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Hard to Windward

DAY 2 – Saturday, September 16th

   Fluky winds prevailed through the night and exhaustion slowly caught up with me to an out-cold collapse at 4 am. In what it seemed like 10 minutes, I was once again awake except 4 hours later, to a familiar buzzing sound, dangerously too close: Ship!

   A clumsy dash to the cockpit, still half asleep, revealed a freighter some 4 miles in the distance. The humming noise however, came from the sails, now filled with wind and just asking for some trimming. Fair enough fright.

   The southeast winds pushed us on a beat toward our next way point, the Malpello Islands, where we make a right turn to head westward until the smell of croissants are in the air. Speaking of food, after a porridge and cinnamon breakfast, dolphins escorted us in safety out of the Gulf of Panama, through playful splashes along Little Minx’s hull. It just never gets old, so you can be spiritual and superstitious all you like, yet statistically they have always been a good omen.

   Much of the rest of the day was spent in the cockpit, admiring Little Minx’s ability to sail fast in such light winds, which made me ponder about designing Debonair’s next rudder, as the current one is cracked from having nearly rolled her over in a gale off Colville Channel, in New Zealand.

   Around mid-day, I refilled the water bottle and at the first gulp, nearly vomited it back out. A pungent taste of burnt rubber was the essence of the 340 litres of water I had for the entire journey. Turn around or not? Thoughts of the guys fixing the blown up hose at the Balboa Yacht Club two days prior now sank into reality. Everything in Panama is so dodgy. Why didn’t I check that before leaving? Utter failure!

   Everything that ever did and ever will go wrong in life, is a by-product of one’s own actions. You can jump up and down until you turn blue saying that that’s not always the case, but why fill your heart with anger and revenge, wasting waking existence in the search of justice to what in truth was your own fault to begin with? Instead, just get over it instantly and accepting it as a lesson of life?

   Inspecting the water, there were no traces of anything solid, just in case it could have been the pump. If the worst case scenario, I will use the 20-litre emergency water can and make it into Ecuador to flush the tank. Meanwhile, a table spoon of vinegar into every litre of drinkable water to soften the taste. Onwards we go.

   Keeping an eye out for fishing vessels, to which there were none, and since we were already clear of the headlands laying to the west, I went down for a snooze. It lasted all night.

Position => Lat: 5.83809 Lon: -79.60962

DAY 3 – Sunday, September 17th

   The wind started veering and eventually stopped at around 240T. Tack to port and we go straight south, until the wind backs a bit. Tack to starboard, until the wind veers. Practical joke from the elements? This went on and on all day, but overall making progress southwards.

   Evening fell with some eerie looking clouds ahead of us. Not long when all is pitch black, the flashes of lightning appear on the imminent horizon. Inch by inch, the drizzly rain crawls toward Little Minx, and the incessant lightning bolts are now only a few seconds away from its thunder, which means a mile or two away.

   What can one do? It’s the most hopeless situation one can have in life. Nowhere to run, nothing to do but to sit and enjoy the pyrotechnic show, and how profound it is. The bunk where I sleep, is right next to the mast’s compression post, a solid 5 inch stainless pipe, which is a continuation of the mast. Oh well, if it is my turn, it is my turn!

   The trips to the cockpit this night were in the dozens. Wind shifts, wind lulls and rain spells, all asking for trimming or heading adjustment. No moon and not even a star for company. Perhaps I am all alone, after all.

Position => Lat: 4.69406 Lon: -80.08572

DAY 4 – Monday, September 18th

   From all the dashes to the cockpit in the previous night and the drizzly weather, I realized that I was laying in a wet bunk, in the early hours of the morning. There is nothing worst in life than going back to a wet bunk.

   A total of seven hours of no wind through the night and now at the crack of dawn, the sound of rattling rigging and luffing sails are about to downright crack my skull in half.

   Just about when I was about to burst, out of no where, a strong 18 knot wind filled in from southwest. From nothing to too much. Double reef in and amazingly we were on a 270T, which brought a smile to my face, as we were at the same latitude as the Malpello Islands, therefore good enough to just point west and go!

   Started dreaming that in possibly 2 days, we could ease off the sheets and go to close reach or maybe a reach, and least we realize, hello trade winds! No doubt what to do now: sleep and try to dream of that!

   An hour later, of tossing and turning to the slamming and drop of every single wave, back to the cockpit and lay off our course to cracked sheets, some 20 degrees to starboard, sending us on a 290T. Too much “northing” for my taste, but at least I’ll sleep.

   As I start crawling down below, I notice the towering nimbus clouds closing most of the gaps in the attempting to clear skies. The little blue seen through the cracks however, will be short lived.

   Zzzzz… unconscious nearly all day, except to piss and drink the vinegar concoction. The swell had subsided but I was just too tired (perhaps lazy?) to go on deck. So back to sleep.

   Later at night, a fierce wind squall caught up with us. Felt like Tim Robbins in Shawshank Redemption, except it was raining sideways: soaked and cold to the bone. A small swell built up and Little Minx started bucking and slamming to the drop of every little trough. Though nothing intense ever lasts long in life, you just sit there and wait.

   During one of the tacks, my help was needed to free the cart that jammed over a little string I have tied to the cart itself to stop the banging in light winds. While working at it, nearly got catapulted out into ocean from a violent drop. No harness on but both hands were busy holding on for dear life. Getting over the little fright, I figure it was a few days since I had eaten a hot meal. Morale was indeed low, but fumbling around in the bucking boat, I managed to boil some couscous with some olives. Morale went up instantly with the warm belly and dreams of doing a dead west course floated in my imagination, instead of this tacking business between 290/180T.

=> Lat: 3.93429 Lon: -80.62666

DAY 5 – Tuesday, September 19th

   Typical Bruno Mars song day, “I don’t feel like doing anything and will just lay in my bed.” Be careful what to wish for. Winds lightened by mid morning, which demanded the ordeal of shaking all reefs. What a sweat it is to get this mainsail all the way up. As usual, winds eventually try to conspire against us, veering and pushing us even more north. But before it can laugh at our ignorance, we swiftly tack to the south, and gain on our course, albeit slow. Touche!

   On the first urine of the morning however, just like red skies in the morning, sediments showed that I might be in for an urine tract infection(UTI) soon. Like beating to windward was not hard enough.

   Before retiring to the bunk, had the naughty idea to crack out one of the Coke cans, after all, it had been 5 days of hard work. Albeit not being ice cold, as suggested on the package, the value of the encounter of the sparkling bubbles of the dark syrup, with the walls of the throat, tingling the esophagus and then to a reverberating burp from the stomach, out here in no-man’s land, is a joy and delight that some of my hygienically-healthy friends will never comprehend.

Position => Lat: 4.69205 Lon: -82.80684

DAY 6 – Wednesday, September 20th

   Luffing sails, get out of bed, urinate, wash hands, tack, trim sails, drink a litre of water, lay in the bunk, wait…

   Lethargy and headaches, are unmistakable when a UTI is in place. No fever yet though, so harden up.

   By now, I am nearing 50 tacks, perhaps more tacks than I ever did in my entire sailing life. But it was starring at the thick-gray skies between these tacks that I realized what the pattern was.

   It was just like those folk western dances, where the shuffling of partners happens with arms interlaced, orbiting around the current one to then interlace arms with the next partner and continue on orbiting while everyone stumps the floor to the vibrant beat of the music. This dance had been going on for the past 5 days, non-stop.

   Little Minx always hit the spells at a 30-40 degree angle, she would then be stuck in the system trying to beat out of it northwards, to which I quickly realized that a southern route would allow better progress than losing grounds to northern latitudes, which sooner or later would still render another long tack south to stay away from the northern trade winds.

   So many rain spells is completely abnormal for this area, the mind pondered. To every rain spell that came our way, was an anti-cyclone pattern which would at first strengthen then veer it on our noses, as any anti-cyclone system would moving in one’s direction if you were beating against it. Or at least that’s what my analysis rendered. The end of a very uneventful and exhausting day, on paper at least because the tacks continued.

Position => Lat: 4.32906 Lon: -84.18460

DAY 7 – Thursday, September 21st

   Ahhh, the sun finally made an appearance, to which I enjoyed every minute in the cockpit. The heat however revealed some intriguing odors down below. All oranges in the sling were now brown, so off the side they went. All that vitamin C (and money) wasted. The heat joy boasted me to clean a few boat bits with vinegar in between the never-ending tacks to keep a mild aspect of hygiene aboard, for a change.

   In dichotomy, the cloudy skies seemed to match the cloudiness of my urine. My humble kingdom for a healthy bladder. In addition, observing my body in the eating deprivation, I can see a kilo or two of fat already shed off, in just a week at sea.

   Still not doing anywhere close to a desirable dead-westerly route, but we are making progress west about.

Position => Lat: 4.31254 Lon: -86.17977

DAY 8 – Friday, September 22nd

   Woke up to hunger and weakness in the morning. Only one thing strikes my mind: pasta. Still half asleep, perhaps best this way in the rodeo of motions of a boat going to windward: a diced onion fried in olive oil, chives and salt, a tin of tomato pure and then the boiled pasta in a table spoon of NZ Anchor Butter, all finalized with the sprinkling of some Parmesan cheese. Easy to say, the best breakfast I ever had and exactly what I needed. Laugh all you like, but as children, we’ve always been right: candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner! At least we had the guts to stand for what we needed and desired in our youth, unlike patronizing adults that we’ve become.

   Though the eroticism of my food fetishes didn’t last long. By mid afternoon, hunger returned with no energies to think of cooking and all its time consuming efforts. A can of beans will do for dinner.

   Thoughts were reigning toward that I had enough of that sailing condition, beating certainly expresses it’s definition, but I can’t emphasize enough how glad I was that Little Minx was holding in one piece without a creak of complaint and the autopilot never skipping a beat throughout our entire journey since England.

   A casualty however, during the previous night when the wind piped up to 18 knots, was that the topmost batten flew off from too much pressure in the leech I assume. My contribution to plastic pollution this time around, but in comparison, the only casualty other than my bodily functions overboard.

   Through the development of the afternoon, it was evident that no tacks were needed, albeit the roughness of the beating between 270-280T. By sunset, I was allowed to reduce that to 265T. Maybe??? Nahhh, I will be skeptical this time and just think this will be short lived.

   In continuation, more banging, violent motion below, hunger and the UTI is now full blown with 39C fever. What could be worse in my thoughts, to bring an ounce of gratefulness to my existence? The image of the folks in Sint Maarten, all dreamers like me, now boatless, of one day to be sailing these pristine waters of the South Pacific while here I am doing it for the second time.

   Subjectively: “Wear a smile Jon, and go to sleep.”

Position => Lat: 3.05919 Lon: -86.57945