A Day in the Life...
02:55 I hear the unmistakable beep of my alarm letting me know itís time to get up for my watch. Five more minutes!
03:00 I open my eyes, untie the lee-cloth and mechanically swing my legs over the side. I usually sleep forward in the v-berth, but not tonight. The seas have been picking up over the last 24 hours, so sleeping has not been exactly easy. The pilot berth in the main cabin sounded like a much better option. By how much Iím not sure. I still got tossed around like a chicken wing in a shake-n-bake bag. After just 5 hours of fitful sleep, this will be a tough watch.
03:05 After bidding Suzie goodnight I poke my head topsides and have a look around. The first thing I notice as my eyes are still half shut is the intensity of the moon. Itís so bright it almost makes me squint. The sky is virtually cloudless and as I begin to focus, I notice how the reflection of the moon off the water makes everything look surreal. Once Iím sure there are no hazards to worry about, I settle in at the navigation station for a look at the instruments.
Wind: 24 knots, true from the SSE
I bring the radar off standby and scan the screen for any blips that would indicate either a ship or squalls within itís 24 mile range. I find none. A quick glance at the chart confirms we are on course and now I can relax a little.
03:30 After making a cup of tea, I grab a couple of ginger snaps and sit back down at the nav station. Iím not a big tea drinker, but it seems to have become a ritual on night watch. I think it all started when Sergei was aboardÖI just remember lots of cream and lots of honey. Anyway, time to complete the daily update for the web page. I pull out the laptop and begin to type. With the boat on 20į heel, itís always a challenge.
04:00 With the update and another email complete, I plug in the serial cable and revert to DOS mode for the journey into PinOak land. Itís a place few venture to go and a place even fewer can go out where we are at the moment. I would tell you more about our PinOak saga, but thatís a story for another time. You can check out Billís commentary on the subject. Anyway, the whole process of sending and receiving email takes anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on propagation, baud rate, etc. Tonight itís not so bad and only takes a half an hour. Two emails out and none received.
04:30 With the dayís web site obligations complete, I take another trip to the deck and sit down for a while just taking in the beauty of the scenery. Unless itís a calm and dry night on deck I usually spend most of the watch below, checking every 15 - 20 minutes for large ships or objects in the night. It is one of those nights when you can stare off at the sea and think of nothing or everything. Tonight there are all kinds of things buzzing around my head. The last night watch for a while. Landfall in the Seychelles tomorrow. I canít believe Iíll be home next weekend for a friendís weddingÖ.and the thoughts go on.
05:00 After losing myself for a while in the wind, waves and moon, I descend to the cabin and check the instruments again. Certain that everything is as it should be, I sit down on one of the setees (yacht term for a couch) and put my feet up on the table. I put my head back for a moment and look at the ceiling. The soft red glow from the night lights throws me back into my thoughts. And for a moment all that I sense is the noises around me. The creaking of the jib sheet where it meets the block on the deck. The slapping of a few wires inside the mast. The whir of the fan above my head. The rush of the water by the boat as we surf down the front of a large wave at 10 knots. After sitting and staring off into the semi-darkness for a while, I pick up my book and make my way back to the nav station. If I lie down on the setee, Iíll fall asleepÖcanít do that! I still have to check things once in a while.
05:50 Now, just a few minutes from the end of my watch, I put my book down and pull out the shipís log. I study the instruments for a moment and begin to make my entry. As I do, I notice the winds have let up a little, slowing the boat down. As a result, the violent motion has also decreased, making sleep a little easier for everyone. As I reach for the parallel rule, I hear billís alarm sound. I continue my work and look for our current latitude and longitude to plot our position. Lat. 4į 47.32 S by Lon. 58į 12.56 E. That puts us due east of Mahe Island and about 131 miles from our way point. Once we hit the WP, our anchorage is 30 miles beyond that. So, with any luck we should be anchored by this time tomorrow. At this moment, Bill looks like heís getting anxious to sit down at the nav station. He can have it, Iím going to bed!
08:25 Opened my eyes, looked at the clockÖ..too early, still tired, back to sleep.
09:30 Time to get up. I throw my legs over the side of the bed, plant my feet, steady myself and slowly rise. Itís hard enough maintaining balance after just waking up on land, try it on a boat in 8-10 foot seas! I brace myself with my arms as I hobble toward the door. What greets me as I step out of the forward cabin is surely no less than a flash from a nuclear blast. And itís hot! Because we are traveling due west, as the sun rises, it floods the main cabin with all itís brightness and heat. Instinctively I raise my hand, shielding my eyes from the onslaught of light. As I do, I feel a moist abrasiveness repeatedly brushing the top of my foot. LUCY! She greets me with her tail wagging and her tongue licking. Bill is at the nav station typing away on his computer, while Suz is sitting on a setee flipping through one of her female magazines; for the hundredth time no doubt.
I say my morning greetings and accept them in turn. Then I beat a hasty retreat back into my cabin for my shades. My first task is to take the coffee press up and dump out the old grinds. Having done that, I grind a new batch of beans (Starbucks if anyone is wondering), pour the water, and wait for my magic morning brew. AhhhÖ..just what the doctor ordered!
10:00 With a cup of full strength Kenyan java in me, I begin to enter the land of the living again. As I do, I become aware that there is a certain feeling of excitement in the air. Itís day 5 of the passage and the anxiousness of the crew is quite apparent. Even Lucy can sense the mood, as sheís a bit wound up herself. No great surprise, weíll be in the Seychelles in less than 24 hours. Now we just wait and hope that our wind keeps up. There seems to be no change for the moment, so thereís nothing to do. I grab my book and read some more.
10:30 Feeling a little hungry I reach for a bowl of cereal and discover that there is no milk in the fridge. Someone forgot to restock with a full container. Cereal with warm milk, no thanks. Maybe a piece of toast? The dirty dishes from last nightís dinner are still everywhereÖ.too much effort for toast. I guess Iíll just wait for lunch. I grab another cup of coffee and settle into my book again. Too damn hot to do anything else.
11:00 Still reading.
11:30 By this time, itís getting so hot the only way to cool down is to use the deck shower to hose off. Feeling relieved, I sit under the bimini and ponder aspects of air conditioning and how wonderful it can be. Of course we donít have it and I guess I wouldnít want it. Who wants to hide below all day only to emerge, trim the sails and rush to get out of the heat again? No thanks!
Before going back down into the sauna, I survey the horizon, pausing to look forward and visualize the island paradise we will find. Gone are the thoughts of our last stop at Chagos. The last five days of passage now seem like a blur and all that is present is the anticipation of land, a calm anchorage and a cold beer (not necessarily in that order). As Iím daydreaming, Bill yells up and asks if I want some lunch. I gratefully accept and then wonder to myself whatís gotten into him. It seems lately that heís taken to cooking (not that making a hot dog is cooking) and he actually seems to enjoy it. Recently heís turned out some excellent cuisine, most notably pancakes, pastas and grilled sandwiches. Not bad for a guy who only used the kitchen in his last apartment twice in two years. Amazing what a womanís presence will do for you!
12:00 During my gourmet lunch (I can call it gourmet because of the Grey Poupon) I sit and do a little work on the computer. Part of that youíll be reading here, while the other consists of the daily update and our e-newsletter. I donít work on this stuff every day, but since weíre arriving tomorrow I wanted to have it complete. Who wants to be sitting in front of a computer in the Seychelles? What did Jack Nicholson say? ďAll work, no playÖ.Ē
13:00 Enough work, time for a little more reading. This time I decided to get a little sun. I put on a little sun block, find a comfortable spot and read. The book is the Horse Whisperer. I havenít seen the movie, but the book is excellent and I really want to finish it before tomorrow. As hard as try, I cannot seem to concentrate. Iím a little restless, so I forget about the book and just sit. Then I notice our two big fishing reels are resting dormant on the stern rail. We did catch a Mahi Mahi two days ago and have plenty left over, but we should still be fishing. I turn to Bill and say that we should throw out the lines just in case thereís a hungry Tuna out there. We do love Mahi, but what we really want is a Yellowfin Tuna. He agrees that sushi is long overdue, so the lines go out.
13:30 As part of this piece on a day at sea, I decide to make a short video clip that can also be posted on the web site. I grab my camera, a microphone and head for the deck. The only place to set up was in the companionway, otherwise the camera would not stay put. There was no way Bill or Suzie was going to hold it while I spoke. Keeping a straight face is hard enough without Bill making faces at me behind the camera. I set the camera down, adjust the height and sound and let the tape roll. After three takes, I thought I had a good clip. If not, Iíll redo it again later. Iím definitely not CNN material, but I think itíll do.
14:00 Well, itís Sunday and that means itís matinee time. Todayís showingÖ..The American President with Michael Douglas and Annette Benning. What, no popcorn?
16:00 Good movie! Thanks Bob for lending us the tape, plus all those other videos. You can only watch the same movie so many times, but hey, thatís why there are other cruisers out there; to swap for the oneís you havenít seen.
16:30 At this point, the sun is headed toward the other horizon, the wind is steady and still out of the south and there is absolutely nothing to do, not even a sail to trim. Now that weíre all sitting on deck, the subject of discussion comes back to the Seychelles and our fast (actually not fast enough) approaching ETA. When we left Chagos we started a competition to guess how long the passage would be. I won the last one from Cocos to Chagos when we actually arrived at our way point 1 hour and 24 minutes past my original guess. My prizeÖbreakfast in bed! Not bad, but I donít think I can do it twice. It looks like Bill might have this one. Our current ETA to the first way point is 10:30 tonight. Billís guess was 5 days 8 hours. That translates into 10:00, and that means he would be off by only 30 minutes! Well, all I can say isÖ.itís not over till the fat lady sings!
17:00 Since our plan to catch a fish has not worked, the age old question is finally asked, what do we do for dinner? At this point, we are running very low on a lot of foods. We have run out of everything fresh, namely vegatables and fruit. We still have all the staple items, such as rice and pasta, plus a fair amount of frozen meat, but everyoneís dreaming of big juicy cheeseburgers and a pile of crispy fries. Something tells me that weíre getting nowhere quick. Ö.And the debate rages.
17:30 Having finally decided on Scotch Filets (the Aussie equivalent of filet mignon) with fries (frozen) and asparagus (canned) we begin preparations for the last passage supper. Because weíre all a little anxious to get there, weíre also a little unmotivated and slow to move. Consequently, we do a lot of chatting and a little preparing. The funny thing about a short passage is that it hardly allows you to get into a rhythm. Itís a little difficult to explain to most land-locked souls, but true nonetheless. I think weíre all a little over-tired and lethargic due to the heat. At least the meat is defrosting!
18:00 Every night when the clock strikes 6:00 PM, we fire up our SSB radio and tune into Voice of America for the latest news. Despite what everyone may think, we do have some idea whatís going on in the world. We canít have a copy of USA Today air-dropped in everyday, but itís good enough. We did hear about the Swiss Air crash in the Atlantic. Itís a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who perished. On a brighter note, weíre constantly entertained by the reports of Bill Clinton and his quest to squirm his way out of the Monica jam. Someone should tell him that Jim Carey just did a movie called Liar, Liar.
18:15 I think I spoke too soon! Not too soon after I started the grill (yes, we do use the grill at sea) the Penn reel started screaming. Just as there is whenever a fish hits one of the lines, itís a scramble to get on deck and into position. Then comes the fire drill. We have to slow the boat down quickly, otherwise heíll swim off with all our line and the lure. Weíve got big reels with a lot of 80 lb. test, but when youíre going 8+ knots and thereís a big fish going in the other direction it disappears pretty quickly. Not only that, try reeling in 1000 feet of line with that much drag on it. The only way to bring him in is to drop the sails and stop the boat.
When Jeff was still with us, we had the whole routine down to a science. One person gets the reel, the other the helm and the third drops the sails, grabs the camera and prepares the gaff. Itís been hard to match that team effort, but kudos to Suzie for a job well done!! Despite the effort of stopping the boat and reeling in that ENORMOUS YELLOWFIN TUNA, he got away. Not even all of Billís grunting and groaning could have saved this one. Whatever it was went very deep and as soon as Bill got the line close to the boat, he swam under us and then behind us. That fish was either very lucky or very smart, because he tangled the line in the prop and then swam away. Aside from the acute disappointment, there was a sudden moment of panic when we realized the consequences of a fouled prop in large seas and a night time landfall. I guess we got lucky, because it was a clean break. Oh well, no sushi tonight!
19:00 After a 40 minute fight with an invisible fish we finally get the boat and our previously planned dinner going again. None to soon, as we were all starving. As the steaks go on the grill, Bill hops back on the radio. This time it is for our daily radio schedule with some of the other boats weíve been traveling across the Indian Ocean with. Our longest contact has been with Bob off of Gypsy Spray. In addition to him we also talk with Dave on Muskien and Lester on Truant.
They are all still in Chagos and plan to depart for Madagascar in the next two weeks. Because theyíre anchored they donít have a lot to report on aside from some of the daily activities. Bob makes us laugh, as he usually has an amusing story or two to tell. The other day we stood by as he described how he cooked up some, shall we say, less than fresh eggs and began to eat them before realizing his mistake. There is, however a more important reason for chatting everyday. Aside from the stories, it is for the exchange of information, as well as a means for keeping track of each other. Because we are currently on passage, we give them basic info such as, our weather, wind and sea conditions, and most importantly, our current position.
19:15 As I wait for the steaks to cook, I decide to have a shower. It is luxury at sea made possible be a watermaker (de-salinator). When the weather is a rough we always use the head. Tonight itís calm and the sunset is beautiful, so I shower on deck. I grab my towel, a bar of soap (when my hair is this short I donít need shampoo) and head for the cockpit. I set up a shower curtain by draping my towel over the wheel, pull out the deck hose and douse myself with warm fresh water as I watch the sky turn a vivid crimson color. I consider that to be one of the best parts of the day during passage. Now I feel like a million bucks!
19:30 Dinner is served, Miseur. Filet a-la-AlÖ.well-done! With all the excitement over our near catch, I slightly over cooked the steaks, oops! Itís not entirely my fault however. I challenge anyone to cook on a grill hanging off the back of a boat doing 8-9 knots at a 20į heel. On top of that, every time the wind changes direction it creates different hot spots on the grilling surface. So while one piece is burning the other is raw. A tough sport I tell you! Despite the condition of the meat, I still get compliments on a tasty meal. I probably could have served them Lucyís food and they would have been happy. Nothing was going to bother them tonight, weíre almost in the Seychelles!
20:00 When we finish eating Bill has a quick look topsides and then sits back down. We remain there for a while and talk some more about what weíre going to do tomorrow. As we do, the boat heels a little further to starboard and piece of cutlery hops out of one of the bowls and makes a fast pilgrimage across the table, accelerating as it approaches me. Instinctively my arm moves to meet it and I avert being impaled by a fork. This brings up an interesting topic for discussion. Eating while at sea. I wonít bore you with the details, except to say that itís an interesting experience. Everything that does not have a rubber bottom must either be held or wedged into place. Most of the time when the boat is heeling, we eat out of bowls so the food wonít slide off the plates. We also drink out of stainless steel mugs with rubberized bottoms. Starbucks probably doesnít realize it, but forget the car, they make the best boat cups around. Narrow at the top, wide at the base and they stay put!
20:30 Time to do the dishesÖ.not! Traditionally, the one doing the cooking does not do the dishes, so Iím out tonight. Bill looks at Suzie, Suzie looks at Bill and the dishes stay in the sinkÖ.dirty. Hereís another consideration when cooking, make the smallest mess possible. The movement of the boat is usually directly proportional to the ambitiousness of the cook and therefore, the mess left to clean up. As much as possible use paper plates, that way all thatís left are the cooking implements and the cutlery. In theory this works, but in reality not always. We usually rate the aftermath on a scale of one to ten, a level ten bomb hit being the worst. On the second night out of Newport I became a little overzealous and tried to cook chicken curry with rice during a gale. The result was a level ten explosion when a rogue wave made the rice jump out of itís bowl and all over the cabin. That was one of my first lessons on the doís and doníts of a shipís galley. Tonight is a level 2, so the cleaning will wait until later after weíve stopped, which means tomorrow.
21:00 On this passage we worked out the watch schedule so that the 6-9 watch is shared by everyone. So, although itís technically Billís watch weíre so close that weíre all alert. At this point, I didnít really do anything in particular, just sat in the red glow of the night lights and waited. Iím sitting on the starboard setee, while Bill is at the nav table and Suzie is in the aft cabin. The first way point is still an hour and a half off, but I can see the anxiousness of a night landfall starting to show on Billís face.
21:30 At this point you really canít do anything but wait for the GPS to start beeping that weíre at the way point. Needing something to do, I pick up an old magazine and mindlessly flip through the pages, reading, but not really comprehending. No sooner have I leafed through one, then Iím up and looking for something else to do, but not to concentrate on. Just then, Bill yells down that heís spotted land. Not that thereís much to see at this point, I poke my head up anyway. Land?
All you can see is a faint glow 30 miles distant. Even with the moon as bright as it is you cannot make out the shape with the naked eye. However, with the night vision monocular, you can just make out the outline of an island. Mahe!
22:00 A quick glance at the ETA clock reveals that we still have about four hours to go. Determined to try and pass the time I sit down with my laptop and type out a few emails. Theyíre quick, short and donít require a long attention spanÖ. perfect. As Iím sitting there, a thought occurs to me. The state that Iím in is a culmination of several things. The last 5 days on a boat with nothing but the ocean blue to look at. The anticipation of a new port. The prospect of going home in a few days. And knowing that there is nothing to do but wait for the next several hours as we approach a new port of call. Our first way point off of Barracouta Rock is now only 15 minutes away.
22:30 About 2/10 of a mile from the way point, the Autohelm begins to beep, warning us to change to the next WP. As Bill is busy plotting us and rechecking the approach, he asks me to track us to the last WP. As it tracks, the boat only makes a 4į adjustment to starboard. This bearing will put us right at the entrance to Victoria Harbor and should line us up with the channel into the anchorage.
23:00 As we are now just 30 miles from the harbor, Bill hails the Port Captain on the VHF radio. After a brief discussion, we are instructed to anchor in the ďouter harborĒ near a marker buoy. He gives us a set of coordinates and tells us to expect Customs, Immigration and Quarantine at 08:00. These are the usual formalities that we expect everywhere we go. Each new port of call has different guidelines for entry, but the big question these days is not, do we have a certain kind of fruit or more than 1 liter of alcohol per person. The matter is far greater in importance and has to do with her Highness, the Princess of Out of Bounds, Lucy Locket. Can she disembark and run around the island? I think Iíve heard the question asked whether she can get off before even we can. I guess weíll find out in the morning, we still have to get there first.
23:30 At this point I am up on deck and simply enjoying the ride. The full moon and clear sky make for a beautiful evening. One could not ask for better conditions for a night time landfall. The various islands are dark shapes in the distance but at least you can make them out without the aid of radar or night vision. The last small island we need to clear before we have a clear shot in is őle Aux Rťcifs. Our ETA to the anchorage is now 02:00.
00:00 As we sail past őle Aux Rťcifs the lights of Mahť are becoming more clearly visible. Though it appears to be a straight forward approach, Bill is clearly getting a bit nervous. Thought I donít like doing this in the dark any more than he does, I have full confidence in his navigational abilities. He has already started rechecking his way points and bearings. Every few minutes he sticks his head up to take a look around and then descends again to take another position. The experience gained through the last 2 years of sailing has taught us to be extra cautious when approaching anything at any time of the day. Though GPS systems are normally very accurate, they are certainly not infallible; that is the nature of technology. The same goes for the charts we use. Though they are updated constantly, it does not mean they are always right. The best you can do is be 100% sure of your plotting and navigation. The rest is reliance on whatever visual aids you have, plus gut feeling that what you are doing is right..
00:30 I am now at the wheel, standing ready to take over from the Autohelm at any time. Bill is still running up and down, checking, plotting and rechecking. Every now and then he pauses at the companionway, sitting on one knee with the other tucked against his chest, foot on the deck. He is not relaxing, but positioned like a sprinter at the starting gate, ready to go. Both alert, we are aware of everything happening around us.
01:00 We are now approximately 8 miles from the way point which is ĺ of a mile north of őle St. Anne and 3 miles from the anchorage. I make a quick trip to the nav station to confirm that Iím familiar with our approach. Feeling confident with the way things are looking I return to the helm and continue to maintain my station. Bill is monitoring the approach via the instruments below (i.e. Radar and GPS), while I keep a visual and observe our speed and depth. We have learned to work very well with each other under all kinds of circumstances, including these. It is essential that you compliment each other by looking over the otherís shoulder as it were. The consequences of making a mistake out here is not something we ever want to deal with.
01:30 Though the lights of Mahť are getting brighter itís still difficult to make any sense of what youíre looking at. Itís a little easier if you know exactly where you are and you have a chart in front of you, but Iím at the wheel and I have to rely on Auto ďVonĒ Helm to guide me, unless Bill says otherwise. I suppose itís a bit like what pilots have to deal with when approaching a runway for landing, only a lot slower.
02:00 Now just minutes away from the way point, Bill gives orders to roll in the genoa and wait for the turn into the harbor. Finally the Autohelm signals the turn and I wait for Bill to confirm. He does and I track us to the new way point inside the harbor. At this point, the marker buoy lights and the leading lights are visible. The only problem now is identifying them and making sense of whatís what. The Seychelles are like many countries outside the US as they use an international maritime buoyage system, which is not a problem, as we have become used to it. You just have to remember that itís different from what you learned in the US. Instead of the red marker being to starboard, as in ďRed Right ReturningĒ, the green buoy is now to starboard upon returning. Again, the boat is being guided by GPS, but we need to feel comfortable that it is correct and weíre in the channel.
Our bearing is now 210į and we appear to be in line with the leading lights for the channel. About 15 minutes after the turn I notice the Autohelm tracking us 30į higher than we should be. I relay this information to Bill who plots our position and he takes a visual. He says we are on course, but agrees that we appear to be heading too far to port toward Sainte Anne. He tells me to slow the boat and wait a moment while he checks again. When he emerges again he says we should be fine but that he wants to drop the main while we still have plenty of room. After flaking the main, I bring the boat around, track us and come up to speed again. The bearing is now correct and all the marker lights are where they should be. The only concern now is what appears to be a tug or fishing vessel about a mile ahead and moving into our path. Because of all the lights from the shore itís difficult to tell what heís doing. I maintain speed, but proceed with caution watching for any change in course. Slowly he moves to port of our course leaving us with a clear path in.
The Autohelm sounds our final way point and I reach down to take us off of track to standby. Now I am steering manually. I bring the boat to starboard, bearing 247į, and head for the red light marking the edge of the channel. This is the buoy which is to be our reference point for anchoring. It sits just southeast of a 6 meter deep patch and on the edge of the 20 meter deep channel. The coordinates given to us by the port captain are supposed to be right on top of this area.
Bill is now on the bow readying the anchor, while Iím navigating us up to the marker buoy. At this point, the only way to tell the right spot is by our depth. As we approach, the depth is slowly ascending up from 24 meters. As it changes I yell to Bill, ď20, 15, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 meters, drop the hook!!Ē As I give the command to drop, I put the engine into reverse and stop our forward motion. I give just enough reverse to back us up slightly, letting the chain pay out away from the anchor. When heís finished, he yells for dead slow reverse to stretch out the chain. Then he asks for some more power to make sure the anchor is in and secure. At almost 5 to 1 (chain length to depth) and a soft sand bottom, it feels like the anchor is in cement. Weíre here!!
02:30 After shutting down the engine, I make my way toward the companion way and have a seat. Bill walks up a second later and does the same. Suzie is sitting there as well, but she does not feel it. In unison Bill and I breath a big sigh of relief as the intensity subsides and we finally get a look around. Now we can relax a little. As I scan the dark shapes and the bright lights I wonder what this place will look like in the morning. At that moment it occurs to me that we need a toast. Whenever we arrive at a place after a passage of any length we toast to the event. Sometimes we enjoy a cigar and at other times a beer. We never drink anything with alcohol on passage. Too many variables can happen too quickly. Tonight itís late and all we have is some warm Sambouca. In a short ceremony we tip our glasses and then look at each other with twisted faces from the taste.
Itís now 02:30 local and we are all exhausted. We need to be up at 07:30 for the Seychelles officials to clear us in. Even Lucyís enthusiasm at our arrival is now overcome by the fatigue of the passage. No one needs to give me an order, itís bed time!