07 Jun 2008, The Brocade
Every day I fill out a quick questionnaire to record my psychological state, and email it to my mother for her to pass on to Dr Neil Weston at the University of Portsmouth. He has been studying various adventurers spending significant amounts of time alone at sea, to evaluate how the solitude affects them and the survival strategies that they develop to cope with it, and is now doing a case study about me.
There is a special question at the end of my questionnaire, that I specifically requested should be put there. "On a scale of 1 to 10, how accepting are you of the conditions?"
I wanted this there to remind me that things will not always be as I want them to be, but in most cases (and certainly where weather is concerned) there is no point expending valuable mental and emotional energy in wishing that things were other than as they are. I learned this on the Atlantic by doing it the wrong way - I got myself into a fine old state of indignation and frustration by constantly thinking that things OUGHT to be different. "This isn't what I expected!"
Today the weather has once again been too rough, and the waves coming at me from the wrong direction, making it impossible to row. And it is likely to stay that way for at least the next five days. This is obviously far from ideal. If I was not being accepting of the conditions, I could be running around on this track in my mind:
- I came here to row, not sit around in the cabin - I'll be losing all my fitness - I am getting swept east, losing the valuable miles I'd made to the west - This is boring
But, given that I can't do anything about it, it's really best to accept it and try to make the best of a bad situation. So I'm reminding myself of these unexpected benefits:
- this is giving my (now very swollen) finger a chance to recover - and that strained pec muscle from last week - at least I'm making some headway south, which is useful - hmm, I'm providing a useful illustration of the track that a piece of garbage might take on its way to the North Pacific Garbage Patch... - wow, it's been years since I had this much time to lie around and just think.
So that's how I am, and that's how the weather is, and that's just how life has got to be for the next few days. Ho hum.
The watermaker continues on its slow path to recovery. I ran it again today, and it seemed to be doing ok. I shall persevere with the WD40/Bag Balm therapy and hope that the patient continues to improve.
I did venture out on deck to cook myself a hot dinner. But in the 20 minutes it took me to get out the Seacook stove and heat the water and boil-in-the-bag meal and then put the stove away again, I got 5 complete drenchings as huge waves swept across the deck. It is now 4 hours later and I am still trying to get my feet properly warmed through. They still have that damp, chilly feeling. So it is debatable that the warming effects of the hot food were more than cancelled out by the cold soakings. I may have to rethink my strategy.
I recorded another podcast with Leo Laporte this morning. If you haven't done so already, do check them out. You can find them under the "Media" option in the menu bar above - but hopefully soon they will have their own feature box on the right of this Blog page. You can also listen to them live at twit.tv, or on iTunes. Sorry to be a bit vague on details, but I don't have internet access from here - only email.
You may have noticed that there is sometimes a long interval (up to 16 hours in some cases) between updates to my position. Please do not be alarmed. This does not necessarily mean anything drastic has happened. In these rough conditions, with the boat tipping around in all directions, the Marinetrack unit is not always able to locate the satellites overhead for long enough to transmit its hourly position report. This can result in a number of updates being missed. Marinetrack have been very good at monitoring this situation - they email me if they are getting concerned so I can check the power supply to the tracking unit.
So no need to worry - just be patient. It's not like I'm moving so fast that you might miss something!
[photo: pic from my cabin: the control panel of instruments, including chartplotter (not currently working), VHF radio, Sea-Me radar enhancer, stereo and switch panel]
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]