Friday, June 1, 2012

Arrival part 2

So I made it...!
When I left Mexico, I was trucking along for the first 24 hours at a nice pace and managed to get out into the blue water the next morning. It was a nice surprise to see beautiful blue water under the keel in the morning. I made 107 miles in that 24 hour period. So I started at noon, and all my “days” are noon to noon. Unfortunately, the wind then calmed down to nothing and I tried to motor into the rolling swells to make some distance.  I motored for 6 hours and since there is an exhaust leak in the engine, I got very very sick and had a terrible headache and ended up throwing up a day later. The winds stayed light for a long time and I didn't make 100 miles for the next 9 days, averaging about 70 for that period. So I got behind. I also stopped at Isla San Benedicto, which was a fantastic stop, and I should have spent more time there. The island is a volcano that blew up in the 50s or something, and is very much a barren wasteland. When I got in and anchored, I packed up my cameras and got in the kayak to go to the shore. 
I could hear the cannon fire of the surf making war on the beach and paddled straight into the fray, though with much apprehension. I managed to surf in without getting soaked and then jumped onto the black sand beach and ran the kayak up out of the waves. The beach was like soil, almost, soft and giving, but large particles of ash. I liked it. And black like the heart of the mountain. Now I was standing on an island which nobody else was on, desolate and barren and trapped by the shocking and awe of surf upon the sand. I wanted to climb, but the fine ash was too slippery and steep to go up, so I wandered around the base of the volcano, and I found a baby albatross (see last post for pictures) and many Masked Boobies.

  I left San Benedicto in the afternoon after about 4 hours and sailed on into the growing dark, but the wind was very light and I was pointing nearly due south and going very slowly. That is the unfortunate thing about this area, the dead zone between the trades and Mexico. Sometimes there is a system that pushes the wind east into this area, but sometimes it is devoid of the motion and only the loco are to be found looking for locomotion.
But the water is so blue!
It took 4 days to get to San Benedicto, and another 5 to get the further 200 miles to Isla Clarion. I went very far south and then had to tack back to get to the island. All my landfalls were destined to occur at night, and I ended up waiting out at sea until dawn, usually waiting 10 hours or more, which slowed me down substantially.
is worth the wait, however. It is very much like Santa Catalina or Santa Cruz island in the Channel islands of California. There are some grasses and many scrub kind of plants, but few trees.
The island is like a potato pointing east to west and the trade wind comes from the north, so it comes over the island and accelerates down the back side.
  The island is shaped like a wing, also, so the north side is steep cliffs and the south side is a smooth slope down to the beach. There is a Mexican Navy base there, and they were very friendly to me as I arrived and when I came to the beach they walked down to talk.
  I was worried they would get me in trouble for not having a pass or permissions to go to the island, but I asked them if it would be all right if I could walk around and they gave me 2 hours. I saw a wren that is an endemic species and a dove that was interesting, and also an albatross flew by and I saw the black wings and back with white head and tail, I think a Laysan.
I'd like to go back to Clarion, and maybe check out a few other anchorages, out of sight of the Navy, and do more diving. Since I was alone, I was reluctant to get in for a super long time, but I went in for a short dip

. The water clarity is astounding, probably 80 ft of visibility, maybe more. There are many fishes that live on the reefs there and not many other places. After the short visit of about 4 hours I hauled the anchor once more and set off for the long haul west. From Clarion, Hawaii is due west, basically, but the shortest distance is to do a “great circle” route which actually points a little north. It think the bearing was 179. The winds came from the north, and I re-set my clock to Hawaii time and took off swiftly.
There is a rock that looks like King Kong as you leave and he was shaking his giant gorilla fist at me in a salute as I passed. My speed for the next 24 hours was great, and I made 143 miles, the best of the whole trip. Beam reaching with a slight current suits Altair very nicely. The waves began to get larger and larger as I pressed further west, but the trouble for me happened when, after about 8 days, the winds shifted enough to make me put away the main. I was now going downwind, and the boat has no roll stabilizer when going downwind. Previously, when coming down the west coast, it was annoying, but since the waves only came from behind and a few other directions, not too bad. Here it was tragic. Altair would roll so fast I would get thrown around the cabin, and sometimes while surfing down a wave it would cause the boat to turn suddenly and roll quite far over. This motion was very bad for my health and I threw up a few times, which I don't like at all. I thought I'd get seasick once and then be done, but my finely tuned ears, it seems, have to get used to all the possibilities, and each new condition requires a gastronomic sacrifice. Many things were breaking at this time, the boat was getting tired, as was I, and as the trade wind swell picked up to near 10 ft waves, they began breaking with enough force to throw a pile of spray into the cockpit. A few times the water was enough to breach the companionway door and I took a few gallons of water into the cabin. It is unfortunate that my ipod and the computer charging stuff was underneath this onslaught, and the ipod is wounded badly and the computer is another story. At this point, it became unusable because I couldn't charge it. The sea state was bad enough that I couldn't use the computer anyways, since I would get sick and throw up (this was tested) so I spent the last 5 days (it was 20 from Clarion to Hilo) listening to Harry Potter on the ipod and either trying to stand in the cockpit (impossible without hand support) or lying on the bunk with my eyes closed.
Finally I arrived. The last day (I had hoped) the current turned against me and I didn't make the distance to arrive before sunset, so I dropped sail and put the tire in the water behind me to slow my progress and drifted (or heaved) on the waves. I made about 10 miles that night and at sunrise was about 20 miles to go. The trade wind was light, but steady until about 10 miles, and then the mountain effect from the island turned the wind into my face, so I turned on the motor. After about 10 minutes I could see clouds of black smoke wafting around inside the cabin and I thought maybe I should reconsider the use of the motor, and when I turned it off the boat lunged and jerked around in the still air. The large swell was rebounding from the shoreline and made a terrible sea state. Finally a cloud came over and through a small rainstorm I managed to sail to the breakwater entrance and into calmer waters. It took me about an hour to make the 2 miles to the anchorage, and then I called around to figure out the number for customs, and discovered I was supposed to go to another spot, so I picked up the hook and sailed past this large cruise boat and through a very narrow (100 ft across maybe) channel to where the customs dock is. I am now anchored back at the spot I first stopped, amongst friendly neighbors.
The last few days I have been working on fixing the things that broke on this trip. LaFawnda worked fantastically, steering the boat for nearly the whole time. I hand steered about 6 hours for the entire trip, mostly coming into harbors and a little bit on the “last day” to try to make speed. There was a leak in the mounting system for LaFawnda. She has wet feet. When I drilled the holes for the frame that holds the rudder on, I put them above the waterline, but when moving above hull speed the back of the boat is pushed underwater. You can see it in the videos, in the view from the stern. When moving fast the flat transom is visible underwater, and when moving slowly it is not. Anyways, the holes, when submerged, leaked. They leaked a lot, in fact. I think I pumped about 500 gallons of water during the trip. Every 4 or 6 hours the entire bilge was full when moving fast.
Another problem is the engine, but I found that it is a simple (I think) fix. The exhaust pipe is made of sections and they screw together, but the design is such that they have to be loose. They wobbled enough this time to make the loose connection nearly separate, so there is a big leak. I will try to seal it up soon, but since I used the engine all of 11 hours for this trip, I'm not too worried about it just yet. I will, however, need the engine when I get to Alaska.
LaFawnda also had some trouble with her cables. The spectra fishing line ones worked great for most of the trip, but the finally wore through and when I put stainless steel cable in, it broke as well. Actually it broke about 10 times, so I was fixing it quite often. I am happy that it is easy to fix, despite being thrown around like an abused puppet.
The largest problem when I arrived, however, was the computer. I tried to figure out a way to connect to the charging system. I did some surgery on the corner of the plastic case where the charging plug connects, but I couldn't get to it, so I went and got a new plug and carefully figured out the positive and negative sides for it, then promptly soldered the wrong sides to the plug and when I connected it, a little popping sound came from the computer and that was the end. So I killed my little tiny computer, sadly. So I just got a new one yesterday, and I did further surgery to steal the hard drive from the old one and get all the files onto this new one. She is performing well so far. I'm now running windows 7, which is nice, but I don't have all the programs set up yet. I was also nearly finished with another video and trying to get the new computer to finish it is not easy.
There are a few other things I want to do to the boat. I've never really tried to get rid of all the little leaks in the sides and top, where water trickles down through little connections and holes in the deck, but it is important (if you have electrical things) to keep the inside of the boat dry, and very difficult during a long passage. I think I'll spend some time re-caulking as much as I can.
For future passages I am going to be much simpler with my food supply. I threw away a lot of fruits and wasn't in the mood to eat a lot of things (or it came back up, and then I didn't want to see that kind of food ever again) so I will be going more with just potatoes and rice and lentils and eggs. Combinations of those seemed to work quite well.


mlloyd said...

WOW! It sounds like you had a spectacular voyage!! I appreciate your retelling of the events with a clinical play-by-play tone, as opposed to some previous retellings in which you got a bit too much (perhaps) into the storytelling mode and played up the exciting parts (ie, I almost died...)

Love you brother, and I'm so glad you made it in one piece, mostly!

mlloyd said...

And Happy Birthday!!

Katrina said...

Hey Christian, so glad to hear you made the crossing safely, sorry to hear you were feeling ill the whole time though. We'd been thinking of you often during your trip, and especially during the last week of it Abe was anxiously checking several times a day. We'll see if we can get our act together to visit while you're in Hawaii. How long do you think you'll be there?

Happy Birthday!!

Rachel said...

Happy birthday little brother! I am so glad to hear that you made it safely across. Sorry that you had rough seas and SMS a queasy stomach. I can't wait to hear more and see more pictures.

Love you,


stefan said...

aloha! well done, christian, sailorman!