[Written March 29]
Do you remember the woman in Knightrider, I think her name was Bonnie..
she was really cool, really smart, could be found in a big truck with
the white-haired boss (I've forgotten his name), and Michael would pull
in there with Kit and she would figure out all the clever stuff that
needed doing. Lots of rapid tap tap tapping. I thought she was cool
anyway, and occasionally I like to think I'm a bit like her: wiring the
electrics, sorting out the computers, plotting our position on both
paper and screen, getting weather data. I mentioned that to Andy and he
looked bemused,- yeah, he vaguely remembered her, but they were the
boring bits.. he just wanted Michael to get back in the car and have
We're on our third rolly day today, after the storm, after the lull…
the wind arrived as predicted and is dutifully carrying us towards our
chosen destination. This means down-wind sailing, and that's kind of
rolly. She leans a bit to the left, bit to the right, not screaming
along on full tilt like you do when beating into the wind…more of a
rocking motion. At its best, it's comforting, like being rocked in a
cradle or a hammock. At it's worse, the smooth rocking transforms more
into a violent bumping and lurching, far less comforting. When this
occurs I have to go outside and see for myself what's going on, mainly
to pacify my too-vivid imagination or, worse, my between-nightshift
dreams. Invariably the sound is far worse inside than out, but the sight
of a huge wave approaching from behind is still, for me, disquieting.
And then, as if my magic, and as long as we are truly pointing downwind,
the wave melts below and beyond us, leaving us bobbing along like the
Yesterday afternoon we dragged ourselves outside to assault the lethargy
that this motion fosters. We sat two- thirds of the way along the boat's
length, on the coach roof, backs wedged between mast and dinghy, feet
firmly propped against a rail, both working hard to keep us steady as
the boat rolls on. And we watched the world go by.
What is a wave?, Andy mused, and how far does it go? What would it be
like to be that water molecule roaring long?
Well, it was a serious question so I had to respond in earnest. The
water molecules, well, they're like us, they're not going very far at
all, relatively speaking. The wave is a pulse of energy, lifting
consecutive sections of water as it travels onward. Think of the wave
that reached us in the tsunami,- took only half an hour to travel over
300 miles from the coast of Chile to Juan Fernandez!
A wave? But what do you mean, then what is it? Well, like electrons in a
wire, each nudging its neighbour until the one at the end pops out and
triggers something. The pulse moves through the wire very quickly, the
electrons themselves don't move. No, too abstract. Ok, like a mexican
wave in a stadium, or chinese whispers. Then I start thinking about
chinese whispers, and change and distortion that occurs with time as the
"Can we go back to the water molecule? Tell me about that." Much more
tangible. So we talk about atoms and molecules, one oxygen bonded to two
hydrogens.. but that's only in a perfect world that they bob around in
isolation. In reality oxygens are everso slightly negative, and
hydrogens everso slightly positive, so oxygens are attracted to hydogens
on other molecules and vice versa… but more like a magnetic attraction
than the solid handshake of a covalent bond (we'll not mention ionic
bonds at this time). A strong flirt. The attraction is called a hydrogen
bond, so with them in place the water kind of does act like a mass, a
society, as well as individually.
He points to the horizon; right in front of us, but in the distance, is
a mast. Not again! What are the chances? We wonder who it might be who
we know, surely we're not gaining on our Canadian friends with their
huge boat? Let's make a call on the VHF radio and see if anyone can hear us.
But wait – I want to tell you something more about hydrogen bonds. It's
because of hydrogen bonds that my hair is curly (and these days it's
especially boufant- I'd fit well into one of those eighties action
series'). No, really, that's what makes the hair curl back on itself…
and why it gets curlier when wet. I don't know why some hair has
stronger hydrogen bonding than other, but I do know that's why it curls.
"Really?" I think he's genuinely pleased with this new piece of
information. Or just bemused that I carry this stuff around in my head.
Then we go to the radio and discover that the mast we see belongs to one
of the American yachts we left behind at Easter Island, one that seemed
quite huge and luxurious from the outside. What are the chances of
seeing them, over a week after we left, and several days after they left?
I'm reminded of an article I read once about two planes that crashed
over the Brazilian Amazon, heading directly into each other nose on
nose. It was a horrific story, and this article was about the
investigation that followed. While there was, without doubt, human error
involved, the accident would have almost certainly not occurred without
the navigation accuracy that we gain with GPS. Planes now fly at exactly
the same altitude, and on identical flight paths. We're not on a
prescribed course as such, but we are following the most direct route
between the same start and end locations as several other yachts, and
using GPS to advise our course. Still, I was surprised: we were
initially blown a lot further south than a direct course would have
taken us, and I would have thus expected the other boat to be more
linear in their route than we.
For a short while the ocean didn't feel so massive again. I didn't know
if I liked that or not. Not long after, however, we eavesdropped on the
start of a ham radio check-in for Pacific cruisers… people talking to
each other between New Zealand, Hawaii, Easter Island, California, and
the western Pacific islands. An enormous space, and network. The first
announcement was about a missing yacht that has been found, still
sailing strong, but without the [solo] skipper aboard. And then I was
reminded that it is a big place after all, a very big place, and the
only people who can make sure we stay safe.. is us.
On we roll, life is good. A bit like being holed up in a tent for too
long.. enjoying the laziness but also looking forward to getting active
again. By my calculations, we have about two days and twenty-three hours
to go until Pitcairn, if this wind stays… funny how three days of
doing nothing would drive you mad at home; just feels kind of natural
We've started searching for new activites to pass the time. We tried
backgammon, but the pieces kept sliding all over the board; we played a
few hands of cards until that became dull; today I even took out a ball
of cotton and a crochet needle to see what I could create with that.
It's pretty amazing actually, how you can turn a piece of string into a
two dimensional piece of material with just one needle and your hands. I
had heard somewhere that keeping hands busy is a way of stimulating the
mind, I hope it's true.
The pies de resistance of time-spending, however, has to be Andy's plum
duff. He's been reading the Master and Commander series lately… or,
rather, he's been reading so many books lately, so quickly, that he now
has to buffer each of the more stimulating ones with the Master and
Commander series in order to not devour our entire library before we
reach Polynesia. (Ofcourse, the Master and Commander books are also
stimulating, in their own way.) Anyway, in the third book the ship's
cook makes plum duff for two hundred. And reading that reminded Andy
that W.H. Tillman, a famous mountaineer- sailor- explorer and one of
Andy's heroes, also used to make plum duff on his expeditions. Neither
of us knew what it was but, hey, if it was good enough for them, it's
good enough for us… and you can be sure Tillman didn't have an oven on
Plum duff, at least our version, contains no plums. In essence it is the
fundamental steamed pudding. Very British. Made in a bowl, hovering
above water in a sealed pan. Thus, before even starting to mix the
ingredients together the process began with filing down a mixing bowl so
it would fit inside our pressure cooker. Bowl duly filed, the
ingredients are fairly simple: flour, baking powder, milk, currants,
walnuts, sugar… not even an egg in site. Mix it all up, pour it in the
bowl, in the pan, and steam away. An hour or so later, hey presto-
dinner of pudding and custard and big smiles all round.
"This", says Andy to me, "is what the great seafarers of past centuries
have always been eating". Sent a shiver down my spine: sod the sailing,
this is what makes us part of nautical history in the making.