The Big One

May 16, 1997 (Friday)

 

We finally decided on a departure date from Cabo. We spent far longer in Cabo than we had planned (about two weeks longer). Although we saw a lot of the town and ventured to La Paz, we needed to begin our journey to the Marquises. If we delayed much longer, we would run the risk of being caught in bad weather. As summer was approaching, storms are a natural part of the summer season, especially Baja California. We certainly did not want to be caught in a storm as a result of our late departure.

We hoisted anchor and headed out of the bay. We went no further than a quarter of a mile and realized that we had to turn back. Our knot meter was not registering our speed. We could not dislodge it from within the cabin so we had no choice but to turn back. We chose a spot a little more out of the way of the jet ski and parasail traffic and set the anchor (one more time). Phill donned his dive suit, grabbed his snorkel and mask and dove over the side. The water in Cabo was so warm and polluted that we had about two inches of growth on the knot meter. Phill had cleaned the water line while we were at anchor previously but did not suspect that the knot meter would require attention. As Mouse Pad had just had her bottom repainted with the most toxic paint available, little would grow on her bottom for quite some time. The knot meter unfortunately does not get painted and therefore attracts any critter that wants to grab hold and take up residency. While Phill was cleaning the knot meter he noticed a suspicious line at the top of the keel. This was cause for concern since we had just had the bottom done in December and a patch that had been applied to the keel some time before had been removed and redone again in December. We could do nothing but make a note of the findings in the log and keep a close watch on what appeared to be a crack where the patch had been re-applied.

Now that we had a cleanly wiped bottom and the knot meter was functioning properly, we hoisted anchor once again and headed out of the bay. We noticed a trend in that we seem to require two departures when beginning a major leg of our cruise. If you will recall, we had similar luck leaving Marina del Rey. Maybe we just need the practice. As we left the bay a large sea turtle surfaced to wish us a farewell. As we rounded the Cabo rocks I could not help but recall our experience just three weeks earlier. I was not looking forward to another 'E' ticket ride around the cape. As it turned out, the ride was not so bad. I suspect that it was due to the fact that we were further away from the tip of the cape.

As we settled into the beginning of our long journey, the swells and waves began to pick up. We were bounced around a lot. We took a lot of water over the bow. Let's hope that all of the recent repair work on the small leaks that we had been mending over the last two years did not fail us now. With this much water on the bow, things could be pretty messy down below if the repairs did not hold. As it turned out, we saw very little evidence of leakage down below at the end of the trip. We turned on the Autopilot and sat back to enjoy the scenery. We saw no other sign of life or activity for the next 24 hours. I volunteered to take the first watch. Phill closed his eyes and began his last Mexican siesta. Fog began to roll in, hampering visibility somewhat. Once Phill woke from his siesta, out of boredom I suspect, he began tinkering with the settings on the instrument panel. What is it with men and instrument buttons. They have such a strong need to play with them. As a result of Phill's tinkering, we now can read our speed in hundredths of a knot. His attempt to recalibrate the compass one more time failed (one more time). We can't seem to get all three compasses to agree. Later we learn that there is a good explanation for this discrepancy. At about 1:00 AM local time, a cargo ship crossed our bow. Already it takes so little to generate excitement. This ship gave us a little change in scenery and something to note in our logbook.

Prior to our departure from Marina del Rey, we had assembled quite an inventory of navigation charts. Phill's father also brought two large charts of the south pacific with him on his visit in January/February. These two charts were ideal and not available in the states so we conned him out of them before he left. We now had charts on paper, in cruising reference books and a full compliment of charts on CD for use on the computer. We had planned our trip on the great circle charts as well as the mercator charts. We decided that we would log our position every four hours and calculate our overall progress once a day. We diligently plotted our position on the great circle chart as well as on the mercator chart. After several entries on each of these charts, we became concerned with our progress. On the great circle chart it appeared that we were below the rhumb line. On the mercator chart we were above the rhumb line. We checked and double checked our plotting and found no errors. We finally discovered that we had incorrectly calculated our heading for the great circle chart. Although the heading we had calculated for the mercator chart was different than that of the great circle chart, we were following the one calculated for the great circle. Once we discovered our error, we quickly corrected our heading and saw some improvement in our plotted progress. One thing that worked in our favor was the fact that we had multiple systems for determining our heading and determining our location at regular time intervals. If these multiple systems did not coincide with each other, we had to figure out which one was wrong. We eventually got all of the systems in synch.

At the end of our first day at sea we calculated the distance that we had covered. We had knocked off a whopping 144 miles. This may not seem like much to those of you who travel the greater Los Angeles freeways each day, but to a cruiser this is what is called a decent day. Not to get too anxious but we determined that if we could maintain this pace we should arrive in the Marquises in approximately 17 days. Boy were we setting ourselves up for an anxiety attack. On our second day, we again saw a large ship pass by (on our starboard side), apparently heading to Mexico. This won't be so bad if we get to see other traffic periodically. On the flip side, we would have to be very attentive and keep a watchful eye for such traffic. Little did we know but this ship was the last to be seen for the next two plus weeks.

When you have so much time on your hands and no one to talk to, the strangest things go through your mind. I decided that it was actually today and tomorrow at the same time. See what Zulu time does to your brain. Confuses the heck out of you. To make matters worse, I refused to give up Los Angeles time on my wristwatch. Every time Phill would ask about something that required looking at a clock, my brain choked. What time did I last do the log? What time is the weather fax to be downloaded? What time does the cruiser's net come on the radio? All of these are enough to make you crazy if you try to maintain three different time systems. One day I fixed our dinner meal at 2:30 in the afternoon. Phill didn't say anything but later laughed at me when I realized that I was feeding him so early and so soon after lunch. Phill finally threw his hands up in the air and said he will only consider Zulu time and if I wanted to communicate with him I had to speak Zulu.

Even though we had a lot of time on our hands each day, the days seem to pass pretty quickly. Maybe it had something to do with Zulu midnight during daylight hours. The moon soon didn't come out much before daylight. You don't realize how dark it really gets until you are out on the open sea and there are no artificial lights and no moon. You only have the stars for brightness. Then - - - there came the clouds. I use to stare at the clouds and think how beautiful they were. They were so soft looking and so pretty as they contrasted the blue sky. Well, now I have a different viewpoint. They now mean potential bad weather and no where to duck for cover. In the wee morning hours as the clouds are resting against the far horizon and the sun is just beginning to rise, the clouds look like silhouettes of trees on a lake. See I had too much time to spare.

As we began to knock off the days, we also began to knock off the miles. Day 2 (148 miles), day 3 (135 miles), day 4 (127 miles), day 5 ... Each day had it's own set of events. Some of them were boat related and some of them were weather related. Anything out of the ordinary was logged in the logbook. Nothing significant occurred until our third day at sea. The Autopilot alarm sounded. We have an Autohelm ST4000 unit that is belt driven. The belt is internal to the Autopilot unit. We were about 30 degrees off course. The Autopilot alarm was set to go off if we got more than 25 degrees off course. We keep resetting the Autopilot but we seemed to go off course more frequently than we thought we should. We watched the mechanical activity of the Autopilot and determined that the belt was slipping when the rudder movement was significant. As this was the original belt that came with the Autopilot two and one half years ago, we thought that it was probably time to change it. This doesn't seem like much of a big deal until you through in a few extra challenges. We are under sail in strong seas, it is about 1:00 in the morning, there is no moon out and all of our running lights have failed to work for the second night. Phill says not to worry. All you have to do is hold the wheel real still while he takes off the Autopilot. Well the challenge increases because you have to take off the wheel to get the Autopilot off. Here I stand trusting this man's judgement. I think I started to question his and my sanity at this point. I kept my mouth shut and held the wheel as still as I could. He unscrewed all of the screws that anchor the Autopilot to the steering wheel and says to get ready to quickly pull the Autopilot out from between the capstan and the wheel as soon as he removes the wheel. I, needles to say, moved with the speed of lightening. The wheel was off for only a fraction of a minute. We are still scratching our heads, wondering how we could have gotten that wheel off and back on without loosing the key weight and to have gotten it perfectly aligned on the first attempt. Well now I get to hand steer while Phill rebuilds the Autopilot. He opens the instruction brochure and turns on his flashlight and begins surgery on the Autopilot. In about fifteen minutes he declares that the patient is ready to stitch back up. All I have to do is move with the speed of lightening again and hold the wheel real still once he gets it back on. There are only six little screws holding the Autopilot to the steering wheel. We managed (don't ask me how) to get the entire unit reassembled flawlessly without missing a beat. We were back in business. The Autopilot then did its job with splendor. We had heard only the day before on the cruisers net about a family that had arrived in the Marquises that same day and had to hand steer 95% of the way due to Autopilot failure. We thanked our lucky stars that we had a replacement belt and that the change of belt did the trick.

At the same time that we were experiencing the Autopilot belt slippage, we also noticed that the instrument panel displayed a 'codelock' message on the depth gauge and the boat speed indicated that we were traveling about '0.1' mph. We knew the boat speed was not correct and had previously experienced problems with the depth gauge. At the same time these instruments failed, all of our trip statistics that were being kept on the instrument panels were reset to zero. Oh yeah, we get to calculate and track everything manually. We turned the instruments off and back on to see if that helped. It appeared to help and then they reset themselves again. After a period of experimentation and scratching of the heads we realized that there was insufficient charge in the house battery banks to maintain the instruments. All we had to do was turn the engine on and recharge the house batteries and everything resumed normal function. Unfortunately, the solar panel and wind generator was not sufficient to maintain an adequate charge on the house batteries.

By about the third or fourth day I began to experience anxiety near sundown each day. I dreaded seeing the sun go down and the experience of the pitch-dark night. I didn't like being on watch when nothing could be seen and the swells were hitting us on the beam. Phill was quick to figure out that I was fueling this anxiety by not eating. I had reduced my food consumption to practically nothing each day. I could hardly stand the sight of food. Although this probably was not bad on my waistline, it was not good for my overall health. I forced myself to eat something. I finally resorted to eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I could not force down any form of meat in the evening. This finally subsided. I think it was due to the fact that I forced myself to consume food even if I wasn't hungry.

 

NOTE: Comments and suggestions should be sent to Jerry Reese, Council Bluffs, IZ.

 



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Revised: 20 September, 2005 .