20 Aug 2007, The Brocade
The weather and I seem to be locked in a bizarre kind of tug-of-war. I make some progress away from the coast, then the weather comes and blows me backwards. I laboriously claw back the ground I lost, then the weather comes along again and shows me who's boss. It is now over a week since I left from Point St George, and I am still not out of sight of land.
Today was a good day - a gentle day of long, lazy ocean swells and light winds. The cupwheels on my wind instruments spun slowly as I paddled along listening to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. So it was with a sense of indignation and incredulity that I heard the forecast for tomorrow when I rang Rick my weather guy this afternoon. Take a look at the Weather tab on this website to see what he had in store for me.
But he's usually right, and towards nightfall the wind was already starting to build. As I got ready to retire for the night I was extra-careful to make sure that I was ready for whatever may develop over the next few hours. Shutting up shop for the night is quite a time-consuming routine - stow oars in their Quickfist grips, remove pad from rowing seat and place inside cabin, stow anything that could get swept away by waves (drinks bottles etc), put sea anchor out (quite a task in itself, involving the chute, floats, various clips and carabiners, and ridiculous amounts of line), put navigation light on, bid goodnight to Wilson and clamber into the hobbit hole, securing the hatch firmly behind me.
So now here I am, hunkered down in the hobbit hole, tapping away on my laptop. I've got a few data downloads still to do, before crawling into my sleeping bag and trying to get some sleep. If the forecast is right it could be a fairly rough night.
19 Aug 2007, The Brocade
Yes, it's reached that stage of the expedition, when I'm wondering why on earth I'm here, bobbing around in a tippy little rowboat perilously close to the California coast, when I could be leading a nice, normal kind of a life somewhere in suburbia.
Today has not been a pleasant day. The winds started to pick up last night as a weather front came through, and by this morning were blowing 20-25 knots - in the wrong direction, of course. I don't mind the rough conditions too much - I coped with much worse on the Atlantic - but a helpful shove in the right direction would have been very welcome. As it was, it was better to put out the sea anchor to try and reduce my backwards drift, rather than try to row into the teeth of the headwind and 12 foot swells.
So I have spent most of the day on my bunk, the least uncomfortable place to be, with only occasional forays outside to check on things. The boat has been pitching around and the deck was awash with seawater. It has rained most of the day and even now it is overcast and gloomy. Inside the cabin it is increasingly damp and I feel rather queasy from surviving on snack foods all day - it has been too rough to use the Seacook gas stove out on the deck to cook a proper meal.
It has been frustrating to watch the hard-won miles ebb away as I drift back east, but my main concern has been whether I would run aground. This put all other concerns aside. It is still far from certain whether I will manage to get away from the coast again. And it was all looking so good a few days ago.
My weather guy tells me that the weather this year has been 'goofy' - usually we'd expect to see winds coming much more from the north. My sense of humour is wearing thin, so I wish the weather would stop goofing around and get back to normal. Now.
[photo: confined to quarters, but still smiling - just]
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]