03 Jun 2008, The Brocade
It was a mad scramble to get ready to leave on May 24th. I'd officially been standby since May 15th, but there were still various loose (and some not so loose) ends to tie off. I hadn't had a chance to do a full test on the camera system. An iPod of audiobooks on philosophy was still on its way from the East Coast. Stickers for the boat were being ordered but had not yet arrived. We hadn't done any sea trials since the extra ballast had been installed. The new website hadn't gone live yet.
And suddenly, when I received that phone call from my weatherguy on the morning of May 23rd, it was all systems go. Not exactly "now or never", but with weather you never know when you'll get another chance.
My first reaction to the weatherguy's phone call had been, "No, I can't - I'm not ready", my second reaction was to ask, "Am I ready enough?" And the answer was, "Not yet, but I can be by midnight tomorrow!" So I went for it. Everybody rallied to the cause and by midnight on May 24th I was ready.
I felt about 95% ready. I knew I would never feel 100% ready - perfection is rarely achieved - but 99% would have been nice.
But as things stand at the moment, I am glad that I took the calculated risk and set off anyway. As it turns out, the external video camera is not working, to the chagrin of my documentary producer Bill Chayes, but apart from that I'm managing without the things that had not arrived, and the Brocade is having the best possible sea trial of all. It may have helped that I tend to set a very high target. It may not be possible to get 100% of the way there, but 95% of a high target is better than 95% of a low target.
I think back on other projects that I've planned, that faltered and fell by the wayside because they didn't have a deadline. So I fussed over the plans, revising and refining, wanting them to be perfect. which, of course, they never would be, and so they never actually made it off the drawing board and into reality.
They say that: "Success happens when opportunity meets preparation". I don't know yet if my mission to reach Hawaii will be successful (although confidence is growing daily) - there are still many miles to cross and many weather systems to encounter - but I do feel glad that I was forced to take the plunge when that rare weather window opened up. There comes a point when you just have to take a leap of faith, knowing that although you could possibly be more ready, you're ready enough.
[Photo: the on-board menagerie: Squishie the dolphin, Quackers the duck, and Chirpy the robin. Chirpy says hi to the 4th graders at Cottage Lane School! I think he's bringing me good luck so far.]
The gale force conditions subsided slightly this afternoon, so I was able to get a few hours of rowing. I've been amazed by the favourable direction of my drift the last 24 hours - making quite decent headway west, even though the wind was coming from the NW. I assume it must have been the combination of the set of my rudder and the deployment of my sea anchor. When I pulled the sea anchor back on board this afternoon in preparation for rowing, I found that it was in a right old twist, with the tripline all wound around the main line, and each of those then twisted around itself. It took me about an hour to sort out the tangle of lines. I'm just hoping that I haven't now lost that magical configuration that was taking me westwards!
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.