01 Jun 2008, The Brocade
This year my boat put on 200 pounds. Quite an alarming weight gain, by human standards, but I was glad of it last night.
Just as I was finishing my day's rowing the wind started to pick up, whipping the waves into whitecaps and bouncing my boat around like a cork. In similar conditions last year I capsized 3 times in 24 hours - which was not fun and I wouldn't recommend it.
I made sure everything was either stowed away or tied down, and retreated to my cabin for the night. Everything sounds much louder from inside the cabin - the hull seems to amplify the din of the waves - so several times during the night I was woken by a deafening sound, convinced that the rudder had been torn off or the sea anchor had yanked its fixture clean out of the boat's hull. Strange how the imagination runs riot in the small hours of the night..
And every time I heard an especially large wave slam into the side of the boat I involuntarily braced myself for an Eskimo roll - as happened last year.
But I am grateful to report that I made it to this morning without sinking, capsizing, or even losing anything overboard,. This year we installed 200 pounds of lead down low in the hull, and now when the big waves come walloping in the Brocade seems to slip sideways rather than rolling over. Happy days!
The extra weight doesn't seem to keep the boat any more stable during the day, though - so today I've been forced to take a day off from rowing. If I was going downwind it would be no problem - I'd be whizzing along with the waves and making some impressive mileage - but it's impossible to row across such big swells with the boat rolling from side to side.
So I've been confined to the cabin for most of the day. The sun is shining and the sea is sparkling, but I've come back from each of my hasty forays to the deck soaked to the skin by waves crashing over the side of the boat, so it's safest and driest (dry being a very relative term) indoors, watching the spray fly against the round window hatch.
I seem to be drifting in a favourable direction, towards more helpful winds further south, so all is well with the world, and I'm happy that Brocade now seems to prefer being right way up rather than upside down - well worth the 200 pound weight gain on her bottom.
31 May 2008, The Brocade
I have a confession to make. I do not love the sea. Admire and respect it - yes, as you might admire a strict and unforgiving teacher - but love it, no.
Before I rowed the Atlantic I had romantic notions of the ocean as the last great wilderness, where sea creatures played and humans enacted heroic tales of courage and derring-do. And no doubt, for some people, the ocean is indeed like that.
But my experiences have been rather different. Today, as so often on the Atlantic, the sea has soaked me, chilled me, pushed me around and generally behaved rather badly.
So why are you rowing across oceans to help save them, then? you might be wondering. Surely you must care?
Yes, I absolutely DO care - passionately. Although I do not love the oceans, I emphatically believe that we have to look after them. On this planet of ours, big though it may seem, everything is connected. We cannot have dead or dying oceans and hope to have healthy life on land.
So maybe there is something selfish in my mission to help preserve the oceans - I see marine conservation as essential for the future of the planet, and for the continued existence of the human race. It is a logical and pragmatic reason rather than a sentimental one - and if that offends anybody, then I make no apologies, because I think my reasons are just as valid, and the end result is the same - doing what I can to help preserve the oceans, and every other part of the planet that may be affected by my actions too.
But it does make me smile wryly, on a day like today when the waves have knocked me off my seat more than once and almost swept me out of the boat and into the sea (yes, Mum, I WAS wearing my safety harness) - when it comes to preservation of the Sea versus preservation of the Me, I need to make sure I do both!
30 May 2008, The Brocade
Sisyphus might sound like an unpleasant disease, but in fact he was the guy in Greek mythology who was condemned to push a boulder up a mountain for all eternity. As soon as he stopped pushing the rock would roll backwards, so he just had to keep pushing away. I know how he felt.
I continue to row hard just to stand still. The wind has continued to strengthen, so despite rowing all day I have slipped back slightly towards the California coast. The seas have been rough, and once in a while a wave slaps into the side of the Brocade sending a torrent of cold salty water over me. The skies are leaden, with no sunshine to help dry me out. Everything on the boat is damp and dank.
The one bright point in the day was provided this morning by a seal who kept me company for about half an hour. Sometimes he seemed to be chasing the end of my oar as it dipped in and out of the water, and at other times he just seemed to be trying to entertain me - diving down under the boat and popping up on the other side, or rolling onto his back and waving his flippers at me. He really did seem to be doing his best to cheer me up - and it worked!
But only temporarily. The weather forecast is for the winds to get stronger and the waves to get bigger - and all coming out of the northwest. It seems that my Sisyphean task is going to be a tough one, and it's hard to put that out of my mind for long.
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]