Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," from Port Townsend, Washington, USA. In 2009 we sailed north from Puget Sound up the west coast of Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii.) In 2010 we went back to the west coast of Vancouver Island. In July 2011 we left the Northwest, and in March 2012 we crossed the Pacific to French Polynesia, then on to the Cooks, Niue and Tonga. We spent several months in New Zealand, and in May 2013 loaded the boat (and ourselves) on a container ship for San Francisco. In June and July 2013 we sailed north along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts, and in August we arrived home. In October 2016 Sockdolager found new owners, and we are now enjoying Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. Plans are to head north. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)



Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Alchemy of Singing

Pacific Crossing, Day 19: The Southeast Trades have begun to embrace us with a gentle SSE breeze, clear skies dotted with vertical cumulus, and NO sign of you-know-what. Although it's bad luck to be superstitious, we're not mentioning that weather circus until well away from its hot clammy grip. Although it's been slow progress beating to windward south in a light breeze, the sea has calmed a lot and it's pleasant--possible, even, to read novels and write again in the cockpit. And Craig on Luckness is within a day or two of landfall in Hilo, hooray! Things are looking up. In musing and thinking about friendships, shared activities are thematic, and music, which has been sorely dampened to a minimum by the rough weather, is once again on my mind.

There is something magic about singing, especially when a group of people relaxed enough to not feel inhibited about not having professional-quality voices, sings happily under a canopy of stars. Such evenings in the cockpit are, well, sort of celestial. But stars aren't required. For several years I was a member of a no-audition choir in Port Townsend called Songlines, and you would not believe the lovely harmonies that can be created by a surprised crowd that wasn't aware that they could sing so well.

Singing opens up hidden direct channels to the joy center, or inner child, or whatever that ineffable interior place is called. Singing makes you breathe, it oxygenates your tissues, energizes you, gets you high. I still sing the soprano parts of those songs to the ocean, in languages from Swahili to Russian. It feels good. Thank you Lawrence, dear friend, for teaching us.

My Jazz Gals buddies Val, Carla, Annie and Heather, plus the band: Sailin', wailin' Herb, George, Ted, Tim, Mike, the peripatetic and sometimes peptic Pete, and stand-ins Rex, Hope and others, plus Mark and the gang at the Upstage, did you know you made another dream of mine come true? I always wanted to be a torch singer. You've given me a cargo of happy memories and a hankerin' for more music when we return one day.

As long ago as 1999 I would fly down from Alaska to attend Port Townsend's Wooden Boat Festival, but one of the things I looked forward to the most was Chantey Night. At first it was an informal thing around a roaring bonfire near the beach, but eventually it got organized by the late, brilliant musicologist Steve Lewis into a wonderful affair attended by a hundred or more.

Often, professional chanteymen (yes, they still exist!) would attend, and we'd sing in rounds, songs picked from Steve's lyric books passed out to and chosen by audience members. We'd start at 7pm and sing well past midnight, blending our voices and finding new harmonies in old ditties. The magic about an evening like that is you go home with more energy than you came with.

In a setting of mustachioed men in period costume (and salty women tall ship crew, who sometimes looked like they'd just stepped off a Cape Horner,) you really can drop all pretense and any doubt that that these people have sailing dreams so vivid they choose to become living anachronisms, bearers of tradition to the rest of us clad in LaCostes, chinos and Nikes. You drop everything but being in the moment, and you go to sea with these people. You sing, and find yourself straining at the capstan, hauling halyards, holystoning decks, complaining of bad beer, and, body and soul, loving every transported moment. You sing, and find yourself admiring (and wanting) one of those slightly soiled neck scarves and admiring the anchor earrings (one ear only, in the side that faced the Horn) and feeling that maybe your own clothes are a little too squeaky clean. You sing, and find your imagination running a little wild... Jeez, maybe I could get a boat... You sing, and it lodges in your brain, that you did something you might never normally do--you put yourself out there--and liked it!

If a chantey sing takes place aboard a ship it's even easier, once you've stepped gingerly aboard, perhaps unsure of your balance, to surrender your 21st century self to the 19th century clack of halyards on wooden spars, the distinctive tar-salt-wood smells, the slight motion on deck, the low hum of the wind through all that rigging. You sing, breathe deeply of a different air, and are happy. The high lasts, if you're lucky, for a few days, perhaps buffering the first report of an overturned Wal-Mart truck on I-5 that brings movement to a halt for five miles in all directions.

This is how it sometimes starts; that conscious knot of distaste in the mouth, for being a cog in a Big-Oil World. A glimpse persists, of how simpler, in-the-now times leave more room for finding your own path.

In the sound and fury of a Monday workaday, things that are "normal"--traffic gridlock, frenetic hurry, social isolation, relentless consumerism--may not feel so normal anymore. We need to be reminded of this, that we still have choices. We need reminding that technology doesn't answer all questions, that not everything becomes obsolete, that communities are still made of people, and that letting go a little is good for us. That's the alchemy of singing.

Sent via Ham radio

The Alchemy of Singing

Pacific Crossing, Day 19: The Southeast Trades have begun to embrace us with a gentle SSE breeze, clear skies dotted with vertical cumulus, and NO sign of you-know-what. Although it's bad luck to be superstitious, we're not mentioning that weather circus until well away from its hot clammy grip. Although it's been slow progress beating to windward south in a light breeze, the sea has calmed a lot and it's pleasant--possible, even, to read novels and write again in the cockpit. And Craig on Luckness is within a day or two of landfall in Hilo, hooray! Things are looking up. In musing and thinking about friendships, shared activities are thematic, and music, which has been sorely dampened to a minimum by the rough weather, is once again on my mind.

There is something magic about singing, especially when a group of people relaxed enough to not feel inhibited about not having professional-quality voices, sings happily under a canopy of stars. Such evenings in the cockpit are, well, sort of celestial. But stars aren't required. For several years I was a member of a no-audition choir in Port Townsend called Songlines, and you would not believe the lovely harmonies that can be created by a surprised crowd that wasn't aware that they could sing so well.

Singing opens up hidden direct channels to the joy center, or inner child, or whatever that ineffable interior place is called. Singing makes you breathe, it oxygenates your tissues, energizes you, gets you high. I still sing the soprano parts of those songs to the ocean, in languages from Swahili to Russian. It feels good. Thank you Lawrence, dear friend, for teaching us.

My Jazz Gals buddies Val, Carla, Annie and Heather, plus the band: Sailin', wailin' Herb, George, Ted, Tim, Mike, the peripatetic and sometimes peptic Pete, and stand-ins Rex, Hope and others, plus Mark and the gang at the Upstage, did you know you made another dream of mine come true? I always wanted to be a torch singer. You've given me a cargo of happy memories and a hankerin' for more music when we return one day.

As long ago as 1999 I would fly down from Alaska to attend Port Townsend's Wooden Boat Festival, but one of the things I looked forward to the most was Chantey Night. At first it was an informal thing around a roaring bonfire near the beach, but eventually it got organized by the late, brilliant musicologist Steve Lewis into a wonderful affair attended by a hundred or more.

Often, professional chanteymen (yes, they still exist!) would attend, and we'd sing in rounds, songs picked from Steve's lyric books passed out to and chosen by audience members. We'd start at 7pm and sing well past midnight, blending our voices and finding new harmonies in old ditties. The magic about an evening like that is you go home with more energy than you came with.

In a setting of mustachioed men in period costume (and salty women tall ship crew, who sometimes looked like they'd just stepped off a Cape Horner,) you really can drop all pretense and any doubt that that these people have sailing dreams so vivid they choose to become living anachronisms, bearers of tradition to the rest of us clad in LaCostes, chinos and Nikes. You drop everything but being in the moment, and you go to sea with these people. You sing, and find yourself straining at the capstan, hauling halyards, holystoning decks, complaining of bad beer, and, body and soul, loving every transported moment. You sing, and find yourself admiring (and wanting) one of those slightly soiled neck scarves and admiring the anchor earrings (one ear only, in the side that faced the Horn) and feeling that maybe your own clothes are a little too squeaky clean. You sing, and find your imagination running a little wild... Jeez, maybe I could get a boat... You sing, and it lodges in your brain, that you did something you might never normally do--you put yourself out there--and liked it!

If a chantey sing takes place aboard a ship it's even easier, once you've stepped gingerly aboard, perhaps unsure of your balance, to surrender your 21st century self to the 19th century clack of halyards on wooden spars, the distinctive tar-salt-wood smells, the slight motion on deck, the low hum of the wind through all that rigging. You sing, breathe deeply of a different air, and are happy. The high lasts, if you're lucky, for a few days, perhaps buffering the first report of an overturned Wal-Mart truck on I-5 that brings movement to a halt for five miles in all directions.

This is how it sometimes starts; that conscious knot of distaste in the mouth, for being a cog in a Big-Oil World. A glimpse persists, of how simpler, in-the-now times leave more room for finding your own path.

In the sound and fury of a Monday workaday, things that are "normal"--traffic gridlock, frenetic hurry, social isolation, relentless consumerism--may not feel so normal anymore. We need to be reminded of this, that we still have choices. We need reminding that technology doesn't answer all questions, that not everything becomes obsolete, that communities are still made of people, and that letting go a little is good for us. That's the alchemy of singing.

Sent via Ham radio

Friday, March 30, 2012

Threading Between Squalls

Pacific Crossing, Day 18:
!!Squalls to the left of us!!
!!Squalls to the right of us!!
RUUUNNNN!

This is the sixth day of our little ITCZ cat-and-mouse game, which has been a series of: Duke it out; sail into clear weather; see trade wind clouds ahead; heave a sigh of relief; at sunset, heave a sigh of dismay when POW! It comes back to sit on us as the axis moves right over us again. Hey! It likes us! Awww...

We'd like to know if there's some kind of prize given to the boat with the most ITCZ clobberings.

Now, though, we're realizing that the squalls are losing the punch of the ones from the other night, and are mostly dark blobs of rain... with lightning. The good news is we've never lacked for wind, and may have set a surfing speed record for a Dana 24 (have GPS photo for proof.) The bad news is with all the overcast, the solar panel hasn't charged the batteries enough to keep them at a decent level, so at 0815 we started the engine and are still heading due south, trying to cut through the murk at a right angle. With the the Equatorial Current sweeping us west, the actual course is 190. We'll motor for about 6 hours and then will resume sailing in the light airs, in hopes the ITCZ won't chase us further south.

What a pleasure to hear the engine roar to life so easily after 18 days. The heavy-duty alternator poured 80 amps into our 2 thirsty Odyssey batteries and had therm charged in three hours. All the hard work Jim did on the mechanical/electrical systems is paying off.

It's hot hot hot. Hot enough to melt the waxy frosting off the last of our lemon biscotti. But we're less than 180 miles from the Equator, Hooah!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

It. Came. Back.

Pacific Crossing, Day 17: Difficult, rainy night with more 30-35 knot winds (and shifting South for a time) lasting all night long and seas to 4 meters, with more of the same in the offing tonight, makes us wonder if there's some small un-forecast disturbance developing in what feels like a bloated ITCZ. Anyway, Sockdolager soldiers on like a little thoroughbred, and we look for blue skies ahead. All is well aboard, except for a most un-sailorly longing for, just once, a nice flat calm.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mental Games for Crossing the ITCZ

Pacific Crossing, Day 16: Shhhh... we think we might be through the Intertropical Convergence Zone... be vewwy, vewwy quiet so it doesn't notice and come back. It seems to be busy tormenting boats north of 6N, and we're flying down longitude 127W going due south for the Equator, hoping to be below 4N before nightfall. If the wind holds. Last night was pure nuts, weather-wise. According to the GPS, Sockdolager reached 10.1 knots surfing on Jim's watch, and, we kid you not, 14.8 knots later, which we find hard to believe but nonetheless possible for a fraction of a second. Sails were heavily reefed.

Yogi Berra's famous "90 percent of baseball is 50 percent mental" also applied to this part of the passage. Here are some of the mind games in use aboard the old Sockdolager for crossing this lumpy, grumpy acre of ocean:

1. We live out here now (careful, may backfire.)

2. It's not as bad as it COULD be (then again, why are more flying fish trying to get into the cabin?)

3. Just think of the stories you'll have.

4. You wanted to do this, remember?

5. The boat's doing better than you are, so Man Up, Karen.

6. Is that a patch of blue sky?

7. This part won't last forever. Repeat until numb.

8. Are we there y... Shaddup.

9. Wow, the boat's going through these watery canyons and hills really well--just like the boats of your sailing heroes did!

10. We will dry out. We will dry out.

11. People everywhere still cook without chasing food around the cabin. One day you will, too.

12. Imagine sleeping a whole night... no, wait, better not do that yet.

13. Don't your skinnier selves just LOOOOVE all this weight loss and toning up?

Some dues were paid to Neptune: Many rain squalls, but most under 30-35 knots (however, last night was 30+ and it lasted about 8 hours.) Wind on the nose (but only for half a day.) Oppressive heat and humidity (hey, isn't some of that what we came for?) And spray. Spray everywhere. I mean, spray even found its way into the cabin--there are saltwater marks on the hanging locker, and we had 2 of 3 boards in the companionway before I had to shut it completely at midnight. The cockpit was a saltwater bath, no waves broke over it but heavy dollops of spray merrily dumped themselves all over without being invited. Da noive, Ceil. Da noive. Things got a little wet. Even the jibsheets have that been-wet-for-so-long-they-stink eau de phew.

But you know, winds and seas have generally been very good to us compared to what could have been dished out. And we are sailing fast, nearing the turning point (the Equator) for the Southeast Trade Wind sail to the Marquesas. Regardless of minor discomforts, it's still a dream come true.

Sent via Ham radio

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We've Turned South

Pacific Crossing, Day 15: After a rainy night and a majestic, sunny morning we scooted at 6-8 knots before a 25-30 knot wind from the East-Southeast, in big confused seas to 12 feet. Watching this little boat thread a path among watery hills and canyons, we both agreed that a sailboat's a pretty amazing machine, among all her other attributes. Good daily runs have been made so far; all but 2 days were over 100 miles, and the 2 exceptions were 91 and 95, so all in all we feel pretty good if not a bit weary of the constant big motion. And we love our little boat with its big heart!

At about 7N 127W in late morning, we turned south, to get into position for crossing the ITCZ's axis. The ESE wind (it's supposed to be NE) means our course is a beam reach at best, and very bouncy. We want to have a good angle on the SE Trade Winds, and going too far west would mean possibly beating into the wind all the way to the Marquesas, something we'd rather not do. So the spray's a'flyin for now! When we cross the Equator perhaps we can ease the sheets a bit for the long home stretch.

Short post today, too rough to type and then correct all the motion-induced mistakes.

Sent via Ham radio

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Torrid Affair

Pacific Crossing, Day 14: Two weeks at sea, and at least two more to go! This is the longest passage either of us has made; my previous longest was 10.5 days from St. Thomas to Belize. We're nearing the halfway mark, and are only 260 miles from our turning point at 5N, where we'll turn straight south for about 300 miles to cross the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone) at a right angle somewhere along the 129 degree longitude meridian.

Estrellita cross the Equator yesterday, hooray for Carol and Livia! Inquiring Polliwogs (those who haven't yet crossed) await in hushed tones a description of their ceremony of ascendance to Shellbacks.

We sail on. Last night, torrential, I mean bucketential, cats-and-dogerential, rain fell all night, and in 30+ winds we were surfing at 8 knots. There was a bit of lightning thrown in for nail-biting effect. I mean, we are the tallest thing out here, so avoiding the bigger squalls by not turning south too early is important. I got soaked and chilled trying to stay in the cockpit, so we stood our watches below, peering into the liquid blast every 20 minutes. Not that we could see much. Jim figured out how to use his iPod as a timer (wearing earplugs so the off-watch doesn't get disturbed) and I followed suit. It worked well.

Last night reminded us of being hove-to off the Oregon coast, though we didn't heave-to in the night. But to answer Jay's question from awhile back (he asked what we'll do if we have to heave-to in high winds and seas,) we had Port Townsend Sails make us a backstaysail, got advice from several people including the Pardeys (it's in the new Storm Tactics reissue) and bought a Gale Rider, which, if the backstaysail isn't enough, we'd stream at a 45 degree angle off the bow to keep the bow up and slow down any fore-reaching so as not to outrun the smooth "slick" of water created to windward of the hull. Though we're ready if need be, we don't anticipate having to heave-to on this passage. However, we'll report how it goes when we do.

We haven't heard from Craig for a day or so, and figure he's coping with the forecast 10-16 foot seas off Hawaii. Seas here (8N, about 480 miles N of the Equator)are forecast to be 3 meters, too high for this amount of wind, so we're guessing the seas are coming from up north. So, HEY! North Pacific folks, please cut that out! We got enough seas of our own down here, thank you very much.

This morning was gorgeous but torrid. Good word, eh? Hot, sweaty, Night-of-the-Iguana torrid. Like, butt-nekkid torrid if we all didn't have to be careful, as Livia previously reported, about bun chafe from salty cushions, and BTW how does a woman with any endowment whatsoever wear a safety harness widdem tings? I tellya, if Victoria's Secret designed safety harnesses we wouldn't be in this predicament. There. The bondage theme has been addressed, sort of.

But if anyone still has one of those old "Sail Naked" posters, hang on to it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Little Rough Today

Pacific Crossing, Day 13: Rough, squally weather last night and more today have made us tired. Lots of sail handling--reefing, gybing, unreefing--as the wind velocity and direction changes around the squalls. Feels like maybe the ITCZ swole up and swallowed us for awhile. We're moving again, a fast run down lumpy seas. Lumpy, Bumpy, Dumpy, Thumpy, Grumpy, and all the Seven Sea Dwarves have been here. But we got a nice freshwater rinse. To top things off, the propane solenoid stopped working, but once we emptied the cockpit locker, removed the cylinder and squirted the living daylights out of it with lube, it decided to work again. Yay! Hot food!

Critters have been active, too. This morning a 5 inch bug-eyed squid was peering through the plexiglass forward hatch, and there was a flying fish on the cabin sole. He must've bounced off the stove, given the angle it took to get in there. Like, WHOA! It bounced right where a frying pan might've been! If only a nice dorado would do that. Frying pan's on, heeeeere, fishy fishy...

Sent via Ham radio

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Thassalotta Words

Pacific Crossing, Day 12: Big clouds, windy squalls in the night, a nice 15-20 knots of wind urging us on, water temp 80, only the occasional big swell to fling us about, and life is good on the old Sockdolager. The ITCZ has ballooned almost out to our position, but we're not in it yet. We're going to stick to our original route and not turn south too soon (we hope.)

So what's with the torrent of words lately? Danged if I know. There are a few factors, though:
1. I now have time to write.

2. There are no land-based distractions.

3. Before we left all was stress and preparation with no time to write.

4. #3 resulted in Ms Grump with pent-up verbage.

5. There is now also plenty of time to think.

6. We're doing something that's a combo of interesting spiced with moments of boredom, that has a component of mental game to it. The tiny-boat-big-ocean, holy-crap-look-where-we-are type of mental game.

I miss my writers group in Port Townsend, and especially my writing buddy. Music friends will be the subject of another post. We do keep in touch. One friend, a published poet, even sends us an original poem now and then! I cherish these friends. This blog is a combo of letters, journal, travelogue, and sausage factory for future writing projects. Writers LOVE to see each others' sausage... whew, that sounds vaguely obscene.

Some writers like to write in different settings, others at their desks in an office or studio. One day I'll have a desk and studio. But how does writing in this offshore setting compare? For one thing, it beats trooping down to a Starbuck's (sorry Steve) but then again, Starbucks employees don't come around dumping salt water in your coffee. For another, furniture on land tends to stay put. I've actually roped my right leg to the port cockpit winch so I can write while bracing against the roll. It's working, but enough of that and the leg'll get sore.

I no longer compose anything on the computer, it's back to basics: pen, notebook, margin scrawls and coffee in a wide-bottom cup. Oh, and a strap for my leg. Should I be exploring bondage themes? On my 0800 to noon watch, I get 4 hours of quiet time to write and scan the horizon every 10 minutes for ships or other things. Later, the sausage gets simultaneously typed and edited directly into the Ham radio email program on our navigation laptop. This is worth repeating: While we can send and receive text-only email at sea, the slow modems on Ham sets preclude all but essential communications, like weather faxes and the occasional email.

You may have noticed a shift in pronoun use since we left Mexico for offshore. Normally I like to write blog posts in third person, because too many "I's" feels self-indulgent and some of the humor schtick can be more easily achieved if I turn both of us into characters in a true story. But that doesn't work out here. It really, really is different. The outer stories have become sea-routines; it's the emerging inner stories that relate how a voyage like this feels, that I'm finding more compelling. I hope you are, too. Jim writes the short messages that accompany our position posts, which you can find at left.

Actually, there is an office aboard our 24-foot boat: the head! We learned this trick from Cap'n Fatty Goodlander, who admits to spending a lot of private writing time in there. Good idea at anchor! I hope some of you had the chance to meet him and his wife Carolyn at the recent sailing symposium in Port Townsend. They just completed their second circumnavigation and have not only unique points of view, but the ability to express them.

I won't promise an essay or even a short post every day, but I will promise to keep in touch at a minimum of every few days while on passage, more as Muse and weather allow. Once we reach the Marquesas (about 18-20 days from now) we'll probably sleep for a couple of days and take a break. The posting of photos will resume once we find an internet connection, which will take some sleuthing.

Sent via Ham radio

Friday, March 23, 2012

The New Age of Sail

Pacific Crossing, Day 11: We passed 1,000 miles early this morning, 1/3 of the voyage done! Sockdolager is still moving at 4+ knots on a breeze that fluctuates between 5 and 15, so we're still averaging about 100 miles a day, grateful to still be on our rhumb line, and still enjoying ourselves out here. (Except for being tired.) Why so tired? Perhaps it's the eternal bracing against the roll that must use a lot of energy, as we've both lost weight and are feeling fit. We eat well, too--a simple hot meal each night and light meals during the day.

Maybe it's Conrad or maybe it's the Sockdolager Effect, but with long spells of watching the sea, thinking, musing, and pondering, I get a little philosophical, and have taken the liberty of subjecting you to the results because it might be fun to know about the day-by-day of a long voyage. Or maybe not! We're not bored except for some night watches when staying awake is real effort. We hope you aren't bored, either. We both miss the 2-way-ness of the active communication we enjoy when keeping in touch, but it is also magnificent out here all alone on a wide ocean.

In his Mirror of the Sea, Conrad despaired that 100 years hence, his generation of deepwater sailors with their knowledge and skills would be forgotten, ignored, even considered irrelevant by the future generation of sailors, who, he added, would not be able to call themselves true descendants. "Nooooo!" I nearly yelled, "That's not true!" While there was a period of decline during "modernizing" of seafaring in which many good ships rotted away and are gone forever except for their names, a few survived; enough, it seems, to keep the old ways alive and, if not practiced widely, at least revered and preserved.

Every historic port has its historic ship, or wants one. I love that. Our hometown of Port Townsend, Washington is a Victorian seaport with a wealth of sleek and tidy wooden boats, along with a festival to celebrate them, a school in which to learn to build them, a maritime center in which to learn to sail them, and a marine trades industry to help keep them alive. You can still see a forest of wooden masts (though not as many these days, as marina prices rise) and even a square yard or two, down at the docks. To walk these docks in early morning with a cup of coffee in hand is to step back in time while your eyes wander over rigging and hull designs that are the direct descendants of the Age of Sail.

Take Adventuress, for example. A gaff-rigged pilot schooner built a hundred years ago, she's 137 feet in sparred length and has the kind of lines that make you hold your breath as your eye sweeps the length and breadth of her. Looking through the portholes of Sockdolager nestled in our nearby slip, we could see her tarred wire shrouds and tall masts that were once huge trees. In the early morning before anyone was stirring she'd be calling, and sometimes I'd go, to smell the tarry rigging, see the salt-rimed decks and gleaming varnish, and linger along that eggshell of a hull that has carried a century of dreams. Ships like this are our connection with the maritime past. She possesses none of the cold static precision of an architect's skyscraper, but instead whispers of a gathered, living energy. Small tremors in the rigging give away her impatience as she awaits the footfalls of her crew.

To gaze at a storied old ship that still earns her living every day by sail training and education is, well, when things are quiet in the morning, like entering a sailor's chapel. I know that comparing a living ship to a chapel may be considered blasphemous, but for the profane and shackled sailor in many of us who longs to escape everything that relentlessly says Thou Shalt Not Be Yourself, it's perfect. A ship takes you to sea, where the night sky shows you your relative size in the universe, A ship's sails and rigging require work to learn--a lot of it--but they teach both caution and risk-taking. A ship teaches you respect for the elements, and for the sea.

And what about all that marvelous beauty in design and efficiency? Who wouldn't lift their gaze in silent awe? Instead of cathedral spires there are topmasts. Instead of a carillon, miles of wire shrouds are strung for the wind's song. Instead of flowers, a flattened Turk's Head knot blooms under every deck block, to soften its noise. Instead of a Shrine of the Virgin, a bowsprit lustily cleaves the air (O!) giving a near-fix point for the far-gazing eye.

A sailing ship is designed to be a partner to the wind and sea, rather bludgeon it to death with, as Conrad put it, brutal machinery. This--a sailing ship's design--is what should have been encoded in binary, placed aboard Voyager and shot into space, for interpretation by intelligent life elsewhere.

In spite of the dominance of oil-powered machinery (and most of us have small diesels in our boats), I think we may be in a New Age of Sail. It started in 1895 with Joshua Slocum, picked up momentum after World War 2 with the Smeetons, Hiscocks, Guzzwell and other long-distance voyagers, caught the popular imagination with the Pardeys in the 1970s, and became a force of its own, with a fleet of its own, of sailors with little ships and big dreams.

I wish we could see a topgallant or skysail hove into view out here on this old sailing ship route, but just knowing we're part of a fleet of a few dozen little ships who just last week cast off their lines to follow in the wakes of tall ships for the sake of feeling this alive, is enough.

Sent via Ham radio

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bluebird Days

Pacific Crossing, Day 10: Blue skies, puffy little trade wind clouds, bathtub-warm water, a diminishing swell and the last wisps of breeze in this corner of the Pacific make up a classic tropical day. We're making only 3 to 3.5 knots but it's so pleasant we don't mind. (You can click on the link to the left for our position.) Last night on the Net we were surprised at the number of boats reporting being becalmed. Hope they're moving again.

Happy Spring! We get about a week of it and then it's... happy autumn! Barefoot as we are, this will be Sockdolager's year of no summer, until next December 21. Weird, huh? Getting used to Southern Hemisphere seasons and weather will be interesting.

This soft air feels like a caress, and if we get becalmed there'll be a swim call in the offing. Jim did some laundry yesterday, in salt water. It takes forever to dry. Think we'll wait for a rain squall for the next batch. A bit of rain fell last night, though not enough to catch for water. But we're doing well on water consumption and should have enough, even if we don't catch any. And in this bright sun the solar panel is charging up the batteries again!

As we hitch a ride on the North Equatorial Current, I'm grateful to have been able to carve out this period of time in life, with Jim, to sail over the horizon and live, while still connected to a community of friends and family via this blog and email, in a mental as well as physical landscape of our own choosing. In mid-Pacific one is outside the Twitterverse, woot! The good news is we're not being harangued with consumer ads or political rhetoric telling us what to think. The bad news is we have to think for ourselves. (Wait, how could that be bad?)

Having both killed our televisions years ago to resort to more conversations with good books (and later on, with each other,) we didn't notice a major unplugging feeling from the daily info blizzard when we left last July to go sailing. The metaphor comes to mind, that back on land this selective connectivity allowed more wiggling of mental toes in sunlight, water, or in front of the fire, which refreshed the mind and avoided a daily swallow of that toxic sludge passing far too often for media coverage, ricocheting around the airwaves.

There is a balance to be had, between seeking out the world's beauty and splendor, and fighting against its base and banal destruction. You must save something for yourself in these times, something having to do with recognizing and protecting your own quiet, sacred dreams, songs, images, books, places and names. Humble or huge, dreams belong more than ever in our lives, like water in the cool, shimmering pools inside us. In the exhausting tenor of these times, dreams appear to be endangered.

These are highly verbal times, with a lot of institutional manipulation of language for the purpose of manipulating people in unprecedented ways. Danger lies in having too little nonverbal time, in whose corners lay dusty symbols, oblique meanings, flashes of intuition, and original thought. Maybe even common ground with others unlike us. Danger lies in living by choice a life of default; a series of small grinding moments that blend into one another one by one, weaving something we didn't intend to make, or vaguely waiting for someone to Drop the Big One. Danger lies in not dreaming, or working to make a dream come true.

A dream is an ocean to explore. An ocean is a symbol of freedom, and a voyage. Symbols open the mind to deeper meanings. Meaning is the ship we sail on.

Sent via Ham radio

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Bounding Main

Pacific Crossing, Day 9: Overcast, cool, still a mixed 10-foot swell but at least it's down from the 12+ we've had. Sockdolager is averaging 107 miles per day, which makes us happy. Winds are lighter today, but we're still moving well under reefed main and nearly full genoa, wing-and-wing.

Our weatherfaxes showed that the big seas of late may have been from an unusual-looking combination of extratropical cyclone (closed isobars, winds labeled "Hurr Force") in the North Pacific, and what looked like a "squash zone" of high winds (squeezed isobars) between two weather systems further south of it, but well north of here. With all that activity in the North Pacific it's no wonder the seas reached us way down here at 13 degrees north latitude. Seas can travel very far, and in an era of "Global warming means local storming," as one climate scientist puts it, traveling seas could make any big storm larger than local in effect. I've wondered with no little trepidation what the effects of global warming might be on our voyage.

Interestingly, Conrad's "Mirror of the Sea" refers in the 1870s, to a regular 3-year wind change on open oceans, perhaps an early reference to a more regular El Nino/La Nina? Anyway, this is the end of a La Nina cycle, so we expected more boisterous winds.

One of the blue-footed boobies flying along with us (yes there appear to be two species) managed to land on our big solar panel, but it's slick as ice. When the boat rolled, the booby slid off and went Plop! into the water. The only thing injured was its pride. I laughed out loud. Emboldened, others tried to land but we shooed them off with a rattle of the fishing pole alongside the solar panel.

With all this cloud cover, our batteries are low. Participating in the nightly Puddle Jump Net means a draw of 15-25 amps when transmitting. We don't want to have to reach up there to clean booby poop off the solar panel so our batteries can charge... see how this stuff works? We haven't yet signed into the Pacific Seafarer's Ham Net because 1) it can take nearly an hour for roll call, 2) the battery draw would double, and 3) it's during prime sleep time before my midnight-to-four watch. Maybe later we'll sign into it, but for now we're on the Pacific Puddle Jump Net every night at 0200 Zulu time, channel 8A.

There's good news! As of yesterday, convection in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) has stopped west of about 123 degrees. There's some wind instead, which means a window for boats already there, like Estrellita. Of course the ITCZ can change overnight, so a boat can only aim and hope. Pandeon, a 64-foot cutter, is already across the Equator. With all this overcast maybe there is less heating by the sun, which might mean less convection in the ITCZ (my conjecture.) Maybe there'll be a window for us, too! Keep your fingers crossed.

Sent via Ham radio

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

'Twas a Dark and Windy Morning...

Pacific Crossing, Day 8: Haven't seen the sun for a few days, but the wind from the NNE is fair, even if the seas are the kind you look up at. A dry spot in the cockpit is hard to find. Read S/V Estrellita's post from yesterday (we share them via email) for a hilarious take on the high dudgeon that's our collective lot from searching for those nice, regular seas and easy trade winds. Not happenin'. Google them at TheGiddyupPlan at blogspot. Craig McPheeters aboard Luckness had these seas yesterday, and he's still beating to windward toward Hilo, Hawaii.

Here on the ole Sockdolager we have no justifiable complaints, except for one: there appear to be not one, but TWO Intertropical Convergence Zones. A real equatorial funhouse down there.

Flying circles around the mast and trying to land on it was a juvenile brown booby (that's a BIRD, Cuzzin.) It tried for nearly an hour to land on the masthead, where its heavy body would have damaged our wind indicator, so I waved a boat cushion and dog-barked at it. It could land anywhere but the masthead and we'd let it, but nooo, it wanted the top perch. Luckily we were rolling a lot. But suddenly it dropped down to the water directly ahead of us and tried to land on a rock... WHAT? A ROCK? The rock moved. It had a head, and a face. As we bore down on it,the face gave us this look: "HOLY Ca-RAP!" and the rock, a three-foot wide Hawksbill turtle, paddled madly out of the way. We missed it by two feet.

Great Circle sailing is different. We're on our electronic rhumb line, but on the Mercator Chart #51 we're making an arc north of the plotted line. Interesting to actually experience it, along with the temptation to head more south too soon. So for now, we're still broad-reaching on starboard tack under heavily reefed sails, rolling like mad, surfing down wave faces at 7+ knots, and hanging on.

We live out here now...
We live out here now...
Yay, the sun just came out! Life is good.

Sent via Ham radio

Monday, March 19, 2012

Things that Go Bump in the Night

Pacific Crossing,Day 7: (Days are being measured from noon to noon, because we left for sea at noon on March 13.) Last night was gawdawful lumpy, and we rolled so hard sleep was impossible because Job 1 was clinging to the bunk. And where's that famous sun? Jim says he's gonna write a sternly-worded letter to someone... Winds have been fluctuating from 8 to 25, with seas from 4 to 10 feet coming from several directions, sort of like being in the Grand Central Station of Roller-Coaster Heaven. It's cool and cloudy from some weather system to the north, and even sprinkled a little. We're still rolling heavily as we barrel along. Bleagh. Though our stomachs are used to this much roll, our psyches aren't... wait, did that sound like a whine? Never mind. Jim, whom I see only in passing as we swap jobs, gave up a half hour of his own off-watch to give me more sleep time. He does that often. Now that's what I call love.

The sails are poled, prevented and vanged, meaning they're whisper-quiet and pulling like mules. Yay Hasse! Yay Brion Toss! Yay Gordon Neilson! Sailmakers and riggers first-class.

It's funny how once sounds become familiar you can ignore them until they change. As we roll, things that rattle or thump are found and secured. Gym socks on wine bottles are great, BTW. But when a newer and bigger set of seas creates new sounds we play "Hunt the Rattle" again. That occasional soft shuffle of pencils on a shelf? No biggie. The creak we can't stop at the companionway? We can sleep through that. But one new clink in a locker? Go get it. If the sound is named and known, it's part of the normal soundscape, and can sometimes be tolerated. It's the new sounds, especially on deck, that get our attention.

FYI, we can only post but can't read comments or emails until we get to an internet connection in a few weeks. But don't let that stop you!

As we rolled along yesterday afternoon, I thought it would be fun to match the sea state to a song, so I belted out "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing." Just before sunset, I was singing the peaceful Russian hymn "Tibyeh Pieyom," which I'd learned in the Port Townsend Songlines choir, to the clouds. We were crossing the Yokohama-to-Panama Canal shipping lanes. Suddenly, a ship appeared. A Russian ship. A big grey bulk carrier, with a nice First Officer who reassured us in limited English that he'd pass clear of us 3 miles ahead. Hmmm... sing in Russian, a Russian ship appears. Okay, folks, what do we make of that? I'm a little unsure of what to sing next.

Sent via our ham radio

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sea-Rails

Pacific Crossing, Day 6: Back to a broad reach in 10-15 knots from the NE, doing 3.5 to 4.5 knots on (yay) smoother seas. Nice half-knot current in our favor (double yay.)

Ahhh. Nothing like a peaceful night. Off-watch we dream deeply, vividly, and occasionally weirdly (an army of barbershop quartets in every Woolworth's? Whaaa?) As I made coffee this morning, I figured some of you might be wondering: how does the kettle stay on the stove? Answer: sea-rails, a metal one to clamp it over the burner, and another edging the gimballed stove's perimeter. Sea-rails of wood line the galley, to keep food from sliding off. Sea-rails keep books in bookshelves, stuff in cabinets, and lee-cloths, a form of sea-rail, keep us in our bunks.

There is another kind of sea-rail, though. It's the kind we thought we left far behind in childhood, the kind we used to whine eternally from car back seats: Are we THERE yet? No, honey, we're not. WHEN ARE GONNA GET THERE? WAAAH! Surprise! We've regressed!

This kind of sea-rail is likely to hit long-passage newbies like us, who are surprised at how tired we are. We've been on guard for it. Not even the memory of an Oregon coast gale can allay it. So here are some mental tricks we've deployed.

#1: We're not counting days until landfall. As Jim says, "We live out here now," which gives the in-between-ness of a long voyage its proper due. But we do track days sailed, and keep the boat sailing her best. Of course, in the backs of our minds we're expecting around 30 days.

#2: We look at our progress to our heart's content using electronic gizmos, but at sea away from land we don't plot our position on that huge-scale, paper chart #Int 51 every day. Although we frequently write our lat-lon position in the log book, on this long stretch the paper chart comes out like a dessert, every two days: Whoa! Look how far we've sailed! Of course, it'll be used more often on shorter legs to come.

#3: We admit to and discuss our tiredness, and we talk about these feelings, also with other boats.

#4: I'm reading Conrad, specifically his "Mirror of the Sea." Want some advice and a "Buck up, Matey!" lecture from a master mariner who not only sailed wooden square-riggers around Cape Horn but could write eloquently (albeit in the vernacular of his day)? Pull up a chair and let Conrad speak of year-long voyages, where 90-day passages were common. Our 30-day passage in good weather feels more in perspective, and I'm humbled by what those ships and sailors did. Of course, you're treated to Conrad railing about the erosion of the "art" of seamanship in a time when those newfangled iron square-rigged ships were replacing the wooden ones. Such good reading.

His prose is so vivid and sometimes funny that I can almost hear his voice. If I could have a conversation with Conrad about what we're doing in this sturdy 24-footer, following in the wakes of Guzzwell, the Pardeys and others, who knows, perhaps he'd crack a smile.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mood Indigo

Pacific Crossing, Day 5: Another lumpy night, and today the wind went light as forecast. We're sailing wing-and-wing like a butterfly, going about 3.5 knots, happy to be moving along. Pulses of large, long-period swells come and go, all the way from the big storms in the North Pacific. Sockdolager is sailing like a champ! Dinner tonight will be cheesy egg, pepper and salsa burritos.

I'm finding the light at sea to be mesmerizing. The sea's mood is illumined, defined and shaped by light, color and wind. All 3 affect the inner sea of grey matter, which is, after all, mostly seawater itself. For several days, the sea was ultramarine, post-card blue, and playful. A wavelet boarded our leeward side, and I thought HA! Missed me! But when my foot felt wet and I looked down, my shoe was filling with seawater draining out of a cockpit scupper. Ho, ho! The next day, a small dollop of seawater hit my head, soaking the back of it, just as I was ducking below for a nap. Tee-Hee! (Sigh.)

Yesterday the sea was dull pewter highlighted with indigo and silver under an equally somber sky. A bit of spray tapped my shoulder as I made coffee in the galley--wow. Today the sea is a lighter version of yesterday's color palette, with golden light softening the somber. It all reminds me that we scratch a straight wake at the sea's forbearance. (Yes, I've been reading Conrad again.) The sea's moods encourage reflection, and that's a good thing.

Here's a shout-out to Captain Keith Kelsey, world's best First Mate at age 14, and now Harbor Pilot extraordinaire and Great Dad. He's fighting the battle of his young life, against cancer. If you read this, know that you sail with us in spirit, Brave One.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Watching = Job 1

Pacific Crossing, Day 4: At sea, sailors "stand" watches, to watch for danger. Actually, on a small boat in the seas we had last night, standing WAS the danger, so out here we "sit" watches. We watch the sea. The wildlife. We watch for other ships. Floating objects. Landfalls. The sky. And, sometimes we glance too often at our... watches. The time expander thing again, as we live by the sea's time (and get tired.)

Here's our watch schedule: 0800-noon, Karen; noon to 4 pm, Jim; 4 to 8, Karen; 8-midnight, Jim; midnight to 4, Karen, 4-8 am, Jim. We just learned that Livia on Estrellita gets coffee in bed, hmmm... But during my (K) morning watch I sip coffee and write word pictures in a notebook while Jim sleeps. I'll take it! We can't send photos via Ham radio, so you get text blobs. They might be brief or absent if on a particular day we're busy, tired, etc.

But today I couldn't not write, because this is all so amazing. To be out here, happy, a little tired and nervous (how many days will it take, really?) and sailing this little boat across a whole ocean--let's just say we are as amazed as some of you are. And in spite of the tiredness this morning from last night's lumpy seas, we're lovin' it. Today the sun came back and the sea gentled out.

Sent via Ham radio

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sailing = Time Expander

Does last July seem like a long time ago? I asked Jim. Yes, he said, because we've done so much since then. It's odd, though, because when we both worked nine to five jobs and most of our days were a series of much-the-sames, last July would feel much more recent. There's something about the passage of time relative to what you're doing... we may be on to something here. Let's call it the Sockdolager effect. If you live big, full-sized days doing what you love, maybe time passes differently. Maybe individual days go fast, but a string of them looped into months is so packed full that it feels like a long time when you look back. Ya think? Certainly life on a sailboat is the elixir, the antidote to my growing alarm, as I get older, at the apparent acceleration of my days.

Cloudy and humid today. The wind has veered (Yay!) to the NNW and we're broad reaching right along the rhumb line. Yesterday we made 118 miles! We're sleeping a lot on off-watches because the motion takes some getting used to, and it has been lumpy out here. The reason we double-reefed the main is because the wind goes suddenly from 12 knots to 20, and we want to be comfortable. So we're rolling the genoa jib in and out as need arises. Boy it's hard typing on a keyboard--the boat lurches and my fingers come down on some other key. Three boats are blogging their voyages as we fan out to the W and SW: Estrellita, Luckness, and Sockdolager. It's fun keeping in touch with them. Go visit their blogs, too!

Sent via Ham radio

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Outbound Mexico, Inbound Marquesas!

Wow, thank you for all the good wishes, which we read while we still had an internet connection. We're on our way! As we left yesterday along with Luckness and Zulu, the wind was on the nose. Whaaa? Someone's gonna get a letter... On the other hand, in spite of beating to windward we made 103 miles in the first 24 hours, not bad for a heavily-laden boat with a 21 foot waterline. Outside Cabo, two humpback whales escaped the gaggle of tour boats surrounding them and fell in line about 100 feet behind us. One of them rolled over on its back and, I swear we are not making this up, waved BOTH flippers at us, back and forth, back and forth. We laughed out loud and waved back, calling "BYEEE!"

We've managed to stay on our rhumb line and not drop south, which means maybe we won't have to thread through the Soccorro-Clarion Island group, where the Mexican Navy is holding exercises. We spoke with both Luckness and Zulu on VHF radio but they are now out of VHF but not SSB or Ham radio range. Also spoke with Estrellita and Pandeon, who are crossing, and Southern Cross, who is about to "jump." Good to hear their voices!

So lovely out here--warm sun, cool 15-knot breeze, medium swell, and we are making 4.5 to 5 knots on a SW course under a reefed main and genoa. The wind has gone slightly NW, which makes it possible to easily lay the course. To see where we are, click the "Where is Sockdolager now?" link on the left.

Posted from our Ham radio

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Adios, Mexico! Hello, Pacific!



How inappropriate
to call this planet "Earth,"
when it is quite clearly...
"Ocean."
     -Arthur C. Clarke, 2001




Ready for sea:  The dinghy is rolled up in the blue bag on the foredeck.  The yellow cover is for the two 5-gallon water bags.  We left La Paz a few days ago and sailed 145 miles to the southern tip of Baja, our jumping-off point.

Time to open the next chapter of this Excellent Adventure.  We’re in San Jose del Cabo, just inside a breakwater on which the surf booms from the vast Pacific.  We plan to jump offshore on Tuesday March 13, when the wind’s forecast to be a nice 18 knots.  Karen asked Jim if leaving on the 13th when it’s not a Friday is an issue for him, and he replied that it’s bad luck to be superstitious.


Sockdolager and Luckness say goodbye at San Jose del Cabo.  Luckness is sailing for Hawaii on Tuesday.

We’ll try to do a better job about posting during this part of the voyage.  You wouldn’t believe it anyway if I told you why it’s been so long since the last post.  Nobody in winter-land is going to believe that even in maƱana-land, cruisers actually do (gasp) real work!  Oh what the heck, here goes:

1.  Jim scrubbed the boat’s bottom to make it slick;

2.  Jim made several trips up the mast to inspect rigging, and we re-reeved the internal genoa halyard because he discovered a bit of chafe at the mast tang bolt.  We also chafe-proofed everything.

3.  Gathering, filling and stowing various water containers to augment our 40-gallon tank to about 58 gallons total took awhile, because any time we take on water we hook up a double filter between the hose and the tank--because the water in most places outside the US requires filtering to be potable.

4.  We inspected, emptied and re-stowed items in the cockpit and other lockers, re-arranged things for weight balance, and transferred some items around according to what’s most needed offshore.


Now c’mon folks, if this doesn’t elicit your sympathy, what’ll it take?  Nothing shows you care about maintenance like Boat Yoga.

5.  Karen tried to finish various canvas projects.  She didn't completely succeed.  Things that will have to be finished at sea:  The table sleeve for easy dining while the boat rolls, the water-catching mast funnel.

6.  We spent time getting our weather navigation acts (including celestial) in order with chart swaps and inventory, course planning, studying, and consulting with other cruisers who are also about to sail this route.

7.  Karen made at least 8 major shopping expeditions for food, plus did a bunch of meal planning. Transforming the V-berth into a pantry wasn't exactly a cakewalk, either.


8.  Both of us caught miserable colds, which slowed us down a bit.  Okay okay, I'm trolling here.

In the event that any of the above begins to bear the slightest resemblance to a whine, please accept this categorical refutation: It beats all hell out of an office.


Sorry, Downwind Marine, but Jim changed his T-shirt.  Sorry, Hasse, but he customized yours.

The first three or four days offshore will involve getting used to the motion and the routine of watch-on, watch-off, 4 hours each in good weather and three hours if it’s rough.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it is:
 Don’t worry.  This is what we WANT to do!  (Concerned Aunties and 48 North Readers who caused the Editor to write us a where-the-hell-are-you email, this means YOU!)


Sorry, everyone, but sometimes this is what “work” looks like.

Wanna listen in?  Anyone with a single sideband or Ham radio can tune into frequency 8 Alpha at 6PM Pacific Time, (frequencies 8 and 6A being backups) as this is the Pacific Puddle Jump net, organized and run by the boats themselves.  We’ll be giving each other our positions and weather info as we cross.  Many of us will also be checking in on the Pacific Seafarer’s Net, the schedule for which you can find here.


We rented a room for one night at the local resort, and we took 4 showers each.  Because we could.  Don't worry, we didn't sleep in the shower.

Okay, back to the food thing.  Remember the newly coined phrase “culinary porn”?  It’s hard to believe the amount of food we have stuffed aboard this little boat. Meals could be positively Bacchanalian once we get used to the motion and Karen masters the art of chasing food around the cabin.  In fact, she could actually be considered a Professional Shopper, in the tinier-than-miniscule event she ever wanted to be.  The manager of the La Paz Mega grocery store now greets her with a handshake and a “Welcome back, my GOOD friend!” whenever she enters the store.  He checks on her progress, and intervenes grandly when the security guard asks her to check her backpack. Two other cruisers who happened to find Francisco (the manager) and mention that they, too, are friends of Karen’s, were given the royal red carpet treatment.


The umpteenth load of food for Karen and her new friend, Vicki of Southern Cross.

We’re trying a grand experiment which, if it works, will result in some fine dining.  According to Michael Greenwald in The Cruising Chef Cookbook, you can preserve meat without refrigeration by marinating it.  He said he served up a roast beef he’d prepared like this after it had spent 60 days in the bilge, and nobody died.  We have a fridge but no freezer, so Karen figured keeping the marinating meat cool in the bottom of the fridge would be a plus.  She taxied to the local farmer's market/carniceria looking for tender beef, which is darned hard to find in Mexico.  Our vegan friends might want to skip the next paragraph, which is rather graphic.

A nicely wrapped fresh 5-lb whole filet mignon (larger than a Super Bowl football) appeared, so Karen bought TWO of them.  Ten pounds of filet mignon for less than 40 bucks US—what’s not to like?  Gleefully, she carted them home.  After cutting them into 18 steaks and trimming off all excess, 16 steaks were briefly seared in a very hot dry frying pan, searing all sides to destroy bacteria. Then each steak was held up with sterile tongs until it cooled enough to drop into a quart-sized Ziploc bag, which was then filled with canola oil, enough to completely cover the meat.  She dropped a garlic clove and a pinch of rosemary into each bag, and using a straw, sucked all the air out and sealed it.  Air is what causes spoilage, so the theory goes.  A second quart sized Ziploc bag was slipped over each packet as insurance against leakage, and the air was sucked out and that bag sealed, too.  Finally, a gallon-sized Ziploc was used to contain two steaks each for easy retrieval. She carefully lined all the bags up in the bottom of the fridge where they won't get smushed. All that oil would be icky if it leaked out, and more than 3 liters were used. The last 2 steaks we ate that night, and they were gooood.  We’ve saved a bottle of Bordeaux wine, and if we cross the Equator in good weather it might be a splendiferous, carnivorous, lip-smackin’ delight on the ole Sockdolager.   We had one of the steaks after a week in the fridge, and we didn’t die.

Okay, it’s now safe for our vegan friends to rejoin us.  We understand that food, especially meat, is exorbitant in French Polynesia, like 10 times US prices, so it's worth experimenting.  One account said that a head of cabbage cost ten dollars.  Yeesh.  But French cheese, bread and wine are supposedly reasonable there, so who cares!  We’ll truly miss the amazing food we found here in Mexico.


We’ll miss the wacky wildlife, too.  Here are 4 manta rays jumping straight up out of the water.  They do this all day and all night, flipping and somersaulting with such abandon that even a grouch would crack a smile. These mantas ranged from 3 to 6 feet in wing span, but we're told that they can get to over twenty feet wide.  Makes you think twice about dinghy trips if one of those suckahs is around, eh?


Here’s a boat our Port Townsend friends will recognize:  Zulu, veteran of the Wooden Boat Festival and the South Seas, bound south again.

Time for songs:  One of the finest things is meeting other like-minded people who are going to sail the same piece of ocean and are as frenetic as we are in preparations.  But there have been some mighty fine evenings of relaxation, good meals, laughter and even singing, too.  Patrick and Kirsten from a lovely Cabo Rico 38 named Silhouette made us a delicious mango curry one evening, and we’ve gone out on the town with other friends on occasion, too.  Silhouette is making a stop in the Galapagos before heading to the Marquesas.

Here are the crews from 4 “Puddle Jumpers” or boats that are crossing the Pacific this year, enjoying a rousing chantey chorus aboard Sockdolager.


Crews include:  Mark and Vicki from Southern Cross; Chris and Rani from Ladybug; and Patrick and Kirsten from Silhouette.

Excellent, Dahling:  The crew of Wild Rose, a gorgeous wooden Cheoy Lee Robb 35, invited us to dinner and officially inducted us into the Sour Grapes Yacht Club, “…with full rights, duties and responsibilities therein,” which we think includes flying the flag in exotic places while waiting for someone to ask us about the club’s legendary illustriousness, the sum total of which we were given free rein to "embroider."  Don and Kathy, we hope to meet up with you again!


We flew the SGYC flag until a gale blew in (again, at Los Muertos) and we took it down to keep it safe until next time.

The crew of Ladybug also invited us to dinner, (Woo Hoo!) and we laughed so hard my stomach hurt the next day.  We look forward to meeting up again with Clover, Ladybug, Southern Cross, Silhouette, Estrellita, Zulu, Pandion, Buena Vista, and other “Puddle Jumpers” in the Marquesas.


Here’s Shane Barry of the wooden Lapworth 36, Clover.  See you in Tahiti Nui!


Weather studies:  Here’s a sample, above, of one of the weather charts you can download from NOAA’s web site.  This is what's called a GRIB file, showing wind direction and color-coded speed.  The white area near the Equator is the area to pay close attention to, as it can balloon out to 300 miles one day and shrinks to less than 100 the next.  While we can get this information via our Ham radio, some of these files are big so we're selective in what we download at sea with that teensy baud rate on the ship's modem.


Here's another chart showing where the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) is, in red, with isobars from the North Pacific High in turquoise.  The ITCZ is the belt near the Equator, of hot steamy calms punctuated by gale-force thunderstorms; the kind of place one does not linger in. The ITCZ is where boats expect to use their fuel so as not to get caught in too many windy squalls.  But hey, it’ll be WARM rain, right?  Wait, I'm from the Pacific Northwest; what's warm rain?

Navigation:  The straight line distance from Cabo San Lucas to the Marquesas in French Polynesia is 2,610 miles.  But sailboat courses tend to zigzag across wave faces and sail by the wind, so the actual distance we’ll sail will likely be closer to 3,000 miles. Ironically, longer distances can mean shorter sailing times because you’re using rather than fighting the winds. We’re planning on a 30 day passage and have emergency provisions for 45.  We’re hoping for a 25 day crossing, but should any worry creep into your thoughts, refer to your mission in the second paragraph above.  To further allay worry, we do have emergency equipment aboard, such as notification beacons (EPIRB and via SSB radio) plus a life raft, and pre-arranged contacts ashore who’d be notified by the Coast Guard in the event a beacon was ever activated.


Here’s a Great Circle chart with our course on it.  When plotting very long courses you need to take the Earth’s curvature into consideration; otherwise you could introduce an error.  Great Circle charts are Gnomonic rather than Mercator projections; just as on a globe, latitude lines on a Great Circle chart are parallel, but longitude lines converge at the Poles.  A Mercator projection, which is what we’re all used to, makes longitude lines more parallel than they really are, thus introducing distortion.  All meridians of longitude are Great Circles, but the only parallel of latitude that’s a Great Circle is the Equator.  Cool, no?  So when you look at a Great Circle chart just pretend it’s round, and it will make more sense.

Notice (if you can see them) the little tick marks along our penciled course; each one is about 60 miles.  Note how much closer they are together along the Equator.  This stuff was all figured out hundreds of years ago, which gives us an awed respect for navigators who never had satellites and other gizmos.  Karen’s celestial navigation skills are miniscule in comparison to theirs, but are enough to get us home if need be, without electronics.


Cappy steers a straight course with a smokin' wake.

The best course to sail from Mexico to the Marquesas is not the shortest distance; it’s S-shaped.  To sail from Mexico to the Marquesas, we’ll stay in the Northeast Trades on a southwesterly heading, aiming for a point about 5 degrees north, 130 degrees west.  Once near there, we’ll look for opportunities to dart straight south through the Intertropical Convergence Zone, meeting the SE trades on the other side.  Weather-faxes via our radio will tell us where the ITCZ edges are, and how wide it is.  Most ITCZ crossings are made at around 126-129 degrees of longitude.


Here’s a pilot chart of the North Pacific Ocean showing the northern hemisphere part of our route in orange.  Of course, the last several hundred miles are not on this chart because they’ll be in the South Pacific Ocean, which is covered by another pilot chart.  The blue spots are “wind roses” and give a huge amount of weather info for every 5 degree square of ocean.  Pilot charts are what sailors use for passage planning, so if you’re interested, google the term and learn a lot in a short time!


Here's a sign that we never figured out.  These were all over, even painted in parking lots, but nowhere was there any explanation of them.  Probably a gathering spot for emergencies.

Sense of community, or maybe not:  There is a local yachty dockside hangout at Marina de La Paz called Club Cruceros.  It has a small clubhouse, a nice lending library, and they serve coffee in the mornings after the daily radio net that offers weather, swaps and trades, local info, etc.  Lots of permanent liveaboards and snowbirds use the club, and it’s a nice asset to the cruising community.  They’ve recently done a survey, results of which will be released in May, revealing the rather large economic contribution of cruising boats to the local economy—something like an average of US $5000 per boat!  Some Club Cruceros members liaise with La Paz’s business and government leaders, and they really get it when it comes to being good citizens.  The problem is that we encountered more than enough members who don’t get it and can be very insular and downright rude.  Public mockery of unusual boat names is just one example of behavior that left a bad taste in the mouth for more than a few transient cruising boats.  It’s unbecoming and damaging to the good efforts of their organization, and discourages new membership.   ‘Nuff said.

Carnaval:  We loved walking around La Paz during their annual Carnaval, kind of a cross between Mardi Gras, a real carnival, and a fabulous children’s playground.  This is one of six or seven stages, all fully equipped with HUGE sound systems.


Sampling tidbits of unusual Mexican cuisine and strolling along the booth-filled Malecon through the crowds on a warm evening, we stopped when Jim noticed a sign.  “Tacos de la cabeza!” he exclaimed.  “Do you know what those are?”

“The Spanish words mean tacos of the head,” ventured Karen.  “But that doesn’t make much sense.  Are they, like, maybe, SmartTacos for improving your intellectual capacity?”

“Nope,” said Jim, who once worked with a Mexican family on an avocado farm and was treated to the preparation and enjoyment of this Mexican specialty.  A young man lifted the lid of a huge boiling kettle, revealing an entire… um, well, cow’s head in there.  Yep.  Tacos of the head means you boil up a whole cow’s head and use the fine meat from the skull.  “YUM!” said Jim, as the young man dished out a particularly choice part of the cow’s head and prepared it for him.  “OH WOW!” said Jim, slurping his Head Taco as Craig from Luckness and I watched in half disbelief.  I mean, this is a man who won’t eat oatmeal because he thinks it’s too slimy.  Seriously.  We sampled a tiny bit and pronounced it “interesting.”


Danny, the young Mexican man behind the grill and simmering pot, laughed gently at our reluctance, and was delightful with his excellent English.  We enjoyed talking with him for a quarter hour or so, learning that his family is from Veracruz and that that he and his wife had an 8 month-old baby asleep in a carriage at the back of his booth.  His eyes lit up when he spoke of little Daniela.  But then:  “She’s had two operations,” he said, and we were saddened.  “I hope to take her to Shriner’s Hospital in the US.”

“Do you have an appointment at Shriner’s Hospital?” I asked.  No, he didn’t, but he hoped to be able to get one.   I replied, “You must do everything you can to get her to Shriner’s Hospital.”  Suddenly, Danny, the proud papa, looked at me and said, “Would you like to see my beautiful baby?”

“Oh, but she’s sleeping, I don’t want to wake her up,” I said, but Danny was already walking, motioning and saying “Come, come,” so I followed him into the booth’s back corner. He lifted the blanket that protected Daniela from the chill night air, and there lay a tiny girl with the most expressive huge dark eyes I have ever seen.  She was the size of a newborn, though, and at eight months that’s not good.  When Daniela blinked those eyes, they rolled all the way up and just the whites showed for a second before her eyes returned to their normal position. Danny lifted a small coverlet that revealed two short surgical tubes emerging from her body; one in her throat and the other in her left side.  Tears sprang to my eyes, and I tried to hide them.  Danny saw this and said it’s okay, it’s okay, and I realized he’s comforting me about his dying baby.  What is wrong in a world where, when the medical care wealthy Americans take for granted is unavailable elsewhere, babies die?  I said, she’s so beautiful, thank you for showing her to me, and he smiled.

Jim, Craig and I walked about a hundred paces, then I ran back, opening my purse and pulling out all the big bills—not nearly enough, but at least a gesture of some sort, maybe love.  I rolled the bills in my palm, walked to the grill, and extended my hand to Danny, who was cooking meat.  He looked up, puzzled.  Holding my arm over the grill, I said, “For Daniela,” and as he reached his hand tentatively toward mine, I dropped the roll of bills in it.  He looked down, saw the money, and tears sprang to his eyes.  I needed to walk away quickly.  As I turned to go, Danny blew me a teary kiss and whispered, thank you, thank you.  I blew him a teary kiss, too.