Day 189

It's 10 minutes before sunset. I stop rowing and temporarily stow the oars.  This has always been my favorite time of day.  It's a nice reminder, a brief shift in perspective as the sun recedes below the horizon.  I watch as the final rays stretch their reach, illuminating until stopped by the barriers of physics itself.  The clouds tell the story, faithfully illuminated from above into whites and grays.  Until now.  The low angle rays begin illuminating high altitude clouds from below, descending to the underbelly of lower clouds as the earth rotates away. The whites and grays transform into pastels beyond imagination.  The distant far west clouds are something else now.  They are bands of pure radiant gold. 

Yet here I am, thinking about it. And watching. Today I'm lucky enough to have company for the celestial light show.  It's another Booby!  He's circling. I raise the hardtop and secure it open with the makeshift doorstop for better viewing.  Then I open the hatch directly above the center footwell and use the lip of the opening as a seat. This is a comfortable resting position, mainly because my hands are now the 4th and 5th points of contact if needed.  Nice and stable. 

The Booby is interested in Emerson.  Between passes low in the troughs, he hesitates directly above the boat, eyes darting left and right. The tail feathers spread, the wings broaden, giving the Booby an extra few seconds of reconnaissance before slipping back into a trough.  This is a splendid compliment to the sun show in progress.  On the next pass, the Booby commits - it's time for a landing.  Emerson is 28 feet long, with plenty of flat surfaces.  This Booby instead decides to land on the thin edge of the raised hardtop, about 3 feet from my face. He ignores me entirely. 

This Booby is of the Blue-Footed variety. The beak also contains a peculiar blue hue. Say that one 10 times fast - peculiar blue hue, peculiar blue hue.  Impossible.  I should delete that.  Regardless, this guy isn't looking for a final rest, he's still young and strong.  It's just a short stop for a bit of grooming.  Balancing on that edge would be a nightmare, well - I guess for a human. The door itself moves maybe 1 inch, abruptly.  It's also attached to a boat that is rocking back and forth 20-25 degrees at the moment. Yet this is where grooming must take place.  His webbed feet awkwardly wrap around the thin edge of the hardtop, the balancing act taking considerable effort.  His wings are outstretched in anticipation of falling more so than stable and ready to groom.  It's no matter, grooming must go on. 

I watch this bird with amazement and some level of envy.  This is by far the worst place to groom aboard Emerson.  The Booby is wings in, head turned, and beak nibbling maybe 20% of the time.  I would've aborted this endeavor after 60 seconds with the definition of insanity repeating in my head.  Not this guy.  Without fail, 80% balancing followed by 20% grooming.  No frustration, no particular concern, no identifying new grooming locations.  This is it.  It's a bird at a place trying to do a thing, that's it.  It's so beautifully simple. 

Yet here we are, together.  At the moment, we have nearly identical life objectives.  Eat, rest, groom when required, and keep moving.  We are the same, except the obvious - the awareness.  And so it comes back, the pastels faded, the gold worn dull.  But for a moment, however brief, I was less in my head and more out there with the Boobies. In that place, it doesn't matter that Mr. Blue Foot selected an outrageous thin perch, nor does it matter that I made the outrageous choice of trying to row an ocean.  We're just here.  Let's get after it, even if the world is against us 80% of the time. 

Paddle On

P.S. I'm aware I'm not technically paddling. Be more like Mr. Blue Foot - who cares.

P.P.S. I was unable to coordinate the delivery of equipment as I passed Hawaii. Unfortunately, there will be no documentary. 

P.P.P.S. The Garmin map will no longer be updating. I lost the device after the final charging cable caught fire. Well, it was more of a red, smoldering, smoking, rubber dripping situation. Everything is under control, just no more text messages. 

P.P.P.P.S.  David Birch at the Starpath School of Navigation in Seattle is putting together a really cool Google Earth application for everyone to use. You'll be able to see real-time updates and select overlays that interest you. More to follow. 

P.P.P.P.P.S.  How many P's is too many?  Make it stop!  Mr. Blue Foot wasn't ignoring me.  When I reached out towards him, there were loud noises and aggressive beak movements.  We're cool now.

Day 149

We are rapidly approaching the 5 month mark.  I'd say that warrants a quick update.  I'm currently on sea anchor due to a low pressure system passing north of Hawaii, moving northeast.  While waiting and drifting, and waiting some more, I've been contemplating the critical juncture up ahead.  Should I continue past Hawaii as planned?  We already know it's not as planned, I'm a couple of months behind schedule.  Should I continue past Hawaii even though I'm short on food?  That's the real question.  We also know there is no question, I'll continue.  The wheels haven't  fallen off yet, or the rudder, or the rudder drive that sounds like imminent death (I'm working on it).  Pending catastrophe between here and Hawaii, I'll continue.  

Physically, I'm holding up well.  I'm not taking medications for any ailments, so I'd say that's excellent. I'm still working through various joint and muscle pains, but nothing worth complaining about.  Regarding food:  Yes, I'm definitely going to be short at my current pace.  But, I have options.  Four that I can think of.  Quit early, catch food, go faster, or eat less.  Since quitting isn't an objective, I'm planning on combining the last three options.  It'll be a tricky balance, but not dangerous.  I still have divert options between Hawaii and Australia.  I've also monitored my body measurements on a monthly basis.  It's assuring to know I haven't lost body mass at an alarming rate.  I know my dietician and her students will definitely not like the eating less option.  I can only say I'll pay close attention to my body and modify my behavior accordingly.  I promise! 

Psychologically, I think I'm doing fine.  You'll be the better judge.  The biggest challenge has been living with an open ended and uncertain timeline.  Pilot-types don't do well with open ended and uncertain timelines, it's bad for business.  These are people that start meetings by ensuring all watches are synchronized to the second, and they all synchronize with the national atomic clock.  My patience is, therefore, being tested.  I've caught myself yelling at inanimate objects that are only annoying me because I put them there.  Or I failed to securely put them there.  Since my food supply is not open ended, I've also had a fair amount of anxiety sifting through options.  But as I've said, there are four, no need to keep worrying about it.  Overall, I'd say I've come to a sustainable psychological equilibrium.  Except with swimming.  I'm still terrified of whatever critters I might be swimming with.  They come out of nowhere!  It's an ordeal getting me out there with a scraper to clean the hull.  16,000 feet deep!  Sharks!  Mean looking turtles!  Jellyfish!  Mysterious dark shadows!  Ahhhh!  But I do it.  Begrudgingly. 

The documentary situation is one area that is definitely not happening as planned.  I am woefully unprepared for creating documentary content.  Apparently, learning the art of documentary filmmaking was low on my priority list.  I didn't bring the right equipment, and of the equipment I did bring, saltwater is taking its toll.  And cables.  Of all the handheld electronics on board, I didn't think cables would be such a limiting factor.  Broken and/or corroded cables has led to the demise of my cell phone, one iPod (by indirect methods involving a waterproof case), and access to the external hard drives.  One GoPro is completely dead, the other is partially compromised by saltwater.  For storage access, I have one cable left, that by inspection this morning is beginning to show strange green residues.  And without storage, we don't have much.  This is all fine with me, I'm here to remember it all.  However, if anyone thinks we should still have a documentary, there is still a chance.  

I will be passing near Hawaii sometime around the new year.  As I pass, it can be arranged to coordinate a delivery of documentary equipment (preferably with the filmmaker on board).  This wouldn't be classified as "assistance" since it wouldn't help me survive.  But it will allow for creating content.  However, in order for this to happen, we need coordination and money - something I can't do and have none of.  The long and short of it:  There will not be a documentary unless I get a fresh batch of documentary equipment.  I need a point man/woman/person to coordinate a boat rendezvous and to raise the required funds, approximately $10K.  If anyone out there has the time and desire to take this on, please email me directly at

I know it's a tough sell to take on a project like that, which is why I'd like to also offer the opportunity to help Water Mission with a charitable contribution.  Please see the support page at for links to Water Mission and a description of the great work they carry out.  Last year they served over 430,000 people!  Let's help them reach more in 2019.  We are sitting at 10% of our $30K target, please consider helping us achieve our fundraising goal!  Until then, I'll be spending the last month of 2018 trying to make it past Hawaii. One oar stroke at a time.  


How it Goes (part 4)

Once the food is down and sunscreen on, I debate making a second coffee before heading outside.  Alright, I'll make a second cup.  Weak though, we're in conservation mode after all.  I don't have cup holders anywhere, with the exception of makeshift devices constructed with 550 parachute cord.  It's just a thin rope, so the improvised cup holders only hold until about 35 degrees of roll.  After which, I have a projectile coffee mug on my hands.  Another battle for another day.  Today it should hold fine until 0900 or 1000, before the winds pick up. 

I position the oars into the rowing position after removing the securing lanyards.  I'm overly cautious when securing the oars during rest periods.  Unless the seas are raging, the oars are fine sitting in the oar lock with just one lanyard.  They are physically tied to the boat, so they'll just trail behind me should the seas attempt to claim them.  And the seas have made this attempt, of course.  The bigger threat is breaking an oar underneath the boat in a cross current.  I've had a few close calls in rough conditions.  When one side of the boat lifts, the oar blade drops to maintain contact with the water, and the oar handle rises in response.  It really rises; I've jammed fingers between the oar handle and the hardtop on several occasions.  If the handle is on an upward trajectory that's sure to crush a digit, I just release and watch.  The watching portion has ended in awkward recoveries.  It's amazing the number of ways an oar can get jammed into unfortunate places.  Consequently, I've been contemplating a 550 cord solution that also won't impede on the rowing itself.  

I turn on the weather and steering instruments and get comfortable.  I stretch my back, un-pin the seat, strap my feet into position and begin the first rowing session.  The first row is silent, as I've made customary.  I get a sense for how the boat is responding to the environment.  It's not entirely obvious or self-evident how the boat will respond.  Seemingly identical conditions can produce wildly different results.  Rowing on a heading of 180 with winds directly out of the north can produce a course of 180 or 350, or anything in between.  This is because heading and winds aren't the only factors.  Teasing out all the different variables is possible, but not entirely necessary.  With the overview of weather in mind, I've found the "stickiness" of the blades through the water is the best rule-of-thumb indicator for expected performance.  

Some days the blades feel like they are cutting through mud, no matter how hard or how long I row.  Other days, if feels like the blades are spring loaded and cutting through air.  I'm getting better at deciphering the details, but today I just accept that I'm operating on about a 45% stickiness level, which generally produces about 0.9 knots over the ground (not through the water) if I row hard.  100% sticky is pointless.  The boat might be too big, or I might be too weak.  Either way, I need to choose my rowing efforts carefully.  Rowing at 70% sticky for 10 hours might be equally as effective as rowing zero hours with a deployed sea anchor.  As a clue - the longer the winds maintain a constant favorable direction, the lower the stickiness level.  

I continue at 45%.  Averaging 0.9 knots felt awful 4 months ago, now it's acceptable.  Especially if it's on a desired course.  Today it's not, which is more common.  I'm deviating from desired by at least 20 degrees, further lowering my speed over the ground from 0.9 to 0.7 knots.  It's starting to feel less acceptable.  I could average 2.5-3.0 knots in Puget Sound fully loaded, so this drop in performance is still tough to stomach.  I attempt maximizing performance with small tweaks in heading and course using onboard instruments (sometimes huge tweaks).  The electronic compass is off by 15 degrees as compared to the traditional wet compass.  My handheld compass agrees with the wet compass, so I've calibrated my brain to think in 15 degree offsets when looking at the electronic instruments.  Flooding of the heading sensor definitely didn't help the situation, and Garmin makes these adjustments unnecessarily difficult, so I've just accepted it. Just like my watch that looses 4.2 seconds per day, the manual corrections are easier to contend with than the underlying root problem.

Another indicator of performance is the variability of course over the ground.  This is also related to stickiness, which is related to weather and everything else.  If I'm holding a solid 1.5 knots indicated speed over ground, but the course is fluctuating 15 degrees, then it's more like 1.2 knots over the ground in reality.  If the course is fluctuating near 80 degrees, it's closer to 0.5 knots over the ground.  Why these course fluctuations are occurring is still a partial mystery, but I'm learning.  Of course, despite all this knowledge, it's all useless when Mother Nature wants her way.  I once rowed a full 360 degree "circle" and my course over the ground didn't change at all.  Sometimes it's best to just hang up the oars and take a nap.  Today, I shall carry on. 


How it Goes (Part 3)

Emerson’s Galley

How it Goes (Part 2)

Judging by the ambient light, it appears sunrise is due in about 30 minutes.  The silvery shades reflecting off the cabin ceiling are beginning to show hints of a deep orange.  It's time to get up.  I arrange my sleep schedule so I'm beginning the day anew right alongside our celestial timekeepers.  It only takes a few arrangements, then the circadian rhythm takes over quite reliably.  Without having set an alarm for months, I can't recall missing a single sunrise.  

I rotate onto my stomach and tuck my knees under my chest into some version of child's pose.  Based on the space available and safety considerations, I've found this is the best initial maneuver for getting oil back into the joints.  I stretch and pause briefly, then it begins.  I grab a granola bar and the Captain's Log, it's time for the first entry of the day.  Not much closer to my destination.  This is becoming problematic, though partially self-inflicted.  I seem to have a continuous trade-off between desired course and desired speed.  With the winds as they are today, if I want to drive south, I'll be traveling at a pace close to zero.  If I want to drive directly west, I'll be traveling at a pace closer to 1.5 knots.  I'll probably settle for a 230-240 degree course.  Not ideal, but manageable. 

I pause mid-entry to prepare a cup of coffee.  Technically, it's 2 cups.  It's instant coffee, but it gets the job done without complaint.  However, I recently made the alarming discovery that I'm using coffee rations at an unsustainable rate.  I tell myself this is partly because I've never learned the difference between a "heaping" teaspoon and a "rounded" teaspoon.  Or any other spoon-related measuring standard for that matter.  They are all ridiculous.  Consequently, for subsequent hot beverage cravings, I've elected to use one third of a Carnation Instant Breakfast packet doused with 1-2 seconds of honey from a bear-shaped bottle. 

As I finish the log entry, I begin thinking more thoroughly about the weather.  Barometric pressure is holding steady at 1020 millibars.  I'm stuck in the center of the predominant region of high pressure within the eastern North Pacific. I need to move south to clear this region, making way for more favorable conditions.  Weather isn't going to help me get there today.  It also turns out the predominant region of high pressure itself moves south between the months of October and November, so we have competing agendas at the moment. I can also clear the region by moving west, but it may create long-term issues getting around Hawaii.  

If the seas are calm enough, I like to stand outside before getting the day started.  Luckily, today is one of those days.  It's almost calm enough to bring my coffee with me, but I don't.  I step out of the main hatch and position the hard top over the rowing seat into the raised position.  The first blast of cool breeze reminds me of the proximity to danger.  Nevertheless, the 360 degree view is breathtaking.  I absorb the raw beauty.  As suspected, the sky is overcast, but it's not entirely consistent.  It looks like regions of 2,000 foot layers of smooth, light gray stratus clouds at an altitude of 2-3,000 feet.  Embedded within the stratus layers are darker, puffier shaped cumulus clouds, some much darker.  Technically speaking, I suppose this cloud arrangement qualifies as a stratocumulus layer, the most common type of cloud arrangement. 

On the eastern horizon is crystal clear band of radiant blue sky, only two fingers thick, with your arm fully outstretched.  The sun already ascended beyond the thin blue gap, transforming the gray clouds above into an orange and yellow luminescent semicircle.  On the western horizon is a dark, confused mass, far in the distance.  It's so far in the distance, the bases of the clouds are obscured by the horizon itself.  I briefly wonder how a flat-earther might explain the phenomenon, but I immediately get bored.  No signs of imminent precipitation, but some of those darker cumulus might turn cumulonimbus before the day's end.  High altitude clouds are obscured at the moment, but I'm anticipating a decent view by 1100 local.  To be continued...

Paddle On