How the autopilot broke.
I don’t realise how much I love fishing until I hear the reel whizzing and feel my body go into an instantaneous physiological spasm. Senses are heightened and my field of vision narrows with panic, the edges penumbra-like and dark. Heart rate quickens, blood rushes to areas where its not required and often an unintentional vociferation or unintelligible outburst, or even just a series of atavistic groaning’s occur. Sweat beading, throat closing up with shallow, laboured, quickened breathing. I’m sure there would be some sort of pupil dilation … I might get Elayna to check next time.
Despite near total panic, or perhaps because of it we have generally landed the fish.
I’m sure it is in part because of the size of fish we are dealing with here in the Pacific. Something peculiar has been happening though, despite having lost quite a few, some identified as marlin, some we think behaving more like large tuna. I’ve become not just a little bit keener but literally dreaming of landing one. Especially in those half awake, guided mind-wanderings that occur on long passages as shift work changes sleeping patterns and free-time is in abundance.
Usually I would think that disheartenment, particularly at the loss of gear, would cause us to fish less, only during the day maybe, using smaller lures to preserve our dwindling supply of very expensive fishing equipment,.
“Tackle the ones you can handle” I hear Dad saying.
In practice, what has happened is an almost obsessive contemplation of the fish in question, line handling techniques, gaff placement and gaff tactics, most suitable crew for certain roles and night time vs day time scenarios etc. We are about as well drilled as we could be without actual role play with a dummy fish, which I considered very carefully and put to the crew on our 3rd night.
On a sail boat there is much more to think about than just the rod, reel and fish. We are travelling at generally near 7 knots with a forceful impetus that needs to be slowed immediately in order to tackle a big game fish or you will lose your line far too quickly. A particularly game fish we hooked about 3 nights ago and I have never heard a reel fizzle and crackle like it. Narrowing vision and panic aside the sound alone would have been enough to frighten any person with a typical evolutionary response to stimuli. As the sparks flew from the reel I yelled, “ugh a prfffttt”, at Elayna and had an apoplectic fit when she failed to decipher and didn’t start slowing the boat down as per garbled instruction. Millions of misfiring neurones providing conflicting information, I could feel my head start to heat up and as I stumbled around on deck like a raving drunkard, pulling ropes and shouting “water”, which I thought I must need because hydration is key I read somewhere, I could hear the reel relentlessly fizzing in the background.
Key to staving off the ever-present sanity erosion of deep-blue ocean transit and avoiding a Crowhurst type response to the inexorable multitude of frustrations that are hurled at one daily is to document a list of grievances onboard, rank them in order of severity and move through them as steadily and reasonably as possible. An untidy ship can quickly devolve into a cacophony of creaks and clinks that can give one the howling fantods and has sent many a sailor overboard. The din has been compared by reliable sources to “a thousand screaming banshees.”
*It is widely recognised that grievance list length and severity is/are directly proportional to free time onboard. So say if one was to hand steer across an ocean, shunning the autopilot narry a clink would be heard. This would obviously be a last resort because NO ONE hand steers across an ocean.
“If that pen rolls and clinks into the wall, then back again into that plate one more time, I’m jumping overboard,” is a good example of a grievance, as moving the pen is quite easy. At any given time one person or another might be in a better mindset or, “motivationally charged,” as we call it on SLV, in which case the pen relocation would befall that particular person. A system of trust as fragile as any economy built on the ostensible-house-of-cards like foundation of ‘you move my pen I’ll move yours… when you can’t be bothered at a particular time moving the pen or indeed other annoying object such as clinking cup or spilled pasta sauce or flapping sail or sliding toolbox in hard to reach place.’ We ask guests sign words to this effect before boarding LaVaga in a series of emails titled the pen clauses. E signatures are obviously acceptable.
This is quite a long passage. 3000 nautical miles from Galapagos to the Marquesas. It should take us closer to 20 days but we provisioned for 30. We did three huge shops, one in Colon, one in Panama City and the last in the Galapagos. The last was poorly executed as, because of the Galapagossian nightmarish bureaucracy, we were unable to sail from one island to the other in order to pick up supplies and therefore were forced to take a ferry.
The fresh groceries that we picked up then had to spend two to three hours in cardboard boxes getting squashed by baggage handlers and cooked in the front of the hot ferry on the return journey. When we got back to the island of Isabella the last of the myriad of complications were worked through over a day and a half.
The coast guards there were pretty good guys trying to work within highly regimented, uncompromising rules and regulations that I personally can see no use for. We ended up getting some black market diesel from the townsfolk as for some reason you can’t even buy diesel there without filling in forms and waiting four to five days.
Between the food and the diesel being so difficult to obtain it was almost as if the Ecuadorian government were unconcerned about the safety of the cruising community. It’s not a small journey from there to the next island along, so surely they have a duty of care to sailors who are pretty much forced to stop there.
I get frustrated quite easily by all that stuff though, I will admit. I ended up getting food poisoning (we think) from the ham (we think) which spent those hours in the sun, and I was out of action for a very difficult 36 hours at the beginning of the journey. I think I slept for about 30 of them though which was fortunate because I didn’t much enjoy my time awake. Had some pretty cool fever induced dream wanderings though and I believe it may have led to some breakthrough introspective cognisance and maybe even an epiphany. I will be sure to send the supermarket, ferry service and Equadorian government a letter entailing my gratitude for the insights.
That night there were a few little storms which Dad and Elayna had to tackle alone, both getting drenched and having to change sail plans regularly, so that was very well done by both of them. After that it was smooth sailing for the next week and we broke into our pre-determined roles laid our before departure. I was to start the day at 6am for five hours then Dad for five hours then Elayna for two hours. We would repeat this in the pm.
Elayna also had to do all the cooking and dishes, whilst Dad and I tried to catch fish, effect repairs, preventative maintenance etc. It was really, really, really good to be away from civilisation. Whilst revelling in the solitude though, I was aware that I might not have the same sentiments after 20-30 days at sea. The recommended route is to head south west from the Galapagos for a few hundred miles then clock onto the Marquesas from there. This should push you south into the trade winds and this was exactly our experience in the first week, after a couple of days of south in your course the wind picks up into a consistent 15 knots SE.
Darling Elenita was pretty concerned about this crossing mainly because of the duration and I’m really glad she decided to come. In the preceding months trepidation and anxiousness mounted until there was talk of perhaps skipping this one. In the end I think she would have felt too bad if she were to leave me to go it alone (she said as much, so I’m not really as perceptive as I’m pretending here, having received unequivocal communications to that effect) and I’m really really happy that she made the decision to come. I completely understand if a 22 year old girl doesn’t want to spend a month on a boat in THE middle of nowhere, and she did do the Atlantic, but as I said I was very happy she decided to come. I mean who else would make the sandwiches?… Thats her line.
We started the trip with winds so light that the gennaker wouldn’t even fly properly. It was deflating and then filling with air again and making a loud crashing noise until we doused the sail and motored, Dad was quite disappointed to be motoring. We caught a tuna pretty soon into the trip and Dad taught Elayna two different recipes which were both delicious. One was a ceviche with a special marinade and the other was a plain tuna steak but with spicy seasoning, the key here being the bleeding of the tuna beforehand which I found out I had been doing completely inadequately.
What we ended up doing is cutting the whole head off and dragging them behind the boat with a rope through their tail. This seems to get rid of all the blood which is crucial to nice tuna meat. In the Gibraltar Strait, Elayna and I had caught a couple of tuna and the meals came out so bad we have been off them ever since. The steaks were much darker than I now realise they should have been, with coagulated dark clumps interspersed throughout so that trimming would result in almost no meat at all. It is therefore good to get a few lessons from the old man. What isn’t so good is that he keeps sleeping naked with the door open and his ass pointing towards the doorway. It is quite funny for Elayna and I.
The most interesting thing so far has been the Autopilot dilemma. It stopped working after about four days. With only three of us onboard the Auto Pilot really isn’t a luxury it is a safety issue. This fact was confirmed after only one and a half days of hand steering. Morale dropped, sleeping was interrupted and fatigue ensued, there was now very little time for anything other than sailorly duties, no reading, no movie watching etc.
It got difficult very quickly, not to say it was impossible or even horrible but more that it would have turned a very pleasant journey into a battle of endurance and hardship. Definitely not what Dad signed on for which was displayed by the tossing of a tea towel across the cockpit: “If its not the bloody gennaker its the fucken Auto Pilot.” In one of those tired and down moods this really made Elayna and I laugh and eventually Dad too. We cracked up for a long time and I had tears rolling down my cheeks. It really lightened the mood. I sailed from 8pm until 4am that night, breaking into a giggle every now and then, to give everyone a break and when I woke up around 11am, Elayna had the wheel and myself and Dad decided to try to fix the still nonfunctional Autopilot.
Safe in the knowledge that we couldn’t make a not working piece of equipment worse we took up Elaynas idea of using the hair dryer, having previously decided that water ingress was the most probable cause of the malfunction. Removing everything from the starboard locker to undo some bolts, we popped the unit out of its little hole whilst every tool I own went sliding around the deck with each roll of the boat I could feel myself getting frustrated, probably dehydrated, and tired. Removing the two cables, power and GPS (probably, I don’t know), I took it downstairs to disassemble, which was surprisingly easy. Having located the hairdryer in Elaynas haystack of superfluous accoutrements we went to start the generator.
It wouldn’t start. I was about to give up so Dad had a bit of a look at it. Reading through the manual and following the troubleshooting guide we noticed there was no spark being emitted from the spark plug. After finding some old sandpaper we cleaned it up, started it, used the hairdryer to dry the obviously damp patches on the circuitboard and rubber button casing on the Autopilot unit, reassembled the Autopilot screen thing, plugged it back in, hit the Auto button and it worked! The singular elation of hard work payed off, the generally guilty pleasure of avoiding hard work in the future, teamwork, shared experience and our own little piece of successful ingenuity whilst battling unfamiliar technology way out of our skill set was very nice.
Very nice indeed. I was a proud Captain. Everyone lay down and we didn’t have our well earned beers until the next day, we were too tired.
Once an hour for the next three days I would say “how good is having an Autopilot?” smile and sink a little deeper in my chair. To which everyone replied on day one “oh I know, its amazing, I’m so glad we fixed it, we really nailed that one.” On day two “yeah its good” and late on day 3 both of the other members of the crew took me aside and told me that it would probably be best if I knocked it off.
As I am writing this we are about 1300 nm from the Marquesas, have 210 Litres of diesel left and the water maker has been working fine so no issues there. We have not been without dramas though:
– Anthony (My Father) – Nasty rope burn and locked knee. Blisters have popped now and after extensive coconut oil application the knee appears to be back in shape. He has also fallen over a lot. haha. I have asked him today if he has had any other mishaps I should put in my blog and he shook his head too quickly and vigorously, suggesting that he might be withholding further injuries.
– Elayna – Many, many bruises from being thrown around the boat. UTI. Can I say that?
– Riley – Food poisoning and a niggling back problem probably due to constant readjustment/counter balancing as the boat rocks. Miscellaneous cuts and bruises.
Elayna re Rileys refusal to skin the Wahoo:
“Stop being a sooky la-la.”
As the days wear on we all settle into a groove. The moon was full at the start of our journey and now it is slowly disappearing. More and more stars are visible and Elayna has taught me to keep an eye out for shooting stars.
I swear the satellites move quicker than they used to and I’m constantly mistaking them for shooting stars. As the days passed I just sort of slipped into the role of nightshift which I don’t mind at all. I get up every now and then to have a look at the sky. I have a look for ships but there are never any around.
We have seen two.
If the wind picks up a little I will get up and have a look for any sign of a storm. If there is a moon then you can see quite clearly, if there is no moon then I look for missing stars that foretell of a cloud, it is usually easy to distinguish how low and dark they are. I will look to where the wind is coming from and try to judge the likelihood of an interception or the possibility of a course alteration if there are “angry” looking clouds.
They haven’t been too fierce in the Pacific, rarely getting above 20 knots, especially compared to the storms we encountered out from Crete in the Mediterranean. As we find our groove so to does La Vagabonde’ begin to find some rhythm getting out days of +150 nm with ease. She tells us if she isn’t happy or would prefer more or less sail by sitting a little straighter or listing over, making a different groan. With the consistent trade winds in place a sail pattern can be left up for days with only small alterations to boom angle or taughtness of either sail.
A lot of the time we will go for what is most comfortable for the crew rather than boat speed, although fortunately those two things generally coincide. With winds from the south east we have tended to head a little south with full or single reefed main and full headsail, dragging the wind forwards with our momentum, gradually peeling off and attaining an acceptable bearing. With the compounded advantages of speed, increasing the wind speed by heading more into it and also once we have changed direction far enough west we find that the swell is behind us and because we are moving so quickly, LaVaga can surf or get a ‘lift’ from the odd wave.
Dragging the wind forward and surfing were much better done when the Autopilot was down and we had to hand steer as ‘feel’ responds much better than dogged instrument observation or reliance. Once LaVaga gets up over 6 knots she slices through the water, becomes very responsive and is a smooth ride even in quite rough conditions. We found that with a clean hull and having made a few tactical changes to sail plans we have regularly been able to push eight knots. I wouldn’t call us a particularly speed-motivated crew either. Wish we had a folding prop. We are all happy doing a bit over six knots though most of the time.
Having less sail up doesn’t necessarily equate to safety on long passages. We have found that with more (correct) sail up and a little bit more of a list that our speed through the water creates a much more comfortable ride. Fatigue and the resulting mistakes I believe would account for a lot of problems encountered in longer passages. It is very important for safety and especially for just enjoying yourself on a huge passage you have probably been planning for years to make sure everyone gets a good sleep. Especially on nightshift, I will wait until the crew arises in the morning before making any big change if I can.
On La Vagabonde’, fortunately it isn’t such a fine line to tread between where we really start to move and get a good motion and to be putting her to the limits and placing unnecessary strain on the rigging. We feel we have enough systems and knowledge in place that if it were to really blow up, very quickly, we would be ok.
There are many, many flying fish seen during the day that are spooked by La Vagabonde’ into flight. Occasionally there are many hundreds of them, generally to port for some reason, breaking the water in unison and flying for hundreds of meters before re-entering their aqueous home. I have to throw one or two off the deck every morning as they sometimes land on LaVaga. I wonder how on earth another fish could possibly get to be eating one of these flying fish. We caught a wahoo today and whilst filleting it I found it had a flying fish in its stomach.
Short of one accidentally landing in its mouth I couldn’t figure out how it could possibly have gotten to it. I then thought it must be a pretty lucky wahoo if a fish had accidentally landed right in its mouth and I said to him “Oh well, you win some you lose some hey buddy.” It seems an unfair advantage to have a winged fish. Like having a lion chasing a buffalo that suddenly flew off into the sky or a cat chasing a mouse that suddenly turned into a bear and ate the cat. That is on par, I feel, with the advantage of being a flying fish.
We have a sat phone now and I decided to use it to tell some people about the Autopilot and the flying fish/mouse bear comparison. We have been using it to update our twitter, get the weather and keep up to date with emails. We get a lot of emails now. I called some friends from back home and gave mum a call, compared to the Atlantic crossing this one has been quite easy. Having the sat phone and weather is a real luxury and we probably talk to friends and family more now when we are on passage than when we are at port. The weather on this crossing has normally been about 12-14 knots of wind with less than one meter waves where as the Atlantic for us was about 15-22 knots and two to three meter waves. That is a HUGE difference in comfort levels. From lying in one spot all day long to actually going forward and doing some pushups and getting out the scrubbing brush for a clean up. I imagine we will arrive fully regenerated. Dad has already been talking about his fully charged batteries.
One night there were storms. The lightning lit up the sky like daytime for what seemed an exaggeratedly long time. It would get really bright and then I would look around at everything and then I would think, ‘it has been really bright for an awfully long time here,’ and then I would wonder how long it would be until it was dark again, then I would wait for it to be dark again and then it would be dark again. Then we would be hit by this hugely thick wall of thunder that chilled me to my primal bones.
The hairs on my neck stood up either from a magnified sense of terror or from some unseen electromagnetic force, probably both, and it rained so hard all I did was unscrew the back water tank and it filled itself up in under 30 mins. Everyone got up but Dad was naked again so I sent him back to bed whilst Elayna and I prepared the cockpit for battle, but anticlimacticly the wind was not to match the fearsome lightning and thunder. We soon both agreed that I would be fine alone on deck and she got some well deserved rest.
I spent the next five hours putting up and taking down sails, changing course by 20 degrees and then changing back again. The winds were flukey because of the surrounding storms and I found I would get everything set up perfectly and have us sailing again, go downstairs, hang up my rain jacket, dry myself with a towel, sit down and immediately hear the head sail flapping and flogging in the wind again. I ended up just going up in my soaked towel to tackle the ever-changing wind patterns until I gave up, and to my ultimate shame and embarrassment turned on the engine.
It felt incredible to have been beaten and yet be winning anyway. We were travelling at six knots directly at the Marquesas and f*&% you wind and *&%k you too rain clouds. We only had to motor for about five more hours until the stormy weather abated and the trade winds inexorably pushed through to La Vagabonde’ and started moving us west again.
Despite the difficulty obtaining diesel on Isabella, the subsequently unmarked containers and ensuing problems determining diesel from petrol, which I am now well versed at, in the Galapagos we ended up with our tank full, which holds 200 Litres, and took another 110L in Jerry cans.
After the initial patch of doldrum-like weather for the first 200 nm or so, which is well documented, we had used 70L of diesel and had used the engine for 40 hours. 40 h @ 6 knots = 240 nm (quite conservative). We figured we had about 800 nm left of diesel if we absolutely had to which is a very long way indeed. Go the Yanmar!!! This was a lot more than I had anticipated. After figuring this number out I had to decide whether to inform the crew, or rather Elayna because I knew that she would have perfect grounds then from whence to pitch her, “you never use the engine,” argument, stemming from our time in the mediterranean in general but also in particular from nearly two days of being completely adrift out from the Canary islands enduring a swell with no wind to create forward momentum. The vessel’s stability quickly plummeted into just a rocking, creaking, noisy, insanity producing frustrating boat with no semblance of steadiness.
No advancement towards destination, which can nullify the psychical battering doldrums will inflict, that would test the most stoic of philosophers and is, Elayna would posit, the equivalent of a medium cyclone in terms of bad times onboard a yacht. I decided to keep that to myself for the time being and use the engine as sparingly as I had done in the past. I felt it was for the best and if questioned I knew I could circumlocute with the best of them.
I find that the night time is the best time for sailing. I was speaking to Dad about how beautiful it is to see the water ripping past when we are doing about maybe 6.5 knots and he pointed out he likes to watch the water disappearing behind us lit up by the aft navigation light. The wake of the boat leaves a bit of whitewash in the water and, like my following sea that I love, it is the sort of thing that you can watch for hours whilst pondering the mysteries of the universe, or why or how U2 were able to get their entire album uploaded onto my (I think everyones?) computer and why they weren’t arrested for that.
Does Bono have a team of hackers he employed? Was a big deal made about this at the time because it should have been, we do miss a lot out here. There are birds that you can hear, some small ones that land on the water. The furthest point we will be from land is about 1500nm and these birds are little bigger than spoggies (these are Australian i’m not sure of the international equivalent, suffice it to say they are small) and from the looks they don’t appear like they could go that far.
Now I’m not suggesting at all that I can look at a bird and ascertain from that sole arbitrary glance how far that bird might be able to travel. The complexity of flight and particularly the aerodynamics of feathers escapes me, there must be a whole range of factors involved, like weight, ability to rest at sea, feeding habits and a calorie deficit on a per mile basis, wind direction and direction of travel, migratory patterns and instincts, ability to rest in rough sea, thermals, upper atmosphere super-winds. Just to look at though, they look too small. I’m not sure if it’s a turtle egg/sperm/salmon type thing where there are lots and most just don’t make it but that would make the most sense I suppose.
The forward navigation lights are red on the port (left) and green (on the right) and light up the railing forward of the bow so that it looks like green and red bull horns charging through the night. There is bioluminescence in the water a lot of the time and if you flush the toilet you can see it in there too! Haha.
Dad, on some other birds – “They’re big birds, you can tell because they’re not small.”
Between the rolling seas, the darkness and the hysteria, surprisingly few ropes were tangled and during the debrief I was told that I only fell down maybe twice. Arbitrarily grabbing whatever ropes I could find and tossing them overboard, unsnapping shackles and disarming loaded snap-locks whilst screaming aloud to Elayna, I believe it was about now that she started very seriously emploring me to calm down.
As I turned to face her my head torch shone in her eyes and she screamed, which in my already delicate frame of mind really sent me over the edge. Mixed now with the panic were fleeting feelings of remorse, and a prescient sense of foreboding. Elayna had fallen over and was becoming annoyed, perhaps my erratic behaviour had put her on edge also because as I stooped in to try help her regain her feet she frantically waved her arms at me begging me to leave her. Deeming that for the best I left her to regain herself and made a conscious effort to do the same until I remembered the reel. My legs were tangled in rope as I turned and glanced up at a beautifully tranquil sky, void of clouds and with only a small moon the stars pierced through the mental turbulence to be remembered vividly.
During the lost fish investigation spanning the next three days and two nights it was revealed that here I blanked out for maybe a minute or so and Elayna was forced to wipe foam from my mouth.
I try to set the drag on an EXTREMELY roughly calculated 30 kg’s using 100kg nylon and this behemoth was effortlessly ripping it out of its tightly fed drum as if it were simply coiled neatly on the deck frictionlessly flowing overboard. Also we were travelling at six knots in the other direction so it was pulling against that as well. It was a big fish. Opening my eyes I pushed past Elayna and jumped up heading straight for the wheel. I managed to turn La Vagabonde’ down-wind and Elayna faithfully located and ditched the correct rope, finally, that began to slow us down. Shrieking with delight I turned and was then able to get to the reel with its quickly vanishing line. Leaping up onto the aft seat with a ‘whoop’ I straddled the reel and started grinding it around, reeling it as fast as I could whilst the water below us rushed by glistening in the illumination of the aft nav light.
“Wait until it’s stopped running before you reel it in.” Elayna yelled, now sitting down on one of the cockpit cushions quickly losing interest. Having been interrupted I turned quickly to her, blinding her again, (unintentionally despite what she claimed at the inquiry), and quickly back again still furiously winding the lever of the reel to no effect as whilst the fish is dashing in the other direction no amount of winding will help. “Wait until its stopped running,” Elayna repeated more softly.
Walking over Elayna placed a calming hand on my shoulder and said, “Just wait a bit.” Startled beyond belief at the contact, I jumped into the air and with the ropes around my legs and being on a rocking boat I crashed in a heap to the deck, knocking over Elayna and snapping the rod holder off so that the rod was now only connected by a secondary “safety” rope to the vessel. I pushed Elayna out of the way and lunged for the rod once again. I put my fingers on it to try to stem the tide of outgoing line and immediately burnt them. I kept them there anyway, whilst I gathered a handful of sleeve in my other hand and moved it into position placing further pressure on the giant to slow.
*n.b. I find it really difficult to tighten the drag on my Shimano once the fish is flying away, I don’t think your supposed to, so I use my hands as extra friction when needed.
La Vagabonde’ was slowing down she must have been in no small part I would suggest from the gigantic fish attached to its rear moving in the opposite direction at about 50 knots.
I believe that about now Elayna departed the deck amidst the chaos claiming that she was going to make a cup of tea whilst I pressed the burnt nub of my finger ever deeper into the all but free spooling drum of the reel. I could smell the salt air in my nostrils and I felt free, I could also faintly smell the ammonia like waft of urine as I think I had had an accident a little earlier mixed with the singed flesh of my finger. As I regained my feet I envisaged the fish thinking about me. What it would think of me? Would he consider me a worthy adversary or a young man out of his depth, would the fish be feeling pain, did it know that I too felt pain and would it forgive me magnanimously for eating it if I got the chance as it had done to so many other fish lower on the food chain than it, or would it become hateful or worse just scared? I wondered if it would think I was a nice person. I wondered if it would like my moustache.
The boat was definitely slowing down now, I could see blood on the floor where I had landed on my knee earlier. With less forward momentum the waves were able to have more effect on La Vagabonde’ and the sideways motion became violent I was thrown onto the guard rail with such force that I was winded and then tossed across the other side of the boat, but as I came skidding to a halt, my head slamming into the adjacent wheelhouse, I realised that the fiz of the reel had slowed. The fish was becoming tired. The fish was becoming tired! “THeee…” I heaved trying to regain my breath. “The fisss…”
“The fish is TIRED.” I screamed leaping to my feet once again. “Elayna, ELAYNA the fish is tired.” I screamed over and over running back to the reel and slamming into different pieces of equipment as La Vagabonde’ bobbed around in the ocean like a top-heavy bottle. The rope tying the rod to the railing of the yacht had become loose and it was a small matter to flick it free, grasping the handle with one hand and inspecting the drum I moved a little way back into the cockpit, passing the rod over an aerial and the outboard, fearing that I may fall overboard in these conditions.
There was only a little line left, perhaps only 20m from 1000, and if he went for another run I was done for. Grasping the rod with one hand I turned on the engine with the other and hit it into full reverse, 3000rpm. We were to chase her down.
The autopilot was behaving strangely whilst we were in reverse so I had to steer with one hand and hold the rod and wind it in with my other two hands. This went on for a good ten minutes and was quite difficult to organise trying not to get the line tangled around the prop, keeping constant tension, grasping a rod with muscles bursting and tendons straining, reversing and steering in the dark, all at the same time. Then it started to rain. What I had thought was just bobbing from having no forward momentum turned out to be an incoming storm. The clouds moving quickly overhead were to drown out the previously brilliant stars and unleash torrents of thick heavy rain. I was, however, gaining line.
After another maybe half an hour of relentless and fearsome battle I had gained back perhaps all but 50 m of line and thats when I heard the splash. I didn’t see how far it jumped into the air but I felt the line from the rod move up at about a 45 degree angle into the air so I would guess that it had probably jumped maybe 5-600 meters into the air and thats when the hook snapped through the corner of her mouth and came rocketing back towards La Vagabonde’. For what must have been the fourth time that evening I found myself on the floor, this time cowering behind the table as the unseen lure sped towards our yacht like a missile. I heard a crash. I put down the rod and reel, exhausted. I wept for a long time on the floor in the rain then fell asleep.
The next morning Dad and Elayna arose to find me asleep, headed way off course with the autopilot broken, smashed, and the lure on the ground next to it.
Elayna didn’t bring self-raising flour. She pulled the same stunt on the Atlantic crossing and twice now we have been eating brick-loaf bread. The type of stuff prisoners impolitely refuse. I was in the supermarket with her both times for the purchase and she played charades with the supermarket man acting out ‘a loaf of bread being put in the oven and RAISING’. It seems for both crossings, due to translation errors and very bad games of charades, she was sold a useless white powder that definitely was not what we had mimed. We subsequently discovered that pizza bases are actually really nice without self-raising flour.
Maybe you aren’t even supposed to put self raising-flour in a normal pizza base I’m not sure, but if you spread it very thinly you can make a pizza without self-raising flour which is just as good as bread. This is very lucky for Elayna as she was about to be hull dragged. The cooking has actually been superb I think the fact that it is a little calmer than we are used to and both being much more used to LaVaga helps.
One of my favourites was a chicken stuffed with spinach and cheese with veggies on the side. Pretty epic mid-pacific nosh for mine. Muoy deliscioso. I’m not sure if I say this too much or not enough but that girl works very hard. It is hard to explain how difficult it can be in the kitchen of La Vagabonde’ on passage. Imagine your own kitchen, now imagine that you are inside it and there is a huge giant that can lift it without crushing it.
Now the giant tilts the kitchen slightly so that all the drawers open, all the cupboards open and everything spills out onto the floor. Then he moves it back to level again. Whilst you are trying to clean up he tilts it over again so that you fall over and the drawer you just closed bangs open again. I would just eat canned food if it was up to me to cook because I know what the giants going to do next.
He starts tilting it more and less and at irregular intervals so you’ll never know how much or when its going to move. And sometimes he shakes it. He shakes the kitchen quickly whilst tilting it so that everything that was in its place isn’t anymore. That’s where Elayna has to cook and I just wanted to say thank you. And sorry.
Skinners Box of all sorts of fish.
It has come to my attention that perhaps the aforementioned insight provided by the (we think) ham may have something to do with a variable ratio schedule and fishing.
If I were a rat then a variable ratio schedule would be how many times I am fed a pellet compared to when and how many times I push my feed bar, having of course been locked in a box by a scientist. For example the rat may have to push a bar once for the first reward, five times for the second reward and twice for the third reward it all varying around some average. A good example in real life is a slot machine or, now I believe, fishing. I sometimes go fishing and catch nothing. Sometimes I get a big tuna and sometimes I hook something and it gets away. A variable ratio schedule produces the highest rate of response and the lowest rate of behaviour extinction which pretty well falls into line with my personal experience. With fishing.
After not too long on a vessel you can tell when something is wrong or different, I remember the first time Elayna sat bolt upright at exactly the same time that I did. I smiled but I think she maintained her look of concentration and we both listened to the wind and the water under the hull, felt the boat list and scanned the sky. It is really good to see Dad doing the same now and to explain to him what I’ve been doing for the past few years and how. He has been on the yacht before but when people come to visit in groups and we are all drinking and socialising it is all but impossible to impart a true fragment of what it is like aboard or to get a feel for the boat and how she moves in the ocean. To me the beauty is the arcana. Safety springs from there.