“So, Chris, I was thinking.” - pausing to gather courage, lost somewhere at sea. “Rather than raising the kite at 6am, we could wait until 8am when the main watch starts. That way, we can run a 2-person watch all night, and everyone gets 2 more hours of sleep.” My voice rising inversely to the descending moon.
“Ok.” He responded with his uncharacteristic brevity.
“Ok?” Groggy from my lack of sleep, mild boredom, and whatever disorienting factors were present at 4am. I needed certainty.
“Ok.” For once, his command was like an alpine flower on an otherwise scorched mountainside.
My life jacket, flannel and beanie were shed before I was halfway down the hatch, to Alejandro’s amusement and Chris’ instant regret.
And now, as the blazing high-noon sun rises in the sky like my 4-full hours of sleep-fueled spirits, I am ready to tackle…Sunday? What day is this?
We have turned the corner, so to speak, now heading directly west for our destination. A mere 2,000 miles away, Antigua should be reached within 10 days. The wind is dancing between 10 and 15 knots, which puts our boat speed between 8-10, a blazing velocity by sailing standards. We have put 1,000 miles behind our stern as of three hours ago - the first third of our trip accomplished in 6 days. My wagered guess of a 15-day crossing does not look promising.
Given that on watch we hand steer for 30 minutes, break for 90 and then repeat, each of the 8 crew will ultimately acquire 45 hours of helm time before the Caribbean. It should be noted that the mates and captain do not helm, but merely sit idle, like task masters sipping their iced tea (where are they getting iced cubes?) and barking orders. Thankfully, the rebukes are almost exclusively reserved for Jeff. During his 30 minutes of helming, unfortunately, all of us are in a state of abject terror. I’m convinced all of my bad dreams of careening off a highway, or leaping from a building, are triggered by his erratic steering and complete ignorance of wind direction, compass heading, or social graces. If only someone would stop rousing him from his incessant watch naps below, our chances of survival would escalate exponentially.
Hold for now - Chris just reminded me that I’m late for my watch. Where is that scapegoat, Jeff anyways?
Today, we’re going to cover time zones. Until yesterday, I thought our system of time was somehow determined in the library of some English nobleman, dividing up the world like the British did their foreign subjects. What Chris clarified for all of us was the mathematical and geographic explanation for why my watch would be an extra 30 minutes, and Jeff’s nap system elongated. I need to find that damn comments box he’s obviously hidden in the bilge.
The earth can be divided into 360 degrees. Aside from you geographic atheists, we can agree on that, right? Divided by 24 hours, you come up with 15 degrees covered per hour as the earth spins. Those lines of longitude, from north to south or vice versa, depending on which direction your toilet flushes, each determine a time zone. Each degree of longitude is 60 miles from the next, so 15 degrees equates to 900 nautical miles - the distance between each zone.
The “0” time zone, from which all other time zones are calculated, of course runs through that spoiled English barron’s library aforementioned. He cleverly established a system whereby the world literally revolved around him. Historically known as Greenwich Mean Time, the French, during a recent dispute over the proper naming of fried potatoes, negotiated to the geographically-neutral acronym of UTC or United Time Coordinates. They’ll never forgive Nelson for relocating Napolean to the desolate island of Elba. And so, children, we have a construct for time.
Why do I bring this up, other than to kill the very subject of our discussion? We passed our first time zone yesterday, and it’s thrown the boat into absolute disarray.
“Chris, before this time zone changed, we were UTC -1 or an hour ahead. You are now telling us that having traversed 900 miles west, away from the sun, we are somehow going back in time to UTC +1, I asked with mistrusting curiosity.
“That’s correct” He elaborated.
“But that doesn’t make any sense!” I expressed with mild frustration.
“Well, you have to account for daylight savings time” he explained with absolute indifference.
Confused, I set my watch back an hour. I’m returning to my old system of obedient reliance on an arrogant English system rather than cross sections of planet earth adjusted for German interpretation.
It’s the weekend! Back home a Saturday looks like the girls gearing up for soccer, Tara and I tackling laundry, yard work, a walk to Starbucks, and a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond, if there’s time. When the chores are complete, we feel deserving of a happy hour with friends, or a date night. There might be time to play guitar, poorly I might add, or just relax on the couch to the latest PGA tour event. And that makes me happy. For a time…before I dream of being on the water.
So, here I am. On the water…dreaming about doing laundry. But really, what does an Atlantic Saturday present that a Tuesday doesn’t? There are rumors that we will be washing ourselves, or one another, at some point today. Perhaps we will do laundry. My shorts could stand watch on their own at this point - the salt, the sweat, the sunscreen. I’m surprised no complaints have been voiced about the general BO looming about the cabin. Thank Orion I’m a mouth breather.
I realize I bored us all to the grave with yesterday’s celestial commentary. Not my best journal work, but I have to share a few observations from last night’s sail. The midnight to 4am watch is by far my favorite. I wore shorts for the first time, and despite Staton’s yearning glances at my calves, I was very comfortable. The moon is almost halfway to its fullness, and painted an iridescent path for us to follow. I discovered the Scorpio constellation off our stern, as did Falken, for she increased her speed through the water to avoid a painful sting.
We are still reaching to the south to avoid a high pressure (low wind) system off our starboard. In the next day we will be swinging slightly to the north and heading straight west on a “great circle” to reach Antigua. Estimates now seem more accurate around arriving somewhere between the 9th and 11th. We are marking the chart at noon and midnight, daily, and it’s rewarding to watch our pencil marks inch closer to our destination. 5 days in, and we have only moved a handful of inches - which reminds us of the enormity of the earth, or the poor record keeping of the crew. Likely a combination of both.
I’m in the cockpit, on the low side, baking in the morning sun. I should be more concerned about skin cancer, but am distracted by Alejandro’s erratic driving. He chastised Chris yesterday for profiling him, but he’s not helping the Latin American stereotypes about being dangerous behind the wheel. I suggested he learn an instrument in retirement rather than leaning into his aspirational sailing career. He replied with the one thing out of his mouth I never struggle to understand - the middle finger.
And so it goes. A Saturday where, absent household chores, a soccer match, or cocktails, we are entertained by our brotherly love, off-colored jokes, and please God, helming lessons for the Costa Rican.
It’s 12:30 UTC on Friday. I’m lounging in the cockpit, awaiting my turn at the helm. We spotted our first ship in the daytime passing us to our starboard about 1 nautical mile north. A massive tanker, making its way toward the Med or North Sea, I expect. Proof that humanity still exists. Absent her appearance, there is nothing on the horizon. Puffy cumulus clouds fan out from our ship in all directions, giving us momentary relief from the tropical sun. Winds are light, so the sound of our main sail and spinnaker flaking provide a background chorus to our setting. We’re bobbing along, in no hurry.
All of this looks and feels like yesterday. And it may be the same tomorrow, and the next day, or two days prior. So it goes out here. One day lazily morphs into the next. And yet, no boredom, no anxiety, no wishing it along, or slowing it down. This feeling of contentedness, brought on after a few days at sea, will last until a day or two out from shore, when planning, and expecting, and anticipating all return. It’s a strange phenomenon, that I’m sure science or Brenne Brown can explain, but it has set in. And it’s good.
In today’s entry, I thought we could explore celestial observation.
Last night, our team had two watches. 8pm until midnight, and then 4am until 8am. That gave us nearly eight hours of star gazing, along with a sunset and sunrise. Though these simple pleasures of observing a sun’s circumnavigation are offered up daily, I can’t recall the last time, if ever, I experienced them. To watch the sun drop over one watery horizon only to reappear, magically (according the flat earthers) on the other, over the same body of water is, well, magical. A visual orgy, which, as much as I’ve grown attached to this crew, is the only one I’d like to experience on this crossing, thank you very much Staton.
On the topic of the former, we discovered a star gazing book, or map to the pleasure zone, if you want to keep with the metaphor. Pervert. In the opening pages, it heretically claims “while it can be difficult to find family activities that engage the young and old alike, everyone loves stargazing; children are awestruck, while the elderly see the stars as familiar old friends." Have you met my fucking children? If the entertainment is not delivered via TicTock or YouTube kids, you can forget about engaging let alone “awestruck." That said, my kin are not onboard, thank Zeus, so I kept investigating.
During our midnight watch, we observed the constellation, Orion. Most notable is his belt, made up of the three stars, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka named after the specials on Little India’s lunch menu. It’s easily spotted by the perfectly linear alignment of the stars…or the fanny pack he sports in the late spring, or on any trip to DisneyWorld. Betelgeuse (Beetle-juice), and Bellatrix form his back and shoulder from which he shoots his bow, or wrestles a bear, or swings a golf club - one can never tell what those cosmic gods do when nobody is looking. Rigel is the brightest star in the constellation, 7th brightest in the sky, and makes up the front foot of Orion, the other foot being Saiph. Looking further up into the night sky we found Gemini, indicated by the two bright stars Pullox and Castor. I won’t bore you with the lesser stars that make out their two bodies. Have I lost your interest yet?
The Big Dipper helped us identify Polaris (the North Star) and once again we learned about Arcturus and Spica, two of the most brilliant stars in the sky. Follow the arc (of the Big Dipper) to Arcturus, and speed on to Spica (follow the same line to reach her). Spica is the brightest star in the constellation, Virgo. Unfortunately, Arcturus forms the constellation of some obscure Greco Roman God that nobody paid attention to - not dissimilar to that never-married third cousin you can’t seem to avoid at Thanksgiving until you consciously avoid the chip dip, where he invariable lurks. Poor Arcturus - he had so much potential.
We learned that one of the best gauges for the number of stars observed in the night is by locating Ursa MInor (Little Dipper) and looking at the four stars that make up her ladle. If you can see all four, then you should be able to observe nearly 3,000 stars. If one of the four disappears, the number drops to 800 stars, and so on. During our second watch, all four were visible, which clearly supported the theory, as the sky was alight with sparkles.
Finally, the Milky Way. Oh, Henry, the Milky Way. What almost appears as a light cloud covering, is actually a concentration of hundreds of billions of stars emitting a band of light. These stars, like many in the night sky, are millions of light years away. The speed of light covers 6 trillion miles in one year. Which is ridiculous to ponder, when Rivian advertises a whopping 400 miles to every charge. Sucker. Sirius, named after a satellite radio station, is one of earth’s closest neighbors. She is easily identified by her brightness or quick advertisement on Willie’s Roadhouse station. A mere 8 million light years away, this neighbor is JUST out of reach for space travel and you can forget about borrowing milk or a cup of sugar, when in need.
As we progress through our passage, I will look forward to these familiar faces in the night sky…I’ve certainly grown tired of those of my watch mates.
It’s 7:23am, UTC, Thursday. Apologies for the gap in the calendar, but really, you have nothing better to do than read yesterday’s unpublished news? I’ve been in contact with a close buddy from home, and was notified at my waking hour that the Kraken beat the Avalanche and are up in the series 3-2. I promised him I would be on the lookout for the sea monster turned-pro-hockey mascot, and offer them something of value to throw the series. Should that fail, I’ll fashion a harpoon out of TSA-approved belongings and take matters into my own hands.
Meanwhile, back on Falken, we are almost three days out to sea. The beloved Beatlejuice departed yesterday afternoon to very little fan fair. As much fun as it was to have a bird-flu carrying stowaway, we had not accounted for the fecal irresponsibility of a pigeon. After his leave, our watch was charged with a full deck scrubbing. Thankfully, I was at the helm, and watched with mild amusement as my mates scrubbed the green residue from the cockpit. And this, Nora, is why we won’t buy you a Chinchilla.
Yesterday’s excitement was found in flying a Spinnaker. For those unfamiliar with sailing terminology, this is the very colorful parachute-like sail that is so iconic in sailing photography. Its purpose is to lend power when running so you can sail nearly dead downwind. The problems with the rig are everywhere - more lines to assemble, halyards to raise, tacks to tack, clews to clew, etc etc. In my amateur opinion, it’s not worth the trouble. If we wanted to get there faster, we would walk, obviously.
As a relevant aside, my sailing career began with running the spinnaker on the foredeck during boat races in Chicago. And though it served as the catalyst into this life eventually, I despised every moment. I was 23 and had discovered that living in a big city, with no homework, plenty of spending money, and zero responsibility leant itself to some late, late Saturday nights. Sunday morning sailing on a boat with complete strangers, an inpatient captain who showed no qualms about screaming at his crew, and a roll I couldn’t quite understand was not for me. I recall getting a strong talking to, via email, about my lack of commitment to the team. I never responded, nor returned to racing.
“Take these Spinnaker sheets to the foredeck and tie a bowline around the stanchions,” Chris explained to me.
“Yes captain,” I replied confidently with utter confusion.
15 minutes later.
“What have you attached the lines to?” Chris’ tone like mine when asking my children if they know where the laundry hamper is, while trying to find a sign of carpet below their pile of discarded clothes.
“To, err, the pulpit.” I replied, innocently, batting my eyelashes.
And so it went.
As the day progressed, and I witnessed the utility of the damn thing, I was forced to reconsider my position. Thank you smirking German. Thank you.
Before leaving Las Palmas, the crew was all handed small slips of paper to record our expected date of arrival in Antigua. There was discussion of a winner’s pot, but until reaching international waters, the legalities and tax status of gambling onboard had not yet been ironed out. It’s unclear what currency we would exchange - Swedish kroner? Deutschmark? Euro? I’m angling for free Dark N Stormies, but my standing as financier may be challenged if I take too strong a position. The point here is how long we anticipate the passage taking. My vote, between us girls, was May 9th, at 9:30am. That puts us on a 15 day passage. We’re all on high alert for the sinister helmsman pumping the breaks, or making lazy arcs through the sea to arrive at their wagered time.
“Are you heading for the kingdom of Banine (Africa),” Chris asked Alejandro.
“No, I was just trying to, err, catch the wind at a better angle." We all know you’re retired Alejandro, but there are more honest ways to earn a Euro.
We’ll have a couple weeks to cover much, so in an effort to educate the reader on the daily goings on at sea, I’ll try to tackle elements of living aboard in a systematic, yet digestible manner. In short, I won’t bore you with too much mundane shit by feeding it to you in small rations daily.
Today I thought to address the important topic of personal hygiene. We were instructed at the outset that brushing of the teeth was reserved for one of the two heads. Anyone caught spitting in the galley sink would be stripped of all rights, lashed to the mast, and offered as sacrifice to the Kraken. Showers will only be taken on the stern of the boat, at an unspecified date in the future. We’ll be handed a necklace of soap at that time, and made to watch one another perform this illicit task in a public setting.
There is hand soap in the two heads and the galley, where one is expected to wash, certainly before digging through the cheese container by hand. Jeff earned a strong dressing down for attempting to clip his toenails in the cockpit, to all of our amusement. Nothing goes down the toilet that did not first get ingested, so the small wastebaskets in the head collect soiled toilet paper, thrown overboard by the captain daily. Not surprising that the dolphins disappear at regular intervals.
My face routine, and teeth-retainer schedule are in utter disarray. I brush in the middle of the day, after breakfast. Or following lunch, at midnight. How can any sort of routine established on land translate onto a boat on the ocean? At sea, what is morning? Or who is evening, when time is marked by an ever-shifting watch schedule as un-routine as the waves below us? I now brush when I want, splash my face with water, and for the love of Poseidon, clip my nails over the guardrails.
It’s dark, but I can see the smirk and slight eye roll from Chris, as he looks at me from the helm. We’re at the stern of the boat, he on the wheel, me at the main sheet, as we wait patiently for Alejandro to finish tying a bowline around a preventer line. The inside joke, of course, is that we practiced that knot before leaving shore. In Alejandro’s defense, a bowline done in English, must appear different to a LatinX.
If the gap in the journal, or the complicated sailing jargon doesn’t signify, we are at sea. I’m sitting in the cockpit at 9:30, drinking my first black coffee of the day, the less refined and rowdy 2nd cousin of the Cappuccino. We slipped our lines yesterday a little past 4pm in the afternoon, local. For those of us with Garmin watches, there was a quick download of a new application, so we can tell time in UTC (the Woke time zone - Universal Time Coordinate - historically known as Greenwich Mean Time) along with whatever local time we will find ourselves.
The planned departure was 12:30, which, under the command of a German skipper, you would expect to, well, set your watch by it. But there was a missing wing nut or something of perilous consequence if not fixed, and that delayed us a couple hours. Passport control was another slight delay. Finally, as we prepared to slip the line, our commander inquired into the VHF:
“Harbor control, harbor control, this is Nordic Falcon requesting departure from the marina and out of the harbor”.
Nothing. Wait a minute.
Repeat. Nothing. German eye roll. Wait a minute.
Repeat. Nothing. Wait a minute. Shoulder shrug.
“Prepare the mooring lines…”. And we were off. I appreciate Chris’ sense of abandonment - I am beginning to understand why he no longer lives in the Deutschland. He’s certainly an outlier.
Once in the main harbor, and before passing the breakwater, we began to raise the main, with Staton and I at the mast, yanking and pulling and sweating, and hand-chaffing, and more pulling…
“Halt. The halyard is twisted. Lower the main.” Chris shared with indifference.
My turn to roll eyes.
“Does someone have their knife on them?” Chris inquired.
“I do. What can I do?” (whatever it is), I replied with excitement.
As we motored around, dodging 400 foot-long tankers entering the harbor, the boat rolling under foot, I climbed 5 feet up the mast, bear hugged the aluminum structure like a Koala might grip a stripper pole, and dangled there, knife in my mouth like a pirate, untwisting and twisting, cutting and zip tying. Not 30 minutes into our transAtlantic crossing, and my life is hanging in the balance, the crew silent with breathless anxiety, hungry sharks circling below…Ok, so the imagination can sometimes run afoul. It was a little scary, slightly dangerous, but unlikely to be the largest or most terrifying challenge of the passage.
Main hoisted, wing nut restored, tanker avoided, and Yankee (jib sail) raised, and we were under way. The sparkling blue water, reflecting the sinking sun stretched out before us, welcoming us into her bosom.
A couple hours later, I found a spot on the stern to enjoy Mia’s first dinner on passage, leaning against the rail, looking back as the sun sank over the silhouette of Las Palmas. The stress, anxiety, excitement, or general endorphins caused by the last couple days and the several months prior, in preparation, melted away. As dolphins emerged from the water, leaping about our stern and darting under our hull, I smiled at our good fortune. And appreciated the good sign from Neptune.
As I was sitting at my journal in the cockpit this morning, I was curious to learn more from our captain.
“What is the name of your son, Chris?” I asked.
“What do you call him?”
Pause. Smirk. Staton explodes with laughter. Forget Neptune, the dry humor alone is a good sign for a pleasant, if awkward passage. Oh, and the dolphins just returned.
The stars have come out
They spot their face on the sea
Guiding our passage.
I’m not sure if these haiku’s are sounding better or worse as we go, but they’re fun to write.
It’s almost 9pm, UTC. I’m in the cockpit, awaiting my turn at the wheel. Still Tuesday - are these days getting longer? I was first on the watch, at 8PM, as the sun was dipping below the horizon, and the quarter moon was hung out for the night. Like a lantern on a hook, she seems to swing with each gentle bob of our little vessel.
Though just a speck on this vast ocean, we’re bustling with life. When I came up from my 5 hour siesta, I was greeted not only by the other watch mates, but a medium-sized pigeon quietly sitting in the cockpit. So far from land, city parks, and stale cigarettes, one must wonder how this winged rat was planning to survive so far from home. She seems out of place, given our surroundings, but then, which of this crew was born to the sea? We all found our way here through life’s twists, misfortunes, or galactic alignment.
Mia, for example, had finished a years’ long gap from Sweden as an au pair in Boston. A friend, who procured an extra visa for her now abandoned boyfriend, offered Mia the chance to continue her adolescence in New Zealand. It was there, on a bus ride to skydive, where she met Andy. He had a day off with his mates, and joined them on the ride to the drop zone. No lost boyfriend, no free visa. No visa, no Mia. No day off, no Andy. Until that point of cosmic magic, Mia had never sailed. Andy introduced her to the sea.
When the sun finally set, both Chris and Mia shared their knowledge of the stars. Where I mistook a reddish planet for Mars, they highlighted that I was looking at Beetlejuice, a red star easily identified by Orion’s Belt. Mia and Andy’s first boat, years after their star-crossed meeting in the New Zealand wilderness was named Arcturus. That star can be found by following the arc of the tail of the Big Dipper to the next brightest star. When challenged by the need for a second boat name, they revisited the stars. “Follow the arc to Arcturus, and then speed on to Spica”. Boat number two, appropriately, is Spica.
Not one for Zodiacs, I would naturally question all of this. And yet, there it is, painted in the night sky. All of us, like the handful of satellites spotted this evening, racing through the cosmos until we bump into each other. Now if we could only think of a name for this pigeon. “Beetlejuice”, of course. Never call out to her three times.
We're the Zimmerman Family!
Home Base | Denver, CO
A family of six that
LOVES to sail !
Follow our crew (Royce, Tara, Avery, Charley, Nora & Ruby)
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Set Sail 4.22.23 | Las Palmas - Across the Atlantic - Island of Antigua
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