To Tweet a Blob: “Passaging”

Last Sunday I wanted to update our position on the 'smilingfootprints'
map; but had nothing to say. 'Passaging', I wrote, and sent a tweet that
made a blob that showed where we were. To tweet a blob. I like that.

Not long after, I received an email from a close friend – what does that
mean, 'passaging'? I guess that means night-watches again? She had
caught me out, hiding behind words that not I even really understand. So
easy. Blobtweeting.

It got me thinking. During the last weeks I've come to realise why I
have found so many books about sailing really dull, even when they come
highly recommended. All that terminology. If you don't know what it
means, it's not exciting. Running Under Bare Poles, Hoving-To, Lying
Ahull, Beating, Beam Reach…. I never wanted to use them, or even hear
them, but they're actually really convenient terms to use, if you're
sailing. I still struggle though,- even simple concepts like 'falling
off' and 'turning up' – both relative to the wind and pretty important
to get right, still take my brain three steps before it can make an
informed choice on which way to turn the wheel. And even then I don't
always get it right.

So I apologise, and, yes, passaging means watches again. It means days
of sailing without stopping. I think that's all it means actually¸ the
rest is ancillary. Making a passage between A and B. In our case, Juan
Fernandez to Easter Island, also known as Isla de Pascua or Rapa Nui.
Miles from anywhere: the passages on either side of Easter Island will
be the longest we will have on this journey across the Pacific, and this
is the longer leg. About 1600 nautical miles (1 nautical mile = 1.85 km).

Easter Island is famous for big statues, ancient cultures, and being
remote. I look forward to finding out what more there is to it. The
rudder on our hydrovane broke yesterday, maybe something that can fix it
could be sent to Easter Island.. that could take weeks (a smile with
that). But then again, some people aren't even able to stop there for
one day due to big seas and weird winds. We're now using Keith, the
electronic autopilot, to steer us while Otto has a rest. Bit by bit we
learn the strengths and weaknesses of all our tools, ourselves included.

It's not so easy to write while on the move, so excuse any lethargy that
might come across. Between each sentence I have to look up, seek out the
horizon, imagine a gulp of fresh air. We are 'beating', and hard. An
appropriate term considering how it feels. Beating – sailing as close to
the wind as possible because ideally we'd be driving right into it. The
boat is on a steep angle, waves regularly wash our lower edge, and it's
a bumpy ride. There's a forward backward rocking as we fight across
waves, and a side to side permanently changing lilt. I have strapped
myself and laptop into a corner of the boat near a 12V plug, fortified
by cushions and lee cloths. A lee cloth is a piece of material that is
tied up on the non-wall side of your bed at night,- to stop you rolling
out. Right now all my weight leans against this.

Passaging means watches, yes. And we may have finally found a routine
that works for us. Three hours on and off, 10pm-1am (Rhian); 1am – 4am
(Andy); 4am-7am (Rhian); 7am onwards (Andy). Then if necessary we catch
up on dozes during the day. Suits our natural tendencies well- I am an
owl; staying up late is a joy, getting out of bed however, is always a
struggle. Andy is a lark, bouncing into the day with a smile on his face
while I hide under my pillow. At last, our incompatibilities on land
become a strength at sea. When the conditions are tough or we're both
dog tired, like when we left Juan Fernandez, we drop down to two-, or
even one- hour shifts. Hard on the sleeper, always woken just when
you're going deep, but critical for the watchperson struggling against
all odds with those matchsticks in her eyes. At the other extreme I
pulled an all-nighter a few days ago: the night was calm and clear and
the engine was on so I was happier outside and he was able to sleep off
the last week of exhaustion.

March 2, 2200-0100 shift, diary entry:

It's an almost perfect night, my first, which makes it yet more so. The
moon, almost full and directly behind us, shines a bright path onto the
water. The ocean, The Pacific, finally living up to her name. Gently she
rocks us, lightly the wind blows from our side. And we glide forwards. A
soothing lap and swell surrounds, that is the only noise. The stars were
bright and many, earlier. Before moonrise. Now they are clear pinpricks.
I don't need them for navigation tonight – Otto is steering- but I can
tell how far we are drifting from our course by the location of the
moon. It's a clear night with just a few streaky clouds near the
horizon. Lap of the sea, puff of the sail, whisper of the night.

We saw the sun this evening too, it felt like for the first time. A
beautiful evening sun and warm air. All afternoon I wore only shorts and
a fleece top, my first time out of long johns and a multitude of other
layers. (For nightshift, I'm back in full foul weather gear.)

We even both had a wash today- what indulgence! The first wash and rinse
is in seawater, then the last with precious fresh. Andy likes to stand
in the cockpit, starkers, and pour buckets of cold water over his head.
Me, I prefer to splish splash at the salty stage and then at the end
douse myself in luxurious warm fresh water, cup by cup. Over my head, my
hair, my body, soaking up the warmth. Either way, we both get clean. And
today was the first time it was 'not-cold' for the experience. Still
chilly, but the air carries a new hint of warmth with it. And when the
sun occasionally peaks out from behind a cloud, the water holds a new
depth of blue. We are heading north, to the warmth.

I'm enjoying this evening. At last. My first. The last week has been
harrowing and exhausting, and before that our sailing was far from
tranquil. I dearly hope there are more nights like this to come. In the
long term I am told there will be: isn't that the Pacific Dream? In the
short term, however, we are told by weather reports to expect more
north-westerlies: right where we want to go. This frustrates Andy more
than me- he doesn't like being pushed off course. Me, maybe I'm less in
touch with our destination or journey but does it really matter if the
passage takes us 15, 20, or even 25 days in all? We have food for months
and wind is free.

How quick I forgot this exhausting motion of the wind against you! This
morning we just gave up and 'hove-to' for a few hours, waiting for the
wind direction to change. It had been steadily moving from north west to
west all morning, until the best course we could make towards Rapa Nui
totalled 0.3 knots. That is to say, we might have been traveling at 4
knots (nautical miles per hour) but in any hour only got 0.3nm closer to
our goal. Knowing there are southerlies on there way, we chose to take a

That motion though- that 'hove-to' movement that I was so happy about
when we first discovered it,- it's not pleasant. Drains your whole self
of all energy, and all dreams. We slept in seperate bunks, struggling to
wake, and finally tried to get up and be useful. Felt like climbing out
of a vat of tar.

The wind eventually turned, it's now to the south west so we're still
beating (we want to go west), but we're also making good progress. Now I
know why it's important to keep moving. Nothing to do with schedule,
more about morale. Like the difference between sitting in a train that's
stopped (and you don't know why), or one that's moving, even if the
latter is the slow train that delivers you to the same destination,
three hours later .

When the hydrovane broke yesterday, we had a few hours bobbing in the
sea wondering what to do. There were options, neither of us were
worried, it was just a question of choosing the right option. Or
strategy. Figuring out why it broke, well, that could wait. The rudder
shaft, a 25mm diameter steel bar vertically connecting windvane
mechanism to rudder, has bent at an angle of 40 degrees such that it's
lower end is now above sea level. And to this was attached our hydrovane
rudder- no wonder it has been oversteering in a particular direction
lately. Lately. Since we left Juan Fernandez. Since we left…

In the first few days after leaving I played the scenarios over and over
in my head, and kept asking new questions. What if's-? How is-? Where
are-? The response from people around the world was also quite
overwhelming,- at the time we had no idea this was global news, we had
no idea of the source of the quake. What if our phone had been on and my
brother had our number? Would it all have been very different? We
received more emails than ever: on one day 23 came in one shot.
Twenty-three,- how I laugh! In my old job 230 emails would seem a lot,
100 in a day not uncommon, and here I am surprised by 23. But I'm not in
my old job, and we're not permanently connected… usually we dial up
every few days for a new weather check and send/receive of emails. We
don't have internet, and we can't check our regular gmail addresses from
the boat.

The heightened connection was staggering. I am especially thankful for
the news updates that my brother Felix would send; and also for the
ability through tweets and blogs to very rapidly tell folk that we were
ok. This interconnected world ain't so bad,- we just need to know how to
work it best for us. There was a time, in the 230-emails a day phase,
that I felt it was working me.

I have memories that make me smile as well. When Alex, the dad, had cold
feet. "What size boot do you wear?", we ask. "41". Smiles. Good thing –
41 is the only size we can offer. And the boy Pablo asking where I'm
from, trying his school English on me. 'This is a tsunami.' Is that the
same word in every language? A few days later, drying the few clothes
that we inherited in the exchanges. Kids socks, a top, leggings, a
teenagers jacket. So it was true. And we were tired, utterly tired. It
was true.

Memories also return every time we eat fresh produce from the Blue House
in the square, Casa Azul. Crispy lettuce and rocket, green tomatoes
turning red every day, cucumbers, mint, basil, chives. We've had more
salad this week than all month; it tasted wonderful. And today we ate
bread made with rosemary from Pedro's garden. I guess this is the last
remaining food from those stretches of land.

Back to Otto's rudder shaft, it must have got a donk. That's a
tremendous pressure would be necessary to bend that. But then,- there
were trees and houses around us. Who knows what was underneath, or how
shallow it became at times.

So we're floating around in the big blue, no self-steering windvane. We
have an electronic autopilot called Keith but Andy has little faith in
that from prior experience. He also has a book, by Lee Wooas, called
'Sheet To Tiller Emergency Self Steering'. Of course he does. That
involves jerry-rigging a staysail (a third sail, between the jib and the
main, that we don't have), and running lines from it to a tiller (that
we also don't have, but could in theory create, after disengaging our
hydraulic steering), and then connecting the tiller and staysail with
ropes and pulleys so that together they hold a course, each offsetting
the other.

I can see Andy loves this idea. It's a truly beautiful concept. We even
start putting together a makeshift stay (the thing the staysail would go
up) but in 30 knot winds even Andy realises the better of it.

Me, I'm all about Keith. I understand Keith. He steers the wheel to a
set course on the compass, just like me. He doesn't notice wind, he
doesn't care if we're motoring or under sail. Just like me. I figure if
I can steer a course, so can he.

To my immense relief, Keith is currently holding course, and I reckon
doing a not-bad job of it. Of course, when the wind direction changes he
doesn't know so we have to pay attention and change sails and course
accordingly, and he also doesn't steer just-so, perfectly in tune with
sails and wind like Otto was, and he also makes a slight hum when
turning the wheel, but hey, him working means I can sit here and write
this, so no complaints from me.

[Why 'Keith'? Named after a friend who helped us with calibration when
the unit was new. Calibration means driving around in circles. Keith had
just arrived in Puerto Williams, the southern tip of Chile, after
sailing solo and non-stop from New Zealand, via Cape Horn, in 56 days.
Anything but circles. Asked how the journey was, he replied in his
understated Kiwi accent, "aw yeah, read a few books".]

It only vaguely dawned on me, while we were bobbing around in the blue,
just how far away we are from anywhere. Right here. Half way between two
of the most remote places in the Pacific. That's even more remote than a
remote island. We don't have enough fuel to drive to the next landfall,
we need wind, and we need help steering: one night alternating
hand-steering on the way to Juan Fernandez nearly killed us both.

While Andy was dashing around deck developing new systems to save us, my
daydreams drifted. Did I ever, as a girl, dream of marrying James Bond?
I hope I didn't, but if I did, I got it wrong. Be careful what you wish
for. Marrying James Bond implies I'm the same me, and next to him would
therefore feel continually clumsy, inept, and inadequate. What I should
have dreamed for, if that is what I was hoping for, was to become like
one of James Bond's girls. Not just leggy and gorgeous, but also savvy
with ropes and helicopters, fearless, quick-thinking and calm in times
of emergency, able to fire perfectly and dodge bullets at ease, and of
course walk out of the ocean looking amazing even when projected on an
IMAX screen.

I don't know what Andy sees in me, (and thankfully he's not James Bond)
but it's surely none of the above. In fact, his latest amusement,
guaranteed to make him chuckle at any time of day or night, is the large
italic inscription on my board shorts. (We have found that board shorts
are the perfect intermediary layer between thermals and waterproofs, but
that's another story.) Scribbled all over them, in various fonts and
hieroglyphics, is the word 'Quickstep'. Nothing could be less
appropriate. While he prowls the boat like a cat in a tree, I'm still
staggering around on all fours. Half toddler, half drunk. I have donked
my nose, bashed my knee, gained uncountable thumps and bruises, and
require approximately six-times the time he does to get anywhere or do
anything. When I stand, I wobble; when I sit, I slip and slide. I don't
know if it's more upsetting to him or me to admit that deep down, in my
core, I'm a landlubber. I love the sea, and I love that we're here doing
this, but I don't know that I love it less when looking at it from a
place that doesn't move.

What's the point? What's the point? We're sailing across the Pacific –
there is no point. Slowly I'm becoming accustomed to this concept. We're
not changing the world, we don't know where this will lead, there is no
grand plan. Years ago, when Andy first asked if I would accompany him on
this adventure, I scoffed. What good does it do floating around the
world in a concrete tub? How does that make a difference to anything? I
was doing far more important stuff in my j.o.b. Was I far more important?

Well, I still have no answers, and that's a beautiful thing. And I'm not
looking so hard anymore either. Maybe I was onto something when, tired
but happy at having survived the first leg of the journey to Robinson
Crusoe Island (and probably a bit emotional), I scribbled down:

"I feel a deep inner peace, that we have made it here: to the starting
line. There are few things more rewarding than making your dreams come
true. So first, start dreaming, and dream well. Next comes the hard part."

1 thought on “To Tweet a Blob: “Passaging”

  1. The owl and the lark went to sea in a beutiful concrete boat, They took some money and plenty of honey wraped up in a 5 peso note…
    Ahh Rhian, absolutely love reading your updates especially the wafflie bits!
    Lu and I fight for the mouse to scroll down the text.
    Much love,

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