Life onboard

A day in the passage life: Part 2 – the trades

May 23, 2019

We have finally hit the trades! The southeast trade winds are a band of ideal wind and current that stretches from here all the way to French Polynesia. This band brings a steady 15-20 knots of wind on our stern with sunny skies dotted with only the occasional cumulus cloud. It is fast and easy sailing, though the swell is still steep and a bit uncomfortable.

I had the sunrise shift this morning, my favorite shift. While it is hard to get out of bed in the dark hours of early morning and I struggle to stay awake through that first hour of my watch, I then get to watch as the stars fade into the background and the sun peels away the darkness to deliver waves of color across the sky. In the new light, I can see friendly puffy clouds streaming by overhead, a trademark of the southeast trades.

The morning is quiet. Everyone else sleeps while I read my book or just sit and watch the waves. Before the sun peers over the horizon, all I can think about is crawling back in bed. But the warm rays infuse new energy, and I stay in the cockpit well past the end of my shift, giving the boys extra sleep as the day gets hotter.

Once everyone is up, we have oatmeal and coffee for “first meal”. We recently ran out of eggs, which was a sad day, and have long been out of fresh fruit. We have to strategize what we eat when in order to make the hearty things last and not let anything go bad.

The sun shines hot but the wind keeps us cool. Halcyon demands little attention in the steady winds, only that we hold on tight as she surfs down waves. Mervin drives straight and true, with full sails and happy crew. I am relieved to skip hoisting and babysitting the spinnaker for a few days.

The second daily alarm, the one at 1800 (now mid-morning local time as we sail further west), only makes me sad today. Our satellite phone stopped charging a few days ago, so we can no longer email with friends and family, update our tracker or download weather. This process, which used to absorb several hours of my day (between writing the updates, downloading at dial-up speeds, and reading over emails), just evaporated. We feel so much more alone out here without that tether to the outside world. I still use the alarm to calculate our 24-hour mileage each day, but I really miss being able to share our experience and hear from friends and family. The silver lining today is that we have set a new 24-hour mileage record, sailing 164 miles since this time yesterday. It does feel good to be sailing fast in the right direction.

Today I am on the maintenance shift. Each afternoon, one of us is assigned an off-shift to take care of Halcyon. We take the time to clean and organize or knock out small boat projects. I plug into my audio book and stutter step outside with CorrosionX and some rags. CorrosionX is a magic spray that keeps corrosion at bay on stainless steel and electrical connections. I work my way down every metal piece on the starboard side of the boat, first wiping it down with fresh water and then with CorrosionX. Portlights, stanchions, turning blocks, stays, hinges and fairleads; they all get attention.

At anchor, I could comb over the entire boat in the morning, then head off to go snorkeling for the afternoon. But on passage, every task is burdened by perpetual and unpredictable motion and I am soon exhausted. I almost make it to the bow before deciding to save the rest for another day. As a reward, I nestle into the settee and watch some Game of Thrones (passage is the perfect time to re-watch a long series, especially the best long series…).

On and off throughout the day the VHF radio crackles to life with familiar voices. As we cruised through Mexico and Central America, we did most of our scheming and dreaming of this Pacific crossing with Josh and Rachel on Agape. Our vision was to cross the ocean together, but the ocean is big and a few degrees’ difference in course can drive boats hundreds of miles apart. We could never quite define what “sailing together across the ocean” might actually look like. Agape left the mainland first, bound for the Galapagos. When our weather window arrived, we messaged them and gave them a 10-day warning; we’re leaving, get ready!

Ten days later, we sailed by the southern end of the Galapagos and Agape hauled their anchor, starting their passage 160 miles behind us. We kept the sails reefed and poorly trimmed (which hurt John’s racing heart more than a little bit) while they unfurled all they had and started to close the gap. But we are two tiny needles in a big blue haystack, and we have yet to see their sails on the horizon. The first week our communication was a disjointed mess of delayed satellite texts and missed SSB nets, but yesterday Josh’s voice came crackling across the VHF, which means we are within 15 miles of each other! It is a constant source of entertainment and comfort to chat with them.

The three of us watch the sunset together in the cockpit and enjoy a simple “second meal” of rice and beans with canned veggies and the last of our rotisserie chicken. Before we left Panama, I bought three rotisserie chickens at the local grocery store and spent the evening picking every bit of meat off the bones, then vacuum-sealing the meat in bags and stashing them in the freezer. This little food storage trick was perhaps the best provisioning I did. The chicken has lasted weeks in the freezer, and it is already cooked so it is so easy to add quick protein to any meal. Yum.

The third alarm of the day goes off at 0330 UTC, which is now shortly after dinner (when we left Panama, it was closer to the middle of the night). The beeping informs us it is time to get on the SSB again, this time with DogBark!.

We left DogBarkI in Hawaii last September, after turning back from our attempt to transit the Northwest Passage with them. They spent the winter in Hawaii before making the jump down to French Polynesia for a few months. To reveal just how intertwined our lives are, without any premeditation, they left from Hawaii the very same day we left from Panama. So, every day of our passage (except a few days when the SSB black magic just wouldn’t work) we get to talk to some of our favorite people, the ones who taught us to sail and inspired us to buy a boat and go cruising in the first place. It almost feels like cruising together.

This SSB chat has become even more valuable since our satellite phone went down. DogBark! sends updates to our family to let them know all is well, and relays information back from them (which is primarily about who is winning or losing our family March Madness bracket). We swap positions and conditions, then move on to the more important subject matters like fishing strategy, book recommendations and – the best bit – the joke of the day. Today, Talia gets on the radio and asks “what do you call a bear with no teeth?” We think and ponder, but can’t come up with a good response. “A gummy bear!” comes the giggling reply. Thanks to Talia and Savai, we laugh every single day.

I have two hours after the net and before my first night watch. With my convenient ability to fall asleep at pretty much any time or place, I flop down on the settee for a short nap. Andrew very quickly got his bearings on passage and soon learned he loved night watch. This is valuable for me, as he often extends his watch by 30 minutes or an hour, allowing me extra sleep. My 2-hour nap becomes 3, and I feel alert and fairly rested when he finally shakes me awake, despite it being sometime after midnight. In the cockpit, I check on how Halcyon is doing and scan the horizon then snuggle into the cockpit under a blanket – the nights are surprisingly chilly in the constant breeze – and play harmonica to the stars.

  1. Peggy

    May 26, 2019

    I love reading your posts also! Your descriptions are incredible! I can smell the ocean, feel the wind and enjoy the stares. Thanks!

  2. Emily

    May 24, 2019

    Your dear self playing harmonica to the stars pulls at my heartstrings … our dear John sleeping soundly and content. I like your alerting the world that all is well in your watery world and – if you all are safe – in my world at the foot of Tinker, too. Love you two to the moon and back ~ 🙂

  3. Linda Honaker

    May 23, 2019

    I absolutely adore reading your posts! Your storytelling is vivid enough to let me “feel” the passage. I also follow Dogbark! Thanks for taking me with you👏🏻

    Linda Honaker (Laura Lee’s college friend) I will be in your parents’ home on May 31, as we celebrate 45💙❤️

    • halcyon

      May 24, 2019

      Thank you so much for the comment, Linda! I am so glad you are following along and enjoying the stories. Enjoy the reunion!

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John and Becca Guillote

John is the photographer. He portrays the layers of history, emotion, spirit and culture in each moment through his application of light, perspective, and detail. He also takes pictures.

Becca is the writer. She tells vivid stories of authentic moments, highlighting the beautiful, dangerous, dramatic and hilarious with grammatically correct sentences and her tongue held firmly by her cheek.


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