Offshore Musings

Following is a collection of random and sometimes silly thoughts while on watch at night. Night watches offer ample time to think, and so one night I wrote too. I’m not able to take decent photos at night, so strewn about are a few daytime ones taken during our recent 5-day passage to Bermuda. 
Kelly loves her coffee!

Kelly is very tired and I am still running on adrenaline. She naps well, but sometimes has trouble sleeping at night. I take the first watch, and a few notes here as the night moves on.

I crane out of the cockpit, being extra careful to hold on, as we roll deeply, and gaze at the brilliant sky. I know I should attach a tether to my harness. More focused in my range of vision is an orangey star sandwich – an orange dot between two bluish twinkling ones. Is it a planet in the middle? Maybe mars. I’m too lazy to get out the star app. I enjoy the night watches, watching the sky rotate around the North Pole. They’re all so brilliantly blanketing the otherwise very inky black sky. I wish the autopilot could just follow the stars like I can. I suppose it would need to see them first.

Sails are obnoxiously flapping back and forth… bang shimmy, shake bang! oh I hope something doesn’t break. At least not in the middle of the night. Kah blang! Please.

Several big fishing boats are ahead on the horizon with bright lights and are apparently making large lazy circles. I must pay attention to the radar as we get closer. One to port, 3 miles away; one to starboard at 6 miles. Seems odd because we’re about 60 miles offshore. They show up on radar (or maybe some don’t?) Pro fishermen often don’t transmit their AIS. Which way and when is it safe to scoot around or between? A proximity alarm beeps, alerting me that one boat starting to move closer toward us. Keeping an eye on it.

A guy calls on the VHF. Just some curious guy with a deep southern accent in a boat nearby. He hails one of the boats and asks, “ whatcha doin’ out here?” I chuckle. Another man answers, saying he’s fishing for squid, or maybe he had a different term for it that I can’t remember. Anyway, he says that he’s done fishing for the night and everyone’s sleeping. He seems mildly annoyed that some random pleasure boater is calling at 2am at a sixty miles out at sea, just to ask what he’s doing out here.

Our radar display has a little rainbow colored firework at its center. It’s difficult to see in the photo but animated as though bursting on the display. But nothing burns. We lost sight of our friends on Billy Ruff’n, as they are faster (probably motoring) on a more northerly course. We hope to see them again in Antigua. Occasionally there’s a blip, that could be them, but it’s probably just the waves.

Otto (our autopilot) quits occasionally, beeping with some weird error at any random time. I just point the boat back in the correct direction and select (while I say) “engage”, kinda like Jean Luc Picard. He (it) works all day so just wants a break? Otto makes weird ghostly sounds. Sometimes it (he?) makes a deep fingers-on-the-chaulkboard groaning noise. Otto works too hard; he should take a few hints from Vinny, who makes it look easy, and with no sound at all.

Kelly doing dishes while Fayaway rolls with the large swells. If on a video, you’d see the soap dispenser sliding back and forth.

Wind is dying. Turn on the gawdawful noisy tractor engine. Run it for an hour or two, hoping for the wind to return. Hoping no more. Just accepting. Need to conserve fuel. It sounds like an old farm tractor with a transmission full of marbles. Like Vinny, it never seems to complain, but certainly makes enough clatter to make up for its lack of trouble. When I look at the tractor hours in the log book the number looks too high. But I know it’s correct. I just don’t want to think about how much we run that noisy stinky engine.

We have two fuel tanks and five extra jerry cans. A total of 145 gallons of diesel fuel. But since the engine would suck air and die, we can probably only use about 120 gallons – leaving perhaps ten or so (it has to be a guess) left in each tank. I’m just not sure how low can you go!? At moderate speed, say 5 knots, we consume about 0.75 gallons per hour. Quick math says we can go about 800 nautical miles with our fuel capacity. Have we motored 6 or eight hours at this point? Good thing we’re aiming for Bermuda in case we need to keep motoring as the wind is at 4 knots. Antigua is about 1,600 NM. Maybe we can just let one go dry and I’ll just bleed the air from the fuel system?

We’re falling off the shelf; the depth gage is flashing at 1,304 feet. It’s really deeper but beyond pinging range now. Now it says 172. The chart says 4,000.

What if favorable weather never arrives? Is somebody’s wind isn’t enjoyable… enjoyable.. I’m feeling drowsy and can’t finish that sentence.

Where did she hide that chocolate??

I need to pee. First thing off is the tether, then the crotch strap buckles, harness, and drop the foul weather trousers. No it’s not raining, but it’s cold. So I wear them over my regular pants. Anyway… drop and… WOW that seat is cold! Finish and reverse the undress process. Yeah, I’m a guy peeing by sitting, for which these conditions are appropriate. Nobody’s aim is that good.

Yikes! Big wave hits us broadside. My just-made hot tea goes flying from the navigation table. Fiddles surround the table, but they’re not an anti-gravity machine! The tea is in one of those vacuum insulated mugs, but the sippy-top is like that little kids use. So only about a third sprays out flying over the sole which I mop up with a paper and dish towel. I don’t want to turn on the lights since Kelly is sleeping. I’m satisfied with what’s left in the cup.

Roll in the genoa; it’s just luffing. But there’s some wind? Wind mocks and teases me as I shine my headlamp up to view what’s going on there. (Remember, it’s wicked dark!) I verbally threaten to take the main down, and then… the stubborn wind barely improves. It taunts me. Wind up, sail up, roll it out. Wind light, I wish the fish would bite. But not at night!

When I say miles I mean nautical miles. NM for short. Accordingly, I say knots as short for nautical miles per hour. About 40 NM out from Norfolk, I noticed a “US Govt Vessel 55” on the AIS. I began watching more closely at about 5 miles away, looking like bees buzzing around it. The large ship was moving slowly at about 1.5 knots, and had a CPA (closest point of approach) of about 1.4 miles. Seems good enough to me, I say.

A call came on the VHF radio a short time after. “Sailing vessel Fayaway, sailing vessel Fayaway, this is the warship 55 on 16.” Guess I better answer him. Switch channels and he explained that they are conducting “landing exercises” and have restricted ability to maneuver. At this point we noticed the bees are really helicopters, and they were taking turns landing on the moving warship. The officer dude on the radio thanked me for heading upwind and crossing his bow quickly, and bid that we would have a nice sail. Nice guy.

A boat sitting ‘hove-to’ appears ahead when approaching 34 nm out of Bermuda.

I sit back at the nav desk and check for email. Nothing. Again.

I’m going to find the chocolate!

Anchored in the Lee of Hen Island, St George, Bermuda.

3 thoughts on “Offshore Musings

  1. Hamid

    Chris,
    So happy to see you guys underway!

    Your writing style is unique and fun to read, yet educational.

    ‘Nobody’s aim is that good’, hilarious! My male crew could never understand why a guy also needs to sit down!

    Happy sailing!

    Liked by 1 person

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