NZFJ Passage Notes: "The After"

It's taken me a while to write and post this.  I may update / edit this a bit, but for now, here are some takeaway thoughts on the passage.  

Smelling Land.  Sailors say that after you’ve been at sea for a while, you become accustomed to the fresh marine air.  As you then approach land, you can actually smell “land” – and “people.”  I found this hard to believe, until I actually experienced it.  And it’s true.  It’s hard to describe the smell – it’s not garbage, or cheeseburgers, or gasoline, or perfume.  It’s just some combination of non-natural odor that is different from the fresh, salty air over the open ocean.   

Beyond the smell, the sight of land after a week or more at sea brings on a couple of conflicting emotions.  The first is “relief” – we made it, we are safe, etc.  However, there is also the feeling of “shoot, it’s over already” – let’s keep on going, we have a routine, it’s great. 

Living by the Sunrise and Sunset.  The passage was sort of like camping, I guess – an activity where you are much more in tune with nature and the changes between daytime and nighttime.  We were dependent on nature in so many ways during this passage.  Here is how I experienced the evenings and mornings.

 As we sailed off into the sunset, and land disappeared behind us, I thought, “We’re really on our own now.  This is the real deal.”  With each subsequent sunset, there was a peaceful feeling as the sky was so beautifully colored and purely visible (no telephone poles, buildings, or even trees to block the view).  Again, there was a sense of solitude from the outside world.  As the darkness came, so did a cautious but unsettling feeling of what the night would bring.

 Fortunately, we sailed mostly during a waxing moon (moon approaching full), so we enjoyed several hours of bright moonlight each night.  As the moon “set”, the sky became dark and we enjoyed brilliant stars – so much more visible away from city lights – but that unsettling feeling still came around.  Ok, now it’s getting really dark.  We are sailing by instruments only, not able to see (and avoid) the big swells or see any landmarks.

 Such sailing at night can be stressful and tiring – and can be scary depending on the conditions.  We each only took a maximum of 2 hours at the helm, as driving required serious concentration to stay on course. 

As that first light begins to brighten the horizon in the early morning, there was often a great sigh of relief (that we made it through the night), excitement (that we have a whole day of sailing ahead of us), and exhaustion (ok, it’s light, let’s get some sleep). 

Owning a Boat and Making a Passage.  Both owning a boat and making a passage require a lot of patience.  Things don’t always go as you expect.  You have to be ready with a Plan B or even Plan C.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been spoiled to some degree with the great service department at the Olympic Circle Sailing Club, which keeps the boats in top shape, ready for a day sail.  I just have to show up. 

Over the last couple of months, I had great visibility into what it’s REALLY like to own a boat.  Checking all the systems, making repairs or upgrades, learning the nuances of driving/sailing, keeping everything clean and organized, dealing with the specialists who come help, etc. 

Skipper Tom had only recently purchased the boat, so another level of my learning was just general boat ownership/set-up.  What’s it like to take ownership of a boat?  What are the set-up costs and activities?  What problems might occur? 

To help with boat jobs, we had to rely on a number of outside specialists (for rigging, refrigeration, water-maker, etc.)  It was very important to build relationships with these people.  You want them to care about what they are doing -- they are working on a piece of equipment that may or may not save your life. 

 I also had great insight into the passage planning aspect.  I’ve been trained as a Coastal Skipper, but up until now my experience has been pretty limited to only a weekend sail.  This was 8 days, open ocean, no safety nets.  So to watch, and in fact help, the skipper prepare for the passage to Fiji was very educational. There is a seemingly endless number of factors to consider.  Crew, sails, provisions, safety equipment, boat performance, course, and weather.  The one that struck me as most significant (at least in this area of the world) was weather data.  We had multiple sources for intel on what was going on with weather fronts. 

Passing the Test.  In the end, this was a test for me.  Can I handle the open ocean?  Will I get seasick?  Will I have fun?  Will I get claustrophobic on the boat for so long?  Will I get along with people? 

I’m happy to report that I passed my own self-administered test.  I had a great time, performed my duties, stayed healthy, and remained positive.  I’m ready to go again!