Call For a Tow

September 15, 2008
Last Letter From Home

September 1, 2008
Saying Goodbye

August 15, 2008
The Circle Closes At Arue

August 1, 2008
Last Days In Rangi

July 15, 2008
The Road To Rangiroa

July 1, 2008
A Social Whirl

June 15, 2008
The Land of Men

June 1, 2008
Sweet Days in Hiva Oa

May 15, 2008
Homing In

May 1, 2008
A Perfect Day At Sea

April 15, 2008
Beating Across The Pacific

April 1, 2008
The Worrier Transits The Canal

March 15, 2008
The Boys And The Hunt

March 1, 2008
Sweet Landfall In Panama

February 15, 2008
Gloom in Cartagena

February 1, 2008
Connections With That Long-Ago Girl

January 15, 2008
Where the Boys Are

January 1, 2008
Life On The Hard

December 15, 2007
Last Letter From Vermont

December 1, 2007
The Final Countdown

November 15, 2007
Welcome Aboard Shangri-La

November 1, 2007
More Bad Dreams Than Good

October 15, 2007
When Our Systems Overwhelm Us

October 1, 2007
Shaking Off The Remoras

September 15, 2007
The Deal Is Done

September 1, 2007
The Search For Shangri-La

August 15, 2007
The Birth Of A Dream

August 15, 2007
Tania And Sons

August 15, 2007
About Tania

August 15, 2007
About the Family

August 15, 2007
About Shangri-La

August 15, 2007
Voyage Itinerary

August 15, 2007

August 15, 2007
Tanias Books

August 15, 2007
Chartering With Tania

May 1, 2008
A Perfect Day At Sea

By Tania Aebi

Ever since the afternoon we left Panama, at 1500, I’ve been marking our position every day on the overall chart at 1500. We’ve covered 1,380 miles so far. Looking back over it, the daily distances we’ve traveled vary wildly. Some are really long, and those were the days my dividers flew across the chart calculating how fast the trip would go. Then, there are some days where I didn’t even plot the position and ignored the chart altogether. Yesterday was one of those days -- our first flat calm.

Before yesterday, we’d had a couple of days of less-than-stellar progress, either because we were beating and tacking, and course made good in the right direction wasn’t good, or the wind had eased, but the waves hadn’t, which slowed us down. Yesterday, however, was a beautiful day of blue skies and flat seas.

The day was a beauty – calm, peaceful, and full of nature.

The night before, just as the wind started taking its leave, Nicholas and I had been talking about how surreal were our surroundings. The puffy tradewind clouds were grazing the surface of the sea all around us -- these little pockets of fog and mist fallen from the blue skies above. Nicholas said it looked like one of those book-jacket pictures representing an ascent to heaven, or some science-fiction theme. Overnight, a heavy dew fell, and about 30 miles north of the equator, both boys woke me to ask for blankets. It was freezing, the coldest we’d been since we left Vermont. The wind died completely, and I double-reefed the main to stop us from rolling in the swell as we slept.

Sam put out a fishing line, and within minutes had snagged a tuna for dinner

Morning dawned, rosy and misty with three spouts in the distance. I called the boys, and only Nicholas came up on deck—Sam has lately succumbed to the stereotypical teenage inability to jump out of bed for anything. We watched the spouts, and saw a couple of tails breach. The whales were far away, but Nicholas was overjoyed. He’d said several times already how the lack of wildlife was disappointing. We’d only seen one smallish group of dolphins so far, and he’d been expecting turtles, snakes, whales, leaping marlin. For some reason, the flying fish and squid stranded on deck and all the birds that had been hitching rides didn’t count. He wanted marine life. And, this first sighting, he said, was a good omen. He could feel that it was going to be a special day.

We’d been doing overnight watches of four hours apiece, where the boys basically just watched for ships or anything else that seemed out of the ordinary, while I did all the navigating and sail handling. I sleep on the starboard salon settee, at the foot of which is the chart table, above which is the GPS. I love that piece of equipment. It only uses three watts, and all night long, all I have to do is open my eyes to keep track of our course, our speed and our coordinates. I don’t know how to use the GPS with chartplotters, how to program waypoints and whatnot, how to interface it with the computer to give me ideal headings and positions on a virtual chart, and I’m not interested in any of those bells and whistles either. All I need are the positions to plot on the paper chart that I can fold up, flip, hold on my lap, and puncture over and over with the dividers, following potential courses with the ruler.

It’s been awhile since I used a sextant. I practiced, and taught the boys how to take a sight

I love having all that information handy from minute to minute to transfer to the chart that a friend gave me. On it, a couple degrees south of us, because he stopped at the Galapagos, I can see his penciled route and positions. Even though he did this crossing 15 years ago, having his route in front of me makes me feel like he’s with us. I imagine him out here on his pretty boat and wonder if he also worried about things like his batteries and engine. I wonder if he had a GPS, a Sat Nav, or if his positions were obtained with a sextant, like mine were on my first crossing.

The other day, I took out the sextant, aligned it, and spent a couple of hours with an instruction manual to refresh the rusty process. It’s like riding a unicycle, and I got my first sights in 20 years, and plotted them. They weren’t that far off, and I’ve been showing Nicholas how to catch the sun, bring it down to the horizon, swing the sextant, catch the lower limb as it grazes the ocean surface. I’ve walked him through gathering all the information and corrections from the Almanacs that lead to the plotting sheet and Lines of Position. He’s kind of gotten it, because it isn’t that hard, and this morning, I even got Sam to grudgingly try it out.

The boys adjust the sails after we put in a reef

Yesterday, though, a couple of hours after the first spout sighting, Sam joined the living, and I made crepes for breakfast, a special treat because it was so calm. Right after washing up the last dish, I went back above to see if the waters were looking any more ruffled, for any sign of wind that would get us moving faster than the 1.5 knots registering on the GPS, which was probably due to 1 knot of current. I didn’t feel anxious about the lack of wind yet. Since Panama, we’d been going straight out, and it felt like a good time to stop and smell the sea air, look out over the waters, and not just apprehensively for breaking waves, but to really see the sea.

That was when I saw another spout just to starboard. I called the boys again, and this time both came to see the blubbery mammal leisurely pacing us on a parallel course about 100 feet away. The boys were delighted, and watched its bulk glide through the water, spouting, and slowly pulling ahead, then crossing just under the bow. It wasn’t a big whale, probably just a pilot, but a whale, a sign of life, and quite a spectacular thing nevertheless that lifted all our spirits.

The calm of the day inspired me to cook more interesting meals, and to enjoy being in the galley again

A little while later, after finishing a math lesson, Sam spotted a bunch of fish swimming around the boat. He ran below, pulled out a handline and attached the smallest lure he had, ran back up, and threw it overboard, and before he could even pay it out, he had a bite, the perfect-sized yellowtail tuna for our dinner. But first, we all bathed, took proper bucket baths with lots of soap, and because the waters around us had become glassy still, Sam even jumped overboard holding onto a line, whooping and quickly clambering back onto the swim scoop before a shark heard his splash.

It was an idyllic and restful day. The boys had some sashimi for appetizer before I pan fried the rest of the tuna in butter, and with it, made a rice risotto with dried morel mushrooms we picked last spring, and a carrot salad, followed by a calm night of restful sleep. The wind has come back—for now, and I feel prepared for the next 2,500 miles, which, if the weather behaves, will be with the southeast trades. Nothing abides and stays the same out here, and for now, I’ll just say that Nicholas’ gut feeling was right. Yesterday was a special day.