Posts tagged seasickness

Crossing the Coral Sea

“When are you leaving?” was the question on everyone’s lips on the visitor’s dock in Port Moselle. It seemed like about half the boats were headed to New Zealand (Opua or Whangerei), and the other half to Australia (Bundaberg or Brisbane). Most of them were under pressure from their insurance carriers to be out of the tropics by December, when cyclones supposedly start rearing their ugly heads. On the flip side, every week of waiting brings us closer to the more clement weather of summer. So there’s a lot of scanning the weather charts for a good window during November. Luckily for us, the trip to Australia is quite a bit easier than to New Zealand.

We’d had enough of waiting and were about to leave when another yachtsman shared his professional routing advice to wait for another three or four days for a hypothetical developing low to pass. We did, and probably avoided some unpleasant seas as a result. We set out on the 13th and got soaked beating out of the lagoon, before we could reach off towards the West. Shirley was hit with seasickness as usual, but this time it seemed like her stomach was in a permanently upset state, so I had her lie down and decided to singlehand the boat, leaving the autopilot on most of the time and taking short catnaps.

We moved fairly quickly for about three days, with winds and seas slowly subsiding, and Shirley started feeling well enough to relieve me of checking on the sails and scanning the horizon periodically. Yesterday, I was sitting in the cockpit reading when I felt the temperature drop a couple degrees, and it got a little dark. I was surprised, because the sky was almost perfectly clear. I looked up and saw a couple little clouds in the vicinity of the sun. I figured one of them must be sitting right in front of the sun, and went back to my reading. The sky kept getting darker, yet the shadows cast by objects in the cockpit were still crisp. Sure enough, there was no cloud in front of the sun. Something felt odd. For a moment I thought I might be sick, or maybe the sun was going out – wait a minute… pull out the nautical almanac… yep, total solar eclipse of November 15th, visible in the South Pacific. I guess the solar goggles for sale in the pharmacies in Noumea should’ve tipped us off! We didn’t think to buy any, but in a pinch the solar filters on the sextant allowed us to see the moon almost completely blotting out the disc of the sun.

This morning, the 16th, as I was rummaging in the lazarette to pick out the bilge pump handle, I put a bit of pressure on the tiller and the autopilot drive immediately shut down. I tried restarting it and troubleshooting, to no avail. Our third and last drive unit has given up the ghost, leaving us to hand-steer the boat to port. I thought I’d managed to fix one of the other drives, but it is only capable of working for a couple seconds before its motor locks up too. Thankfully, conditions are pretty mild and Shirley and I are well rested, so this shouldn’t be too difficult, but it is annoying to have to stay glued to the tiller for hours at a time.

As a result of this, and because weather to the South is a bit unsettled, we are heading for Bundaberg – still 350 miles away – instead of Coffs Harbour, yet another 350 miles down the coast. We should get there sometime Tuesday.

Praying for doldrums

I never thought I’d say that. It seems every day gets rougher, and today is the worst of all. Maybe I’m just crazy for trying to reach across the trades in a boat with less than 2 feet of freeboard. We gave up on Tahiti, and now we’re having trouble making Fanning, let alone Penrhyn. Not for lack of trying. Waves break into the cockpit every 15 minutes or so, completely soaking whoever’s driving. I guess I didn’t expect being wet to be such a problem once in the tropics, but it’s highly demoralizing. If it weren’t for Nick and Shirley, I’d bear off and head for Samoa or Wallis, but I think they’ll riot if I tell them we have to sail for another 3 weeks nonstop.

The silver lining is we are quickly approaching the ITCZ, aka the doldrums. Who knows what lies in there, but the zero-to-ten knots of wind in the forecast may offer us a change from getting bashed by breaking waves. And the rain will give us a chance to do some laundry and shower (we are on a strict water conservation regimen). Unfortunately the forecasts also show 2-meter waves in the ITCZ. Hopefully they’re just rolling swells and not steep or breaking waves.

Since I seem to have the strongest stomach, I’m sleeping in the v-berth for this leg. It’s the driest part of the boat, but it pitches wildly. It’s kind of like sleeping on a diving board while someone jumps on it. I share it with a stack of sails and some rotting fruit. I cleaned up some of the moldiest fruits yesterday and released a plume of mold spores all over the front of the berth. Did I mention I’m allergic to mold? Our bread has all gone moldy as well. On the transpac, bread and fruits will last at least half the trip, if not the entire trip. Not so in the tropics. Everything here seems to rot. Even my knees are covered in itchy little blisters. Shirley is going crazy because reading on the pitching boat makes her nauseous, so she has nothing to do. Nick is tough as nails, but I can tell he’s not exactly enjoying this sail through paradise either. So far only the boat seems not to mind.

That’s enough for one day. Idefix out.

On the road again

Thanks to Hawaii Yacht Club’s excellent hospitality, I thought we would stay in Honolulu forever. I actually enjoyed the city a fair bit. But eventually it was time to move on. With completely accidental precision, we cast off our docklines at 00:00 UTC and left civilization behind. The seas to leeward of the Kaiwi Channel were pretty lumpy, so we all ended up kind of wet and queasy. Shirley got sick despite her scopolamine patch. We’re now sailing in the lee of the other islands and hoping things won’t get too rough once we hit the open tradewinds. At this point it’s destination unknown, just pointing the boat south and seeing what heading we can stomach. I’d like to make it to Tahiti, but Niue, Tonga and Fiji will make for a much more comfortable ride…

A hop across the Channel

It took some time, but we finally got out of Hanalei… Idefix and crew are in Honolulu after a 24-hour trip bashing across the Kauai Channel all night. Sure enough, the crossing lived up to my expectations: a really unpleasant day and night of upwind sailing, a bit of relief on the back side of the O’ahu, then some more trouncing to Honolulu. Not an experience I care to repeat anytime soon. But we all came through with little more than salt-encrusted faces and some seasickness. Not everyone was so lucky last night as we heard that Brian’s crew on Red Sky fell and broke her rib. Luckily they were only a day out of Hanalei.

SHTP Part Two – 20 June 2010

Read Part One.

Dawn comes and thankfully it looks like the sun is going to come out and provide some degree of warmth to my cold, wet body. At morning check-in I hear that Mirage has returned to Sausalito and Southernaire is restarting. Warrior’s Wish leads me by five miles. Sitting by the radio jotting down positions wreaks havoc on my balance and I have to lurch for the companionway again to throw up. In a couple minutes the sea will have washed it all away. I think back to Mirage. For some reason the thought of returning to San Francisco had never occured to me. I had been so relieved after the start, because in my mind it symbolized the end of a year of preparation work, and the beginning of a journey that would one way or another end back in Seattle, with a stop in Hanalei. But I’d never considered that something could cause me to have to turn back to San Francisco. Hearing of Mirage turning back makes me realize that I’ll really have to baby my boat through the next couple days. I decide to baby myself first, and lie inside the boat for a while, with a sliver of sun shining through the hatch onto my wet foulies. The noise inside the boat makes it hard to relax. Waves crash on deck and slap against the hull, the mast seal has failed and the deck pumps against the mast, my fresh fruit, stowed in a gear hammock in the bow, is bashing itself against the hull. At noon I eat some hot oatmeal, the only meal I think I can keep down, then go on deck and hand steer for a couple hours while my computer downloads weather faxes off the HF radio. The autopilot tends to interfere with the radio, so this will turn into a daily routine. I’m thankful for the sun, which warms me somewhat, despite the wind and ice-cold spray. I sail past a sunfish which is also basking on the surface despite the waves.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jds7f6dOt-w

By the evening check-in Warrior’s Wish is 19 miles ahead, and over 60 miles to the North. I’m a little worried, but decide I should rest for the night so I can push a little harder tomorrow, after I have a clearer view of the weather ahead. I summon all the intelligence left in my cold, wet brain to scrawl some gibberish in my logbook: “N34d51′ W125d51′ DTF1920 225T 7.7kts. wind 300@20ish. lots of bouncy. had some pasta. fruits crushed.” I set the autopilot and let it drive all night while I curl up in my berth, shivering constantly. I have a hard time understanding how people can spend so much time, effort, and money putting themselves through such a miserable time. The ones I really can’t figure out are the guys on Hecla, Harrier, and Dream Chaser who are not on their first race. No one ever told me how unpleasant this part would be, but they knew this was coming! At daylight on the 21st my teeth are sore from chattering. I’ve been headed a little further southwest than I want to, because the wind is still from the northwest. I could head up a little bit, but that would put me further into the wind and slow the boat dramatically. I get more weatherfaxes showing the wind dying down on the north side of the course in the next few days and decide to head a little further south. The wind has weakened a bit and I can put up my big genoa, which gets me up to 8 knots easily. While up on the foredeck I spot a basketball-sized jellyfish. I’ve warmed up a little, despite the overcast, and finally get to change into dry clothes. My feet have been in wet boots for two days, and look like deep-sea creatures. I let them dry out for a while and decide it’s warm enough to forego the boots, which will never dry anyway. It’s a pity I took my spare boots off the boat before the race. I’ve managed to stay 15-20 miles behind Warrior’s Wish for the last couple check-ins. The wind is slowly lightening up, but every time I consider putting a spinnaker up something happens to dissuade me: a big shift, a gust of wind, a wave breaking over the cockpit… I settle for the #1 and eventually shake out the reefs in the main. I get a decent night’s sleep, but at three in the morning I’m awakened by the autopilot beeping and the boat rounding up. I leap into the cockpit to find the autopilot drive unit has failed. It’s been driving continuously for 12 hours on an aggressive gain setting. I leave the boat up to her own devices for a minute and crawl down below to dig out a spare and lower the gain. I have a third spare should this one fail, but it worries me a little that a brand new drive should fail so quickly.

The Pacific Ocean finally lives up to its name.

On the 22nd the conditions lighten up and I finally get the reaching spinnaker out to find that I can point the boat at Hanalei on a beam reach. I spot my first albatross and flying fish. Ronnie misses the morning check-in, which annoys me, because comparing our distances is my great motivator. We’ve been informed that Bandicoot has returned to San Francisco with radio problems and may restart. Mirage has withdrawn from the race. That leaves only Warrior’s Wish and Taz!! in my division, and I have a 100-mile lead on Taz!!. A quick glance at the other boats shows that Dream Chaser and Saraband are only 19 and 28 miles behind me, respectively. I owe Saraband 58 hours on corrected time, so Dave is doing quite well. At the start I had picked him out as my favorite for winning the race on corrected time, so I’m not surprised.

Read Part Three.

SHTP Part One – 19 June 2010

It’s a beautiful morning in Tiburon. I wake up around 06:30 after a rather poor night’s sleep on the boat, and walk up to CYC’s beautiful century-old clubhouse for a shave and a long, hot shower, my last for a while. I check the weather and it looks like it’s still blowing in the 30s off the coast. My dad arrives and takes me out to breakfast. I contemplate my plate for a while, thinking about the gale and breaking waves awaiting me outside the Bay, and how I’m going to have to work hard to keep this food down. We return to the boat to find a small crowd on the dock – mom, who’d gone on a last minute shopping trip for me, and aunts, uncle, cousins from the Bay area, here to wish me farewell. Since yesterday there’s also been a steady flow of well-wishers, mostly sailors from the SSS and CYC, walking the docks. Some of them have done the race before and are curious about which route I’m going to sail. Frankly I’m not so sure at this point, and I’m too distracted by the rush of last-minute preparations and the thought of surviving the first couple days outside the gate to think much about it. I’ve been planning on reaching as high as comfortable across the gale to get out of it fast, heading a bit south of the rhumbline, and assessing a couple days out to see if I should stick close to the rhumbline or duck further south.

It’s nine o’clock and things are definitely getting frantic in the small marina. We were warned that boats would be towed out whether they were ready or not, and the first tow would be at 09:30. I manage to say goodbye to a couple of the other racers, pull out the sails I’m going to be using (#3 for the start, #4 for outside the gate). 09:30, Hecla is being towed out. Run the sheets, put away the mainsail cover. Ronnie hoists his mainsail and sails out, and everyone in the marina applauds. I cheer him on, envious. Sailing out of your slip for an ocean race is a pretty classy move, and I’d like to sail out, but I’m not ready. (Ronnie later told me he wasn’t ready either, but Don Grey, the owner of Warrior’s Wish, untied his lines, pushed him off and told him something along the lines of “get your main up, you’re sailing out, you pussy!”). I hug my family, and already the CYC’s launch is coming up to me and it’s time to go. One last goodbye, I tell mom not to worry, and we’re off the dock. This time I’m the one the whole marina is cheering on, and I feel like I’m in way over my head.

I get the main up and set the whaler loose, put on the autopilot, and slowly begin to wind down. I have over an hour to my start, and it’s a beautiful morning. For the first time in a year, I don’t feel rushed. This is it, there is nothing more to do, and really nothing more I can do. In an hour I will be starting a 2120-mile singlehanded ocean race. Whether or not I am ready is irrelevant, I am here. Alea jacta est.

I set about to explore the starting area. There is a sharp wind gradient – it is blowing 12 knots or so by Angel Island, perhaps 8 knots at the pin end of the line, and markedly less close to shore. Out on the Bay I can see whitecaps, and boats heeled well over. I’m beginning to doubt the wisdom of putting up the #3 for the start, but I want to get ahead as soon as possible, and figure it’s worth the effort of a sail change. I also want to look sharp and powered up for the Latitude 38 photo boat. This is a decision I’ll regret for the next four days…

There is also a strong ebb current flowing through the start area. It will be great to have it carry us out the Golden Gate quickly, but for the time being I’m worried it’ll carry me over the start prematurely. I have a bad memory of a windless Summer Vashon Race where I got carried down the course before ever crossing the start line.

“Transpac Race Committee, good morning, this is Idefix seven four two niner six, checking in.”

“Idefix, SSS Race Committee. Good morning Adrian, and have a great race”.

I never realized an hour could go by so fast. Fenders and mooring lines are stowed. Jib is hoisted and sheeted. The starting area is starting to fill with racers, photo boats, and onlookers. John Denny sails by on his Hobie 33, Por Favor. He will be starting the Pacific Cup in a few weeks, and I socialized with him a bit on the dock in Alameda. I give him a wave. Ronnie sails by, and I yell out “Dude, let’s sail to Hawaii!”. His main is reefed. Good idea. I take a reef.

“This will be the five minute warning for Division A.” A countdown, the gun sounds. I set my race timer, and start positioning myself for the start. At the skipper’s meeting, Bob Johnston, the race committee chair, gave us the “guys, this is a 2000-mile race, don’t be over early” speech, and Ronnie and I have been talking trash and joking about how we’re going to nail that start line. How do I do this again? I haven’t started this boat in a race all winter. I think back to laser racing on Union Bay, and move over to the right side a bit to give myself plenty of room for a starboard tack reach down the line.  One minute left. In the excitement of the moment I forgot about the wind gradient and I’m stuck in light air. I’m going to be late. Oh well. The gun sounds, and I drift languidly towards the line. Bandicoot and Taz!! have nailed the start, and are sailing off to Hawai’i. Warrior’s Wish is drifting a couple boat lengths behind me. The under-30 crowd has just been put in its place by the greybeards. Eventually I get a bit more wind and cross the start, about a minute late. Thirty seconds later the boat is heeled over twenty degrees, spray flying, and I’m trying to keep her upright for the photo boat.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FMaqb8DoAY

This is only my second sail on San Francisco Bay. The first was two days ago when I brought the boat over from Alameda. I’m falling in love with this place. I’d like to bear off and sail around Alcatraz, and Angel Island, and go anchor in a cove somewhere where I can smell the eucalyptus trees, and spend the day watching the Bay and the city. I round a headland and the Golden Gate Bridge comes into view, and the sight of the bridge brings me back to the very obvious task at hand.

The radio crackles. Division B has started. I hadn’t given much thought to the other divisions, since I wasn’t really expecting to do all that well on corrected time, but it would be a major embarrassment for a boat from another start to catch up with me before the Gate, and I tell myself I need to hold them off at least to the Farrallones. The boat is moving through the chop surprisingly well, and I manage to catch up to Taz!!, the smallest boat in our division, before tacking to stay in the center of the channel. No shipping traffic in sight. Race Committee reports an outbound container ship crossing the Gate in an hour and two Japanese Navy Vessels inbound and expected in a few hours. The wind is a steady 18 now, there’s plenty of chop and I’m wishing I had the #4 up. The Olson 30 can handle plenty of wind, but it’s designed to race with 5 or 6 big people hiking on the rail. Sailing her shorthanded means carrying way less sail area than usual to keep her on her feet, unless I’m going downwind.

The boat sails out of the sun and into darkness. We are under the bridge. It’s so high up, it’s as if it weren’t really there. I’m in the center of the span, right where I want to be. Taz!! is not far behind me, and Warrior’s Wish is rounding the headlands, maybe a mile behind. Boats from the other starts are thankfully still out of sight. Only Bandicoot is ahead of me. The cat-rigged boat is showing its prowess in this lumpy beat, and I worry that it will only be faster when we start reaching. Meanwhile, I’ve taken in a reef, but I’m still overpowered, and decide it’s time to switch to the #4. To do a peel, I have to set it up while I’m still on this tack, and a rocky, unfamiliar shore is looming ahead of me. I crawl up to the foredeck and fasten the tack, feed the sail, bend the halyard. The boat plows into a wave and I commune with the ocean. The foredeck of an Olson 30 is a wet place in chop, especially when there is someone’s weight up there! I’m wearing foul weather gear, but I forgot to seal up the wrists and my forearms are damp. Back to the cockpit. Hoist the sail. Tack. Back to the foredeck to douse the old sail. Another wave. This time my foulies had rode up one of my ankles and my boot fills with water. Stuff the sail down the hatch and crawl back to the cockpit. I’m thankful for the handrails I installed on the foredeck and cabintop before the race.

Another tack, the Japanese Navy ships are coming through. No problem, I have time to clear out of the channel. Has it been an hour already? Time is flying by, but I’m so focused on the race and navigating in these unfamiliar surroundings that I’ve completely lost track of it. Behind me, Warrior’s Wish has caught up to Taz!!, and I’m expecting him to do the same to me soon. The Mount Gay 30 is a beautiful machine, with a deep fin & bulb keel, and I expect it to be much better at powering upwind through these waves than my Olson 30.  Hopefully the upwind leg will be short. By now, I am thoroughly soaked by waves, the dampness has spread inside my foul weather gear, and I’m getting cold. I kick myself for starting with the #3 and doing a sail change on the foredeck right after the start. I’m 2 hours into a 2-week race and half my cold weather gear is wet.

I spot the first set of channel buoys that mark the passage across the San Francisco Bar. I’ve read about all the dangers of the Bar and know I want to stay in the channel. There is no traffic, so it will be easy, tacking from buoy to buoy. Bandicoot is doing the same ahead. Hecla passes me down the center of the channel, leaping off of waves. I wave to Jeff, wishing I too could be dry and comfy (Jeff later assured me he was neither). I sail past the weather buoy we were warned about in our weather briefing, narrowly miss one of the channel markers, and set off across the Gulf of the Farrallones. I consider easing the sheets and bearing off onto a close reach for a little more speed and comfort, but I know I should get away from the shore as fast as possible, which means staying close hauled for a couple more hours. The steep chop of the Bar is slowly turning into longer ocean swells, which helps a bit, although every third wave or so sends spray all over the boat. The wind is blowing 20 to 25. I go down below to warm up a bit, and decide I might as well change some of my wet clothes out. By the time I’m done, the motion of the cabin has overwhelmed me, and I lean out the companionway hatch and let loose my breakfast into the cockpit. I suddenly feel much better, and lean back into my berth for a rest. This is my first bout of seasickness in over 20 years of sailing.

By the time of the evening check-in, I am close reaching WSW at 7 knots, and have cleared the Farrallones to the South. I am a little nervous about getting the HF radio working, since I’ve only used it a couple times, but manage to make contact with Jeff on Hecla, who will relay our positions to Race Committee for the first few days. The other boats report their positions. I am two miles ahead of Warrior’s Wish, and pleased that I’ve managed to hold off Ronnie for so long.  I can see his tall rig in the swell behind me. Bandicoot and Mirage are missing at the check-in, and I’m disappointed, because I’m sure they are doing well and would like to know where they are. I last saw Bandicoot before sunset, to the North of me, slightly ahead. The only boat to report ahead of me is Hecla. I figure this is not a bad start, but I have a rough night ahead. The wind is showing no sign of abating, and neither are the waves. Occasionally one will break on the boat, soaking me and spurting water down the companionway into the leeward berth. I am freezing cold, and my feet are still soaked, since I have no change of boots. I can barely keep any food down, and snack on a cereal bar. I’m having an easier time than the autopilot keeping the boat going straight, so I spend much of the night hand steering, occasionally retiring to the cabin for a short nap. I’m keeping an eye on the faint light that is Warrior’s Wish, and in the pre-dawn darkness, I see him cross behind me, headed straight for Hanalei. Part of me wants to head up to cover Ronnie, but this isn’t a match race, and I know that I would probably lose in a boat-for-boat battle. From talking to Ronnie before the start, I know he’s been considering a rhumbline course. It sounds appealing, but the weather charts seem to indicate the wind will shut down over the whole course, and I’m worried the rhumbline, while shorter, might have less wind overall. I’ve decided to head a little further south, so I can have slightly stronger wind in the middle third of the race, which will help keep the boat surfing. This more southerly course early on also results in a slightly deeper (and thus faster) reach for the first 2 or 3 days.

Read Part Two.

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