Trade winds

In the on-again, off-again northeast tradewinds

Wednesday, April 16, 2003, 9:30 p.m.

North 15 degrees, 35 minutes; West 125 degrees, 11 minutes

Temperature: 77 degrees, full moon out tonight!


Dear Friends and Family -- 

The last time I wrote, we were motoring out of a calm off the coast of Baja California.  We did that for about 30 hours, and then the wind came up -- first from the northwest, and then from the northeast.  Once we had the northeast wind, we were in the so-called trade winds.  This all happened in the night, and when those of us not on watch woke up the next morning, we were sailing along at top speed, crashing through swells and wind waves which were coming from every direction.  What a change from a few days ago!  We've more or less had good wind since then, although it constantly changes force.  We're going through lots of sail changes, and getting pretty good at it.  Somehow, the panic sail changes seem to happen at about 8:30 p.m., just after all the light is gone.   

I was the first to see flying fish, on my early morning watch.  They look like little birds riding over the top of waves, but they're too long and skinny, and then they crash into a wave and that's the end of them.  They ride so low over the water that it's hard to imagine they could actually wind up on the deck.  The stories we have heard of tropical cruising involve an early morning walk around the decks to clear off any flying fish (so they don't later bake on and stink in the sun).  One story we heard had a crew member sleeping on deck in the altogether, and a flying fish suddenly and unexpectedly landed on his private parts!  What a rude shock.  None of that here.  At least not yet. 

It IS rather hot during the day.  At night it cools off a bit, and is exceedingly pleasant.  Water temperature:  85.1 degrees F.  Daytime air temperature:  84 degrees F.  Pretty much all the polartec (hats, gloves, sweaters, pants, blankets) has been retired into remotely stored duffle bags.  Opening our tropical bags (packed back in Portland in February) is kind of like opening a surprise package your parents sent to summer camp.  There are all those wonderful clothes -- perfectly appropriate for this hot weather -- which seemed impossible to imagine in Portland. 

 Fishing and showers tend to be our high points.  Craig initially caught a yellow-fin tuna, which I think I wrote about in our last message. (It's been delicious, and there's still half in the freezer).

This morning, a mahi-mahi was briefly hooked, but shook off.  Early this afternoon, we hooked what seemed to be a really big fish.  It reeled off hundreds of yards of fishing line, and we went into a real fire drill trying to get the sails down, and keep the boat headed such that the fish wouldn't wrap circles around the keel.  Passing the pole across the stern of the boat, Craig managed to catch the line in the circulating blades of the wind generator.  Brian dashed down to turn off the wind generator.  And believe it or not, the fish was still on the line!  

Craig cleated the fishing line to a cleat, cut out the section that was caught in the wind generator, and retied the end with the fish to the end on the pole, with some sort of magic fisherman's knot.  Brian played the fish for about a half an hour, and finally got it in close enough to see that it was a five foot shark!  Bummer!  There was various discussion of how we'd retrieve the hook and lure.  Jim favored killing the shark, and tossing him to his friends (one of which had now already shown up).  I'm such a pacifist, I favored just cutting him loose and losing the gear.  Brian and Craig were somewhere in the middle.  Jim and Brian heaved the shark close enough to the boat to take pictures, and as it turned out, the leader broke, so the issue didn't have to be decided.


Left:  Craig untangling the fishing line from the wind generator.

Periodically our profligate use of electricity dictates that we have to run the engine to charge the batteries.  The electricity hogs are the refrigerator, freezer, and the SSB transmitter (essential for getting our email sent and received!)  We do have solar panels (and that wind generator), but they just don't quite keep up.  But a side benefit of running the engine is that we get hot water for showers.  (Not that we're actually going to need "hot" water much more, since the sea water -- pressing against our hull, and no doubt regulating the temperature of our fresh water tanks -- is at 84 degrees!).  But when we get engine-heated water, we all get clean, and enjoy the momentary coolness of being wet.

We don't see many birds, but one type that comes around several times a day is a booby (or so we think from the bird book we have).  He looks us over, presumably trying to decide if we are a fishing vessel that might be likely to throw away scraps.  Usually they decide pretty quickly that we're not. 


But at least one such critter has set a much more determined course.  First, he tried repeatedly to land on the mast.  The masthead, of course, is a moving target, sometimes wildly moving.  In addition, it has the wind direction indicator and anenometer, both of which must be kind of offputting, if you're trying to land.  He also tried to land on the wind generator, which as you'll recall we turned off during the shark episode.  With no blades spinning, the booby was ultimately successful, and there he was.  Jim said, "quick, get the camera..."  As it turned out, there was no hurry, because he was there for HOURS.  Pretty soon a couple of his friends came around, and tried for the same perch.  There was a bit of squawking, and then they gave up, and tried for the mast and the spreaders.  Eventually they gave up and went away, but our friend, Mr. Booby was still up there.  Of course, periodically he was doing what birds overhead are known to do.  When the stuff came close to Craig, he decided he'd had enough, and we began efforts to dislodge Mr. Booby.  He didn't respond to shouting and gestures, and ultimately Jim poked him off with the boathook.  He tried several times to land again -- "Quick, start the wind generator!"  We did, and the bird nevertheless tried to land again, and was knocked onto Craig's head by the slowly circulating blades.  We don't think the bird was hurt, but he certainly didn't come back.  At least not this evening. 

We're just getting into the last of the fresh vegetables and fruits -- as it turns out, things have lasted very well, and I could have brought more.  It seemed at the time as though I was buying out the store -- I was having trouble finding room in the cart, and I didn't want to get a second one.  I'm growing alfalfa sprouts and mung bean sprouts, so those -- along with onions and cabbage -- will be our crunchies from here on out.  For lunch today we had cheese sandwiches with cucumbers, tomatoes, red peppers, alfalfa sprouts and onions.  It will be the last we see of such a thing for awhile!  We also had lemonade with the world's most expensive ice cubes (thinking no farther than the electricity to make water, the electricity to cool the freezer -- you don't want to start thinking of the other costs that landed us in this time and place where we would value ice cubes so much!) 

We're about half way to the Marquesas... 

Best wishes to all! 

Craig & Barbara Johnston

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