At sea, about 120 miles west of Palmerston and 280 miles east of Niue: We've been sailing through a trough of cloudy, squally weather that reminds us a bit of the ITCZ except for an amazingly chaotic patch of ocean that resemble a huge tide rip. Probably the most confused piece of water we've ever seen. As the wind went calm, we fired up the iron genoa to get out of Nature's Maytag. Eventually the wind swung to the SW making progress slow enough to not be worth it (0.5 to 2.0 knots using the engine) so we bagged it, hove to and got a good night's sleep as the squalls blew over us. The wind changed early this morning with the last squall, and blew us right back to our rhumb line! So after a cup of coffee we'll get going again.
A dear friend and shipwright named John Appelt, 18 years gone now, can still make me smile just remembering him. During World War 2 he had to turn his Greenport, Long Island shipyard into part of the war machine, turning out a ship every two weeks. Ever afterward he would call wherever he worked on boats, especially his own, "The Slipshod Shipyard." No matter that his shipwright skills were superb and that he built the wooden 50-foot schooner Windsong, which later became my home, his was a self-deprecating humor. To visit John in his early 90s was to step back in time. He spoke like a shellback and sure could spin a yarn, whether about going up to Gloucester for the last of the great schooner races, or cruising in company with other schooners in the late 30s through the 60s, or or about being a boy in the company of great schooner captains like Zeb Tilton of Martha's Vineyard. It was full immersion in the culture of sailing in another era; it became my primary anchor, context for all other sailing.
John also reinforced my growing delight in the art of puttering. To squander one's time messing happily about in boats is to have feasted. With me in tow John would amble around town where everyone knew him. Usually we'd end up in someone's dark boat barn, me agog at the fleet of ancient wooden skiffs and shallops hanging from rafters, still ploughing wakes through the air, or some sleek Herreshoff beauty under restoration on a sawdusty shop floor, or a stack of fragrant boards awaiting the kiss of the sea. What is it about bygone days? Is it the forgetting of hardship or inconvenience or discomfort? Whatever it was, the air seemed so sweet that the high has lasted a lifetime.
Sailing is subtle (though sometimes, as now, it hits you over the head.) It's one thing in home waters, with a somewhat balanced combination of messing about, planning the next cruise, and a lot of destination daysailing. It's another thing entirely when 6,000 miles from home on an open-ended voyage. Last night as we sailed through a clear spot in the overcast I looked up at the Milky Way, at upside-down Orion, and at some bright first-magnitude stars cutting through the haze, and thought, well here you are, under a tropical night sky in the South Pacific, can you beat that? And the answer was yes, right now a hot shower and a good long nap would beat that. Or a cuppa at The Undertown, or a beer at Sirens with friends I haven't seen in over a year, or a long talk with my favorite cousin. Or a visit and a chantey sing with all our friends at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, which happens this weekend.
Immediately the rebuke came: Come on. Joshua Slocum made 73-day passages. The old sailing masters routinely called 90 days at sea good time. And us, unexpectedly at sea for 600 miles instead of 200? Big deal.
Aitutaki, as we mentioned, was our first real break from movement in a long time. We loved the involvement in community that only time can bring. A month went by like lightning, and now we're in motion again. You can't really putter much at sea. Reading is possible off-watch, but with just 2 of us it's more sensible to sleep. The meals I'd like to make are often reduced to one-pot mishmashes at best, bread and jam when it's as rough as it is now. There's no getting around the fact that in rough weather motion, a small boat takes it in the shorts. Still, I feel safer on Sockdolager than I would on many larger boats.
So here's an irony for you: maybe some of you are envious of what we're doing out here; maybe some of you think we're crazy; maybe a few are readying your own boats and making plans. Well, backatcha! Modern conveniences like hot showers, telephones, and the idea of staying in one community even for a little while without risking cyclone season, are enormously appealing right now. Lugging one's own drinking water and hand-washing all laundry is the norm, as it was in the olden days--it's still a bit of a novelty, but it's hard work, too. The subtlety about sailing is that when you do it all the time it becomes a way of life from which the occasional nostalgic longing for a break might be forgiven. We will take that break in New Zealand. In between are Niue and the archipelago islands of Tonga. That'll be a darned good in-between.
Sent via our ham radio