May 9 - 12, 2011
Our Champion Bucket Filler
We left the marina Puerto Los Cabos near San Jose del Cabo on May 9th at around 11:30 AM. It was a bright and clear hot sunny day in Mexico as we motored out of the marina and into the Pacific Ocean. The water looked deep azure blue and inviting. I have always loved being on the water and was excited to get going. This would be my first real sailing experience. (We mostly motored down from La Paz to San Jose del Cabo - in an effort to meet our agent who would check us out of Mexico.) Or as Paul (SV Georgia) put it - our shake down cruise. Sally and Al (SV Jack Nesbitt) saw us off at the fuel dock just before we left North America. Sally had been a big help to me on the dock at Puerto Los Cabos. We shopped for groceries together and then re-arranged the refrigerator on Madrona - all the while her telling me how long each fresh item would last, how to keep it fresh, and how to eat it to keep it as long as possible. Sally and Al have been cruising for 12 years. Thanks to Sally we had fresh vegetables for 3/4 of the passage (which took a wopping 39 days!)
The first three days on board were awful - we were under the influence of Cape Falso, the most southern point of land on the peninsula of Baja. Cape Falso is dreadful, the waves coming south from California race around the tip of Baja and crash into the waves coming south from the Sea of Cortez - making a very messy sea. The winds off Cape Falso were fierce 25-30 knots with gusts up to 37 knots. It was a bit of a shock to our systems (even though we had all taken Meclazine, motion sickness medicine, the night before). The pitching and rolling of the boat was quite violent.
Tamsyn stayed below for most of those three days - throwing up quite often. She was good spirited about it though - she'd toss her cookies in to the bin we gave her while watching "Curious George" or "Blue Planet" and as soon as we had rinsed the bucket she was watching it again as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Of-course as time wore on she began to look quite pale with dark rings under her eyes. She ate almost nothing during those three days. It took us quite a while to get some Stugeron (stronger seasick medicine) to stay down and really begin to help her out. Griffyn did a bit better on some level, he threw up less often, but when he did - it was more traumatic for him than Tamsyn. We let them watch movies non-stop.
Both kids had to stay below because it was so rocky and wet in the cockpit. We had a number of big splashes that shipped water in the cockpit and even below deck. The galley was drenched by the first really big wave that came aboard and Owen was soaked through despite his full foul weather suit. After that we put the hatch board up and closed the hatch. It felt a little like we were hiding out from the kids below, but really neither Owen or I had a choice - if we were to remain able enough to keep watch - we had to be in the cockpit staring at the horizon line. We only went below for brief trips to help out the kids (clean up after them, give them more seasick medicine, help them change the video, or tuck them in if they could sleep.) Or to use the head. Owen even slept in the cockpit during my night watches. Despite all our efforts to avoid getting seasick (going below sparingly, eating mainly crackers and peanut butter, staying hydrated, staring ahead above deck,) Owen actually surpassed Tamsyn filling the bucket. He was our champion bucket filler. He had the dry heaves the second day out and his skin actually turned greenish. He was also gaunt and pale. Seeing him like that reminded me of a picture he gave me of himself taken just after summitting Mount Rainier. He looked thin and wasted in that photo and because he was inside a blue tent, his skin took on a bluish hue. It was earie, but it also reminded me of all the adventurous challenges he had survived in his life up to this point (living in the deepest jungles of Africa, dangerous mountain climbing trips, solo bicycle trips across the continent, 50 foot seas in the southern ocean) - and that gave me strength.
We motored 28 miles after we left the marina to help move us away from the Cape. The winds were so strong (and we were so sick) that we sailed the first three days with only a storm sail up - for 86 miles - until we found the Northeast Trade winds. Before we left the marina, I had made a double batch of a tuna pasta salad. It still tasted good after three days in the refrigerator. The first two days we just tried to keep the seasickness medicine down along with water and crackers. Once the Stugeron began to have an effect, we began to feel hunger and eat something more substantial than crackers.
It took us those first three days to figure out our watch schedule. Owen took the first evening watch just after the kids were tucked in and the lee cloths were secured. Griffyn slept in the quarter berth and Tamsyn slept on the port settee (in the salon). Around 8:30 PM I climbed into the quarter berth with Griffyn. The quarter berth was a tight squeeze for me and Griffyn but he needed me near and I needed a tight space to feel secure as the rocking boat tossed us around while we tried to sleep. By the third night I was getting used to sleeping in a washing machine (full of laundry and a small child). I woke up at 11:30 PM and got ready for my night watch. I ate something (we had brought cookies, crackers, dried fruit, nuts, chips, candy, and other night watch goodies along in addition to Coke, black tea and coffee). Then I used the head (it is not as easy as it sounds), put on my foul weather gear (long johns, bibs, fleece sweater, Gill jacket, gloves and boots - sometimes a winter hat) and went up to the cockpit to relieve Owen. I set my watch timer (13 minutes). Owen and I talked about what the winds were doing, what the weather was, if he'd seen any vessels, the compass heading we were trying to maintain (Monte, our wind vane, was driving), and our relative speed. Then Owen laid down on the cockpit cushions and pulled up his fleece blanket. He chose the side of the cockpit that was closest to the water. I was much too afraid of the proximity of the deep blue ocean to sit on that side of the cockpit - so I sat opposite him bracing myself for the duration of my watch. Owen never doubted Madrona. I wasn't so sure we wouldn't just sink in one of those huge lurching swells. Owen kept reassuring me, "it will get easier," he'd say. I didn't believe him, nor did I really trust Madrona. Those first couple of nights were harrowing for me. It rained and pitched so much, it was hard to see anything and the huge waves and lurching boat scared me. I just held on and told myself, "it won't always be like this, Owen said it won't always be like this." I couldn't really imagine what it would be like. At 3:30 AM I woke up Owen and he began to get ready for his second night watch. The watch change usually took 20 - 30 minutes. Then I went below and crawled in with Griffyn often in my foul weather gear. Owen sat up until breakfast (8 - 9 AM). During the day he would catch up on sleep. We didn't have regular watches during daylight, whomever was in the cockpit did a look out every 15 minutes or so. During those first three days - we were both in the cockpit all the time except when I went down to sleep (or we had to attend to the kids). After Owen had caught up on sleep and was up for the day, we would change sail if needed.
By the third night watch, I was writing in my journal - thus becoming used to the motion of the boat. Also the gusty winds off the Cape were beginning to give way to the calmer steady Northeast Trade winds which would blow us across the Pacific Ocean. By the time we hit the NE Trades, I knew what wind speeds were uncomfortable and was anxious to experience a calmer sea. As the winds calmed, it stopped raining and we all began to eat and sleep better. The third night we had banana smoothies for dinner. It was delicious especially after a steady diet of up-chucking, crackers, peanut butter and tuna pasta salad. Despite how uncomfortable I was during those first three days, I never threw up. I was miserable, irritable, dizzy, nauseous and scared, but at least I didn't add to the bucket.