible.” But we dismissed that possibility since both lubes were marine-grade gear lubes. We speculated that it could be something caught in the rudder, like rope or a massive hunk of seaweed. But a few days later, some squirts of PB Blaster (even better than WD-40) into the steering wheel column solved that problem.

Oh yes, and then the ship’s auto-steering broke. We still had a windvane steering device, but we no longer had a motorized auto-steering. It turned out to be fine since we used the windvane for almost all the passage.

Twice, during the eight days, we hauled down the mainsail and noticed that pins which held the sail to the mast had come loose and disappeared. The first time, I replaced the pin with a bolt. The second time, two days before arrival, we just left the mainsail down, since it was blowing 30 knots anyway. We sailed under staysail alone.

I silently prayed the staysail would hold out, as winds gusted to 35, to 38 and once to 40 knots. Once in port, we found a long rip in the staysail at the leech.

And yet ... and yet throughout all of this, throughout bouncing, spilling food, aching muscles from stress but no stretching or real movement, -- after sleepless nights, and the fact that Joseph and Jen suffered from a form a sea-sickness which doesn’t affect your stomach but gives you a constant, eight-day headache, -- and yet throughout all of this, our crew made good cheer to a bad play.

Jokes were told, food was somehow scrabbled together by Jen and Beth. Dishes were done in a clatter. Conversations were enjoyed. Photos were taken. Whales were spotted a couple of times. Dolphins did jump out of the water to entertain us once or twice.

Above all, I am so immensely impressed that neither Beth nor Jen ever batted an eye to the wild and tumultuous conditions we faced. Each stood their watches. Each alone at night, in waves cresting, wind howling and the boat crashing.

Jen admits that she heard the mythical voices of which sailors whisper and only admit to each other, lest to be thought of as dramatizing or being a bit lulu. They were calling her name. She heard whistling which was distinctly different than the wind in the rigging, but something far more ethereal. Something eery. Something almost scary. Perhaps because it almost seems to beckon into abandonment and the darkness.

Fetching a distant shore always, but especially under our circumstances, fills one with awe. The awe is a mixture of a quickened sense of nature’s raw immensity, and a pride that one had the fortitude to rise with commensurate determination to face nature, accept her and deal with her rawness. 

1 comment:

steve said...

Holy wow incredible. Sleeping in a burrito bed having a wet dream has taken on a new meaning. What an adventure. I'll no longer complain about my leaky basement. I await your next update. Thanks for sharing. Steve M.