30 May 2008, The Brocade
The last few days I have been spoiled. I have been in calm waters, enjoying the company of dolphins, whales, seals, and even the occasional human (the marine biologists at the Farralon Islands). The rowing has been easy, rhythmic and regular, like flat-water rowing. At night I have been gently rocked to sleep by the ocean, so although I've only been sleeping about 4 hours a night - while I try to put as many miles as possible between me and the coast - I have woken up feeling relatively refreshed.
But yesterday I rowed out of sight of land, and today the weather has changed. The headwinds have risen, making the rowing much harder. I have been bludgeoning my way through choppy waters, rarely getting both blades in the water at once. This evening I had rudder full on, and rowed with one arm only, trying to stay on course, but despite my best efforts I covered less than half a mile in two hours.
So now I have put out the sea anchor (a large parachute on a long rope attached to my boat, put out into the water, which stops me being blown too far off course) and have retired for the night. The Brocade is pitching around, so it's not going to be the most comfortable of nights, but at least the sea anchor holds the bow into the waves, so they run down the sides of the boat rather than hitting her sideways-on. Last year when I lost my sea anchor the 20-foot waves were barreling straight into the side of Brocade - which was what led to me capsizing 3 times in 24 hours and the ultimate abandonment of that attempt. This year I have an extra sea anchor on board - just in case.
So today has not been so much fun. No wildlife sightings to cause excitement, and no satisfaction to be gained from watching the land receding into the distance - just miles and miles of grey, choppy seas.
But I've been through worse, and if my resolve starts to falter, I just picture Hawaii, or the absolute euphoria of arriving in Antigua after the Atlantic row. As Captain Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel had for his epitaph: Nothing great is ever easy.
I'm not sure that what I am doing is "great", but I do know that the bigger the challenge, the greater will be my sense of achievement when the goal is accomplished.
[photo: It already seems so long ago. The Brocade at the Golden Gate Bridge on Saturday night. Photo by Aleksey Bochkovsky]
29 May 2008, The Brocade
It is always useful to have multi-purpose items on board - drinks bottles that double up as waterproof containers for electronics, a diving knife/bread knife, and so on. Yesterday I found a new use for Bag Balm.
You might remember that I was advised to bring several tins of Bag Balm with me, usually used for to ease chapped cow's udders, but in this case to help protect my feet from water damage. I've been duly rubbing it into my feet every day (although conditions so far have been unusually calm, so my feet have stayed relatively dry).
Yesterday I was getting annoyed by the creaking of my oarlocks, as the metal pin swiveled in the metal cylinder of the outrigger. So I took out the oarlock and generously daubed its pin with Bag Balm. Problem solved - not so much as a squeak since then.
The creaking had been getting loud enough to drown out the audiobook I was listening to - Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. I'd studied this epic tome (over 1000 pages) when I was 16, and in my view it's one of his best books, with an entertainingly scathing commentary on the legal profession. (I did a law degree, so my cynicism about the profession is not totally uninformed.).
I was also pleased to discover the origin of a phrase that had kept coming back to me when I was on the Atlantic: "Discipline must be maintained". I'd had no idea where I'd got it from - but there it is in the pages of Bleak House, repeated frequently by a former soldier, Mr Bagnet. It's a mantra that I've been thinking of again over the last few days. With any major undertaking, I find it so much easier to make progress when I get into a regular routine of work. Rowing is no different.
So I've fallen naturally back into the routine I used on the Atlantic, of 3 hours on, 1 hour off for logbook update and a meal. Repeat 5 times a day.
In fact, I'd better get back to it now. It's 10pm but still one more shift to do. Discipline must be maintained!
27 May 2008, 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!