07 Jun 2008, The Brocade
Last year my friend Margo Pellegrino paddled an outrigger canoe from Miami to Maine to raise awareness of marine conservation issues. Along her route she made many friends, and enlisted many people to the cause. She decided she wanted to take some action to show solidarity with my efforts, and sent me this email:
I figure that while you're out to sea leading a minimalist life, I will do my best to live as minimally as possible...
1)I will not even entertain the thought of buying anything in a plastic bottle--be it water, juice or soda. I will be conscious of reusing, reducing, and recycling
2) when running my daily route, I'll wear a Madgringo Hawaiian shirt (sharing in the "aloha" spirit here) and pick up trash. I'll also wear this when I'm out on my long weekend paddles, when I'm practicing with the team, and when I'm racing.
3) I will collect non-recyclable plastic bottle caps--all varieties, and hopefully can encourage others to do the same (our local cub scouts are doing this....
4) when doing presentations, I will mention you and your trip--and if I'm not wearing a Surfrider T-shirt, I'll be wearing one of my Madgringo shirts!
I mention Margo's initiative in the hope that other people might also want to take some kind of pledge for action along these lines, at least for the duration of my voyage - and hopefully beyond!
Do write in and let me know what you decide to do, and I will pass on the best ideas via my blog.
I continue in my attempts to nurse the watermaker back to health. Today I checked that no more water was finding its way into the compartment, and ran the watermaker for about half an hour. Although still not sounding quite the same as normal, the tone of the feed pump is gradually getting closer to its usual hearty timbre.
So the equally unattractive options of abandoning my venture due to watermaker failure, or having to resort to drinking my own urine, recede. I have a dear friend, who prepared all my lovely dehydrated food snacks for my voyage, who swears by the medicinal value of drinking a glass of one's own urine each day. But I think I'd struggle. Maybe with some cranberry juice. Or something stronger. Vodka Pee-tini?
Although the waves are still too big and dangerous to row across, this afternoon I thought I would try to set up the sea anchor in such a way as to stem my eastwards drift. It turned out to be a lot more challenging than I thought. Long story short, after snapping one makeshift cleat, inflicting a painful injury on my right index finger, and getting seriously chilly feet, I decided it was time to return to my cabin to warm up and rethink my strategy.
Doing anything at all on deck continues to be challenging. Imagine living life on a mechanical bucking bronco in perpetual motion, while having bucketfuls of icy cold saltwater thrown over you at unexpected intervals, and you'll more or less get the picture...
(Photo of Margo, courtesy Margo Pellegrino)
05 Jun 2008, The Brocade
Why do I do what I do? Why, having had a life of relative ease, comfort and affluence, have I now chosen to put grey hairs on the head of my poor long-suffering mother by rowing alone across oceans?
It's a good question, so I'll try to give a good answer.
By 2004 I had figured out that money wasn't everything, that maybe who I was mattered more than what I owned.
So I had already quit the office job and was looking around for something more fulfilling - and for me, "fulfilling" had to involve making a contribution to the greater good. I was doing a lot of reading about philosophy and religion, and was especially influenced by the prophecies of the Hopi tribe, which foretold dramatic consequences if ever humans lost touch with their spiritual life, and started to overexploit the resources of the planet rather than living in harmony with nature. This made intuitive sense to me, and I resolved to live my own life in a more spiritual, less environmentally damaging way.
When I started to live this way, it felt good. I thought maybe I should spread the word - not in a preachy way, but just by making my life an example, showing that there was a viable and enjoyable alternative to the materialistic kind of life that I had been living before.
I toyed with several ideas - setting up an organic coffee shop, riding a motorbike around the American Southwest to write a book about the native culture, converting a tugboat to a liveaboard home using only sustainable energies. But none had seemed quite right, or required more money than I had.
I hadn't been particularly looking for a big adventure - but when the idea of rowing across oceans came to me in a flash of inspiration one day, I just knew, with a scary certainty, that it was the Perfect Project.
Believe me, I tried to talk myself out of it. I thought it was too big, too ambitious, that people like me just didn't do things like that. But the idea refused to go away, until I really had no choice but to do it, or spend the rest of my life thinking "if only".
So here I am, aged 40, homeless and usually penniless, bobbing around in a tiny rowboat about to be hit by a Force 10 gale. Hmmm, interesting choice.
But I wouldn't have it any other way.
This morning I recorded another podcast with renowned TV/radio journalist and podcaster Leo Laporte. Do check them out if you haven't already. I can't see my website from the ocean (I have email but no internet browsing) so I can't tell you exactly where to find the podcasts, but hopefully they are fairly evident.
Today I squirted the watermaker liberally with WD40, according to a suggestion from Spectra, the manufacturers. It ran OK for about half an hour and then stopped again. The pressure seemed rather low and the tone of the pump sounded rather feeble. It's still a major cause for concern, although now at least the Bag Balm seems to be stopping the compartment from flooding again.
The weather was quite pleasant for most of today - sunny, although the wind was still too strong to row against. But in the last couple of hours there has been a marked deterioration. The skies are now heavy and grey, and the waves are getting larger. Is this The Big One? I am bracing myself...
04 Jun 2008, The Brocade
Last night I felt afraid. I was reading the weather forecast from Rick Shema, my weatherguy:
"Wind and sea conditions likely to increase to gale force (Force 8) late on Jun 4th or early June 5th. Winds to 40kts and seas steadily building to Force 10 conditions (for seas) on Jun 7th."
The prospect sounded terrifying. My insides knotted and Fear started running around inside my head like a madman, waving his arms wildly and wailing, "We're all doomed!" in a high-pitched cry.
The Voice of Reason stood off to one side, waiting for Fear to quieten down enough so he could make himself heard. Eventually Fear got tired of doing laps of the inside of my head and started to wind down like a clockwork toy. Reason managed to get a word in.
"Look," he said in his calm, strong voice, "this weather isn't even happening yet, and you're already in a tizz about it. Let's look at this objectively.
"OK, so we've never been in a Force 10 before, but we've been in some pretty bad weather and we know this boat is seaworthy. If we just stay in the cabin most of the time, and clip on to the boat when we have to go outside to go to the bathroom, we've got a good chance of coming through this in one piece.
"And besides, we have no choice. We're out here now. There's nowhere we can go, and no way we can avoid this weather. We're just going to have to tough it out. But we can do it if we keep our head and stay calm. Just DON'T PANIC!!!"
So this is where I am now. I'm not looking forward to the next 3 days, but that's just the way it is.
Fear comes from our sense of self-preservation: when we get into a situation we've never been in before, Fear starts freaking out - NOT doing this thing has kept us alive so far, so why change now?
But just because you've never been in a situation before doesn't mean it's going to kill you. And just because you HAVE been there before, doesn't mean it WON'T kill you. So although fear can be a useful indicator saying, "don't go there", it can also be excessively cautious, warning us against anything at all that is unfamiliar. So it has to be balanced against reason and, of course, the spirit of adventure.
Meanwhile, the daily practicality of dealing with this situation is very mundane. Unlike sailors, who have to run around on deck attending to halyards and sheets and suchlike, there is really nothing at all I can do on deck at the moment, and my best survival strategy happily coincides with my natural instinct - to curl up into the foetal position, strap myself to my bunk, and ride out the storm.
So I spend most of my time inside my very small cabin, wriggling around in my red sleeping bag like a big red grub in a chrysalis, waiting for the time when I can emerge back into the outside world. I doze, nibble on snacks, listen to audio books and write my blogs. And try to keep the Fear under control.
I am worried about the watermaker after finding its compartment flooded yesterday. This morning I ran the watermaker for a few minutes and it seemed fine. But this afternoon it suddenly stopped after about half an hour, and wouldn't restart.
I've spoken to Darren at Spectra Watermakers and he has suggested a couple of possible solutions, but I can't do either of them while there are waves crashing over the deck every few minutes. I will have to wait for the weather to calm down.
Meanwhile, I have done what I can to prevent swamping the watermaker again. The water must have come in around the edges of the hatch lid, which is partly submerged when the footwell fills up with water, as tends to happen in these wet and wild conditions. I've got some proper marine sealant, but it needs a dry surface, and in any case would possibly glue the hatch shut if I can't leave the hatch open while it dries. So for now I've taken my panacea for all ills - Bag Balm - and daubed it generously around the o-ring and the edges of the hatch. It's not much, but it's all I can do for now.
[photo: view from inside the cabin as a wave crashes across the deck]
03 Jun 2008, The Brocade
Someone has written in to ask whether I get lonely at sea. Strange though it may seem - no, I don't. Not in the slightest.
I'd like to think I'm as sociable as the next person in normal life. I certainly enjoy being around people, and always seem to find myself among the last few diehards left at parties, having somehow forgotten my earlier resolutions to "just drop in and get an early night".
But when I'm on the ocean life is very different. Socializing simply isn't an option, so I don't even think about it.
Maybe one reason for my self-reliance is that when I was growing up my parents moved around a lot. They were both preachers in the Methodist church, and tended to move every five years or so. My younger sister and I were always the new kids at school, so I always felt a bit "different" - my accent would be different from the other children's, and my parents didn't have a "normal" job.
My response to this situation was to be fairly quiet and introverted throughout my schooldays. It wasn't until I went to university that I started to come out of my shell and enjoy social situations.
So I can be either - extrovert or introvert, sociable or unsociable, gregarious or solitary. It's useful to choose which to be, as the occasion demands. For now, I am very happy to be on my own. But you can be sure that (if all goes according to plan) when I arrive in Hawaii, I will be up for a VERY big party!
Panic today. I opened up the hatch to the watermaker (see photo above) so I could replenish my stocks of drinking water - and found that the hatch was full of water. The watermaker was almost completely submerged. It is a complicated piece of electrical equipment, and does not take kindly to being swamped. I bailed it out as fast I could, and it seemed to run just fine today - but if water has got into the pump, it could be just a matter of time before rust sets in and it grinds to a halt.
If that happens, I do have a backup manual watermaker, but it takes an awful lot of pumping to make enough water for a day. For now I am keeping everything crossed and hoping that the watermaker survives. Having got this far, I am very reluctant to return to dry land to make pre-emptive repairs.
The wind seems to be in favour of the return-to-land option, though. I was able to row for about 7 hours today before the wind picked up again, and I am now sitting out another gale. The sea anchor is out and I am hunkered down in the cabin while steep grey waves crash and seethe around my little boat. And all the time, the wind is driving me back towards the coast. I just hope I have made enough progress west to avoid being pushed all the way back to California.
And one final thing: to clarify my comment yesterday about the external video camera not working. This is not a major issue, as I do still have the internal video camera, as well as a small handheld camcorder - so I am capturing lots of footage for our environmental documentary based around my Pacific row. I have at least two of almost every item on board - just in case - and cameras are no exception.