18 Aug 2007, The Brocade
There is a distinct air of uneasiness hanging over the Brocade tonight. The wind has been pushing me east, so that I am now back to the same line of longitude that I crossed last Tuesday. I have made fair progress south, but that matters little to me right now. What does matter is that I can see land looming again, about 40 miles to the east, and this makes me anxious.
All day today I have battled to make progress into a headwind, trying to increase the safely margin between me and the California coast. At times I was rowing hard just to stand still. My speed over ground (as opposed to speed through the water) varied between 1 knot at best, and negative distance at worst, i.e. even though I was rowing west, the wind and the current were more than counteracting my efforts. It has been like trying to go the wrong way on a moving walkway - a very long moving walkway.
I've now put out the sea anchor, in the hope that it can prevent too much more eastwards drift overnight. I am exhausted with rowing and need a break.
Even more worrying, strong winds and large waves are forecast for tomorrow morning. The weather front is due to pass quickly - hopefully before it sweeps me ashore. Compared with this threat, even this morning's close shave with a container ship (see photo) has paled into insignificance.
17 Aug 2007, The Brocade
I had visitors this afternoon. I was rowing along, minding my own business, when I noticed a rather large grey ship about half a mile away. I rather hoped they wouldn't see me. I was well into my rowing rhythm and I didn't want to have to interrupt my stride to go and put clothes on. But the ocean was flat calm so there was no chance to hide behind the nearest wave. It seemed they had spotted me, as they changed course to come over and investigate. I hurried to make myself decent.
I couldn't get any reply from them on my VHF marine radio, but a loud voice hailed me from the deck. "I assume you're OK," the disembodied male voice said. "I'm just fine, thank you," I yelled back. They were close enough to hear me, even over the noise of the engines. "Where are you going?" asked Disembodied. "Hawaii," I replied. "Where are you going?"
Disembodied told me that they were the USS Momsen, bound for Seattle. And with that we had more or less exhausted our mid-ocean small talk.
"Fair winds to you," Disembodied boomed in a friendly, genuine way (rather than a "you must be barking mad" kind of a way). And with that they turned and cruised off into the blue yonder.
Progress has been slow today. I've been trying to go almost due south, to Aim Point 7 down at 40'N, 126'W, but by late afternoon my pace had slowed to a dispiriting 0.5 knots. It was strange - a beautiful, calm, sunny afternoon, but with a fierce current taking me rapidly the wrong way. If I wanted to go east, I'd be laughing - I can go east at 2 knots without even rowing. Many good things lie to the east, but not Hawaii.
My first batch of sprouted seeds was finally ready to be harvested, after one and a half days of waiting. The Beanie mix, donated by Sproutpeople of San Francisco, had sprouted beautifully and I was eagerly looking forward to my first fresh vegetables since eating the last of my avocados (yes, I know they're actually fruits) a couple of days ago. But at a crucial stage of the harvesting process, just as I was rinsing the sprouts in a sieve while holding it over the side of the boat, the Brocade lurched and I lost two-thirds of my harvest to the deep. Rude words were uttered. But the remaining third was good, and at least I'm back in the swing of my onboard gardening.
16 Aug 2007, The Brocade
Ever since I set out I have been rowing against the wind - and ocean rowboats are not designed to do this. They are bulky and present a lot of wind resistance. But luckily the winds have been light so I have been able to make headway. But today the conditions started to get slightly more challenging. The wind was coming straight out of the south - the direction I am trying to go in order to get into the helpful tradewinds.
As well as the wind getting stronger, the swells were also getting larger, making it difficult to get both oars in the water at the same time. It's tougher - both mentally and physically - rowing across these lumps and bumps than on smooth water. I don't mind rough conditions when they are carrying me in the right direction, but when they are against me I find it harder to maintain my zen calm and towards the end of the day was getting distinctly grumpy.
Eventually I'd had enough and decided to debut my new sea anchor, Sid the Second, made by Para Anchors of Australia. (Sid the First had to be given his liberty just 2 days from Antigua on my last row - see Part 3 of my Atlantic video). A sea anchor is a large parachute on a long rope that is attached to the bows of my boat, and stops me from being blown too far backwards. I've put Sid out to preserve those hard-won miles while I get some rest.
The old body is bearing up pretty well so far, with no evidence yet of the shoulder problems that plagued me on the Atlantic. The only physical damage so far is a nasty case of sunburn. I have been religiously applying my Green People sun cream every day - although despite my best contortions I have not managed to find a way to reach that awkward bit in the middle of my back - the one big downside to being a solo rower.
There was just one day that I left it late to apply the sun cream, and that was Day One - I was fooled by the fog cover that day into underestimating the strength of the sun. I know for sure that it happened then because that was the only day that I wore clothing, and the outline of a Y-back sports bra now indelibly imprinted on my back is a telltale clue. Everywhere but the Y, my poor red English skin is now erupting into very unattractive bubbles, that will shortly even more unattractively peel off in huge swaths. I look some kind of hideous warty monster. I hope to look more like a human, and less like the creature from the black lagoon, by the time I reach Hawaii.
P.S. Some good news - I have now officially crossed the Line of Death, aka the Line of Rainbows and Happiness (depending on your point of view or liking for dramatic hyperbole) and am now very unlikely to be swept ashore by winds or currents. I am past the point of no (involuntary) return.
[photo: I tried to take a photo of my back, but it was too difficult, so here is a photo of something much nicer - tonight's sunset]
15 Aug 2007, The Brocade
Today I rowed out over the edge of the continental shelf, and into the deep ocean. This is an area especially rich in marine life, and I was delighted to see about a dozen whales at various times - surfacing to spout sprays of water from their blowholes.
But even better, at one point I found myself totally surrounded by dolphins, arcing and leaping through the waves. Some were even jumping clean out of the water, as if jumping for joy on this glorious sunny day.
My camerawork is a bit wobbly a) because my boat is very tippy, even on a calm day, and b) because I was rather over-excited!