I’m writing this from the cockpit. It’s 12:12AM (Monday Morning), and I just came off my 1.5-hour watch at the helm. Alejandro, my watch partner, is now at the helm - I serve as backup and support to him. I’m tucked under the dodger, guarded from the wind, but couldn’t be more at peace. The last 90 minutes, hand steering our Swan, was the experience every sailor longs for. The wind was constant at 18-20, still driven by the Trades this far south. The sea state has finally settled into a 3-foot rolling lull, where it has been 5-10 feet the last 24 hours. Bio-luminescence follows in our wake to stern. These phenomena, which I don’t understand, looks like little fireflies trailing in the water. To port and starboard of our stern, the same is true - wherever our boat churns up the water, these hundreds of little sparkles occur. Our girls would love this.
Most importantly, I was surrounded by billions of stars. Two shooting stars fell from the sky, dropping out of view behind the crisp white sails. The moon set long before my 10:30 watch, and my visibility is lit by the twinkling dots from horizon to horizon. Bermuda has been on an 11 degree Magnetic course all day, but under a cloudless sky, I followed the North Star for the entire hour and a half. Something magical about tracking by the stars. Though the warm red glow of the boat’s instruments reminded me of my course, I settled into guiding our ship via the beacon Columbus, Drake, and a myriad of other sailors have used for the millennia - Polaris. It was an awesome end to the day, let me bring you up to speed.
When we left off, I shut off my iPad, feeling sick, and wanting to get whatever sleep I might find before my first nighttime turn at the helm. I was to report at 4:30, but was wide awake by 3:45, so decided to get out of bed.
I need to give everyone a sense of what life is like at 15 degrees. Imagine walking down your hallway to the bathroom in pitch black, or perhaps under the red glow of a headlamp, pushing yourself off the side wall, as the floor is steeply sloped to port. Now, while you’re leaning against that wall, the floor begins to pitch up and down, all the while your stomach hasn’t yet found its equilibrium. It’s all you can do to just get out of your bunk and land on two feet, let alone get dressed, and find your way to the cockpit.
Unlike tonight, last night the boat was pitching and heeling (leaning) to port incessantly. The wind speeds were 25, gusting to 30. Since we’re all learning here, when the wind increases by any amount, the resulting force is squared. So, when the wind was 30 last night, versus 20 tonight, the force of the wind was 100knots higher. Before heading up to my shift, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to make coffee on the stove, in the dark, under the conditions just described. Why not?
I filled the REI french press, that was resting on the stove, with water and coffee and started the burner. A minute later, I saw smoke rising from the pitcher and smelled burning rubber. I shut off the gas immediately, picked up the pitcher and blew out the fire. I’m an idiot. I was supposed to boil water in the kettle, then pour it into the pitcher. Alejandro smelled the fire and jumped out of his bed confused and concerned. I explained my mistake, and was able to fix myself a steaming cup of his Costa Rican coffee. The smell of rubber did not settle my stomach, so the coffee went untasted until the morning.
I put on my foul-weather gear (sailing jacket/hood) and strapped into my PFD (personal flotation device), and hooked my tether to the boat - this is a line that keeps my PFD and me connected to the ship. I took the helm.
This was my first experience skippering a ship in the dark, made more challenging by the heavy winds and rolling 10-foot swells. I realized the awesome responsibility I now had, to safely pilot our crew the next 90 minutes while all men slept below, with exception to my watch partner Dan. His 90 minutes was spent dry-heaving over the side of the stern.
I love to steer the boat while standing, especially with the following seas, colliding with our starboard stern. I could feel the back of the boat being lifted by the oncoming wave, and if you turn the helm to port, the boat surfs down the face of the swell, picking up speed and creating the same sensation you might feel on a longboard. For an hour and a half, this was my charge. Feel a wave, turn the helm, surf, catch the next wave, all while maintaining a 0-10degree course. The time flew by, my stomach settled, and I survived my first true helmsman test of the passage.
After watching the sunrise over the Atlantic, I relinquished the helm to Alejandro, and I sat down where I am now writing, and finally passed out. Sleep has never come so easily, and after nearly 24 hours of fighting nausea, adjusting to life on the sea, and eating little, I fell into a dreamless coma. I came to when there was more activity, and another change of watches around 7:30. I stayed in my same spot, and fell back asleep. Finally, I went below, and instead of crawling into my claustrophobic bunk in the sky, I settled onto the couch in the saloon, and crashed again for a few hours. The gentle rocking of the boat, without the fear of falling out of bed, caused a deep slumber.
The rest of the day seemed like a blur. I awoke, took my noon watch, and then stayed up to enjoy the peaceful sail. The winds had eased to 20-22 knots, the sea state was still rolling, but less so, and the sun shone down with sparse-puffy clouds on the horizon. I noticed one cloud looked like an elephant, and was reminded of Charley. She loves elephants. Slight pang of missing the girls.
I sat down in my favorite spot on a sailboat, when not at the helm. The windward side of the boat, amidships, with legs dangling over the side, and resting peacefully on the lifelines. The waves gently lap that side of the boat, often overtaking your feet to mid-calf. I stared out at the horizon for an hour - I think the serenity of the sea is finally settling in.
Captain Hank fixed us steaming bowls of paella, before I settled down, in my newfound sleeping haven on the couch. 3 hours later, it was my turn again at the helm at 10:30. And so, we’re all caught up.
I’m constantly reflecting on little things throughout the day. Tonight, as I was steering toward the North Star, I was thinking about True North. Polaris (North Star) always indicates true north. But, depending on where you are in the world, magnetic north doesn’t always point to true north - this is called variation. Tonight, when the bow was pointing at Polaris, our compass heading was 14 degrees. That means, variation for this area of the world is 14 degrees, so if you want to go to True North, you need to adjust your heading by 14 degrees.
I had been thinking about how that might apply in life. What we sometimes want (True North) might require a path that heads, seemingly, in a different direction. Though you might be headed somewhere seemingly off-course, you never lose sight of your True North, your true direction. Just thinking out loud, but there’s something there. It’s a little after 1, so I might be losing my focus.
One other thought. Throughout the day, I’ve found myself thinking about how I might describe what I’m experiencing. This blog or journal has helped me appreciate little things throughout the day, even if I forget to highlight them later when I’m writing. There is so much life to live throughout the day, I certainly don’t need to take a trip to the Atlantic to find. Perhaps, it’s just noticing more each day. I may have to keep a journal when I get home.
Good night. Oh, I just closed the iPad and looked up to see the moon had risen again. Before noticing, I thought someone turned a light on in the cockpit. The simple things. Good night, for real.
We're the Zimmerman Family!
Home Base | Denver, CO
A family of six that
LOVES to sail !
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