Day 313

Melty solar panel. A loss of 17% solar power. Or I can risk it and push the melty level.

Melty solar panel. A loss of 17% solar power. Or I can risk it and push the melty level.

Day 313

I was bent down clearing water from the center footwell when a flying fish landed on my back.  Nothing further on that development except to know that a fish flopping on a bare skin back feels...  like maybe it shouldn't be happening.  My Whale Gusher bilge pump is now broken beyond repair, so it's buckets and sponges here on out.  The rubber baffle which allows for suction is now full of holes.  I'm now less than 700 nautical miles from Cairns.  I got a lucky break south from what is now Tropical Cyclone Ann, helping my approach angles tremendously.  Ann left my company as she was transforming from a tropical storm into a cyclone.  That doesn't mean I didn't get a fair amount of punishment in the form of high winds and waves.  I made it through relatively unscathed with the exception of one unfortunately placed breaking wave.  

The winds were holding steady in the high twenties when a large squall made an appearance.  This pushed the wind up to high thirties with frequent gusts into the forties.  After about 25 minutes in these conditions, I sat opposite the chart plotter assessing the winds and my orientation to the waves.  Emerson has a tendency to get sucked into high winds, leaving me broadside to the waves.  I'm assuming this happens because my boat is shaped somewhat like an airfoil.  It seems the wind passes around my boat faster on the windward side, creating lower pressures and a pull towards the wind.  Regardless, I was a little too broadside for comfort.  Since it appeared we were handling the waves just fine, I briefly opened the hatch door for a blast of fresh air.  The timing couldn't have been worse.  

The rain was coming down hard, yet suddenly it went quiet.  That could mean one of two things - the rain suddenly stopped or I'm sitting low in a trough, there's a steep wall of water between me and the rain, and it's falling in my direction.  It's well past sunset and the moonlight has no chance of piercing through the cloud layers above, so I can't see a thing.  I have one battery monitor gauge remaining that tends to act finicky, but seems to work fine.  As I'm paralyzed in the midst of the silence, that gauge, without provocation, spontaneously and eerily illuminated the blue LED backlight as if to say "times up."  Because a split second after that LED came on, a large steep wave crashed directly broadside into the port side of the boat.  The rain certainly didn't stop.  

Luckily I was sitting on the same side of impact with my feet planted opposite, because I was suddenly standing over the electrical panel pushing hard with my legs, arms preparing for a fall.  The noise was terribly loud, nothing but violent thrashing.  The boat rolled 75-80 degrees, and as if in slow motion, I see a sheet of water in front of my face illuminated from behind by that same blue LED.  Anything not secured has found a new home in the top right corner of the boat.  After what feels like an eternity, the trashing slowly subsides and the sheet of water finds its way towards my feet.  This is good, Emerson is slowing rolling back to vertical.  The rain returns.  The LED extinguishes.  I assess.  The footwell is nearly full of water, my bed is sopping wet, the electrics are still operational, I'm not hurt.  But there's now an awful creaking sound.  I have to exit the cabin and determine the cause.  

I exit to find the two operational oars still securely in place.  Unfortunately, I left the forward half of the canvas protection raised.  I find the right side is dangling by the lower zipper, and the left side is dangling by the top snaps. Luckily, the left side was partially unzipped and the wave just finished the process.  I quickly remove the canvas and notice the right side is dangling by the zipper because the snaps were ripped clean off the boat.  I toss them in the aft cabin; I see there's nothing hindering the rudder mechanics.  The creaking is too loud.  I can't see the waves, the rain is pelting me, any new sound or lack of sound sends me into a low brace, preparing for a similar impact.  I peek over the sides and find the cause of the creaking.  The impact has dislodged my spare oars from the side of the boat.  On both sides.  These are secured by a forward cubby and an aft lashing.  The blades of the oars are at least 6 inches deep in the cubbies.  Not anymore; they are now dangling by the aft lashings, being dragged behind the boat. 

I can't pull the oars in by hand, I simply don't have the leverage.  I can only reach two feet down the nearly 11 foot oars.  I can't let them be, those lashings will only hold for so long.  I grab my parachute anchor retrieval line; it has a heavy metal clip.  I attempt a loop around an oar and let gravity and the flowing water send the clip down below the surface.  Luckily the loop tightens and catches far enough down that I gain enough leverage to yank the oar to safety.  I repeat and tie them all off well above the waterline, then return to the flooded cabin.  I can finish stowing the oars in calmer conditions.  I'll spare you the details of the ensuing indoor cleanup.  Suffice it to say, it took me about 2 hours.  The only casualties in the ordeal were two cracked spare oars and the skin on my right pinky.  I failed to put on gloves and left a hole in my finger somewhere in the midst of pulling oars to safety.  And I lost some potatoes.  Water flooded two compartments, one with food.  

Everything is dry and back to normal, though remnant currents from Tropical Cyclone Ann continue to help me along at excellent speeds.  She takes some and gives some.  I can't help but imagine if I were in a different, lighter rowboat, I would've tumbled over during that spell.  Emerson is remarkably stable, and for that, I'm grateful.  In also did a full food inventory and found I've been saving better than I thought.  I have about two months left without fishing, so I'm no longer concerned about food.  I actually increased my food consumption to better match my pace.  I'm now abeam Cairns, so I'm also feeling better about reaching my destination as planned.  As of now, I'd estimate the shores of Cairns will be in sight between 1 and 11 June.  Until then, I'll keep after it.  

Paddle On

Day 280

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Day 280

You may have noticed my progress take a turn towards erratic and unpredictable.  I've left the comfort of steady trade winds and found a low pressure area with adverse conditions.  I just didn't expect the adverse conditions to continue for this long.  My 9th month at sea was the 2nd worst in terms of mileage.  I barely made 300 miles of progress, as compared to my best month, covering over 1000 miles.  I didn't expect these conditions to persist, mainly because historical weather patterns indicate entirely different conditions.  Perhaps El Niño had some influence.  Unfortunately, it's not looking much better anytime soon.  Despite not getting any closer to my destination, I've managed to arc around to the south, creating better approach angles to Australia, which will help tremendously later.  

I don't particularly mind the delay, with one exception - food.  I left with a 10 month supply, water intrusion ruined a few weeks worth, I'm 9 months in, and I most likely have another 2-3 months remaining.  I knew this was coming, so I cut back my consumption months ago.  Even with the cut back, my body measurements are still looking great.  I recently implemented the next round of cut backs.  I can feel this one much more, but my energy levels are still sufficient.  I still have plenty of food, there's nothing to be alarmed about, but continuing to persist in a black hole of progress does create some level of anxiety.  And yes, I'm fishing.  Since my goal is unsupported, I won't be getting a resupply.  I'll either stop early, go the distance, or get forced onto a different shore by the whims of nature.  

Speaking of nature, it seems birds of the sea like hunting in higher wind environments, or at least something greater than 5-10 knots.  When the winds calm and the seas die down, the birds disappear.  Except for one. There's this all-brown bird with a two foot wingspan that flies solo and loves the calms.  The cruising altitude for this guy is probably 6-12 inches.  It's right there in ground effect, the cushion of air created between his wings and the surface of the ocean.  I've seen one actually bounce its belly right on the surface and continue flying.  Whether it was on purpose or not, I don't know, but it looked hilarious.  It makes sense to avoid the bigger waves when cruising that low.  Unfortunately, no Boobies to speak of recently.  

The bioluminescence has behaved rather predictably lately, with the exception of occasional deeper amorphous blobs of illumination.  Maybe it's the surface waves causing the amorphous appearance, since they illuminate around 10 feet under the surface.  Instead of rapid flashes, these blobs illuminate suddenly and brightly, and maintain consistent brightness for upwards of 10 seconds.  They are 5-6 feet across and look like a giant shimmering green light bulb.  Eventually, it all extinguishes at once.  When rowing, you can definitely tell when you're in a higher density bioluminescence area by the reaction to the oars.  It can get so dense that green swirls around the oars are just the beginning.  It's really intense when the oars are lifted from the water to reset and the water dripping from the oars are nothing but splashing green dots, Avatar style.  

I had another encounter with a Sunfish, those goofy looking, docile creatures.  They are the largest fish in world and apparently have more bones than any other fish.  They'll swim right up to you, probably looking for an assist on parasite removal before swimming back into the depths for a jellyfish hunt.  It'll be a slow motion hunt, but a hunt nonetheless.  I also had a few days with Right Whales, also known as Black Whales of the Baleen variety, according to my Sister's research assist.  One calm morning I turned on my water maker and the humming vibration must've attracted a curious one because a few minutes later, I heard a loud exhalation right outside the cabin.  It was calm enough that I immediately went to stand on top of the boat for a clear view.  I stood to find a 20 foot creature circling my boat within 10 yards. It surfaced to spout several times, which is when I noticed two blow holes and a V-shaped spout, which was the identification giveaway.  I went to grab my dive mask for a closeup view, but it was gone before I got the chance.  Additional whale sightings were further in the distance, but still quite impressive.  

The days are now getting shorter.  Sunlight maxed out at 12 hours and 10 minutes near equator with the sun directly overhead.  I'm guessing it was greater than 12 hours because the earth is a little wider than tall due to rotational forces.  As the Southern Hemisphere approaches winter, historical weather trends become less favorable for my planned completion.  The winds become more predominantly out of the southeast, which will make continued progress south more and more difficult.  Once I'm established in the Coral Sea with steady winds, I'll have a much better idea of when I'll land where.  Until then, I'll keep after it.

Paddle On

P.S.  As a reminder, you can have an immersive tracking experience using Google Earth thanks to David Burch at Starpath School of Navigation.  For instructions, see 

Day 255

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Day 255

The silence is almost painful.  There can't be anything else like it.  Maybe there is, but I've never been fortunate enough to stumble upon such intense serenity.  The seas are calm, the night crystal clear.  The visibility is only impeded by the physical limitations of my eyes.  The seas aren't just calm, I'm standing on a silvery dark blue mirror reflecting the heavens above.  I haven't been fortunate enough to enjoy such profound stillness until now.  The wind is non-existent for the most part.  Occasionally, there's a gentle breeze barely able to brush a sound into existence, confirming my ears are still functional.  Otherwise, it's just the scene before me and the ringing in my ears.  It turns out I have mild tinnitus.  

The moon is waxing, nearly half full.  It's nestled above the head of Orion at the moment.  Looking at the constellation, I'm reminded of the three little stars directly below and almost perpendicular to the belt.  They are 1,500 light years away and are actually massive clouds within the Orion Nebula.  The three shining dots are a nursery for future stars.  The center of the three is a cloud of gas and dust 90 trillion miles across.  It houses infant stars with such intense energy that winds are created in excess of 5 million miles per hour.  The wind is so powerful that it stunts the growth of smaller stars, creating massive shock waves.  That's one "star" in the Orion constellation.  If I think too long about it, nothing makes sense.  We can thank the Hubble space telescope for those discoveries.

The moon is cradled by a small halo, half the diameter of the moon itself.  There's some moisture in the high altitude skies, but not much.  The half moon illuminates my surroundings with an intensity bright enough to see every ripple of the sea and every contour of the clouds.  I take 360 degree scans of the mirror I'm standing upon and see an occasional ripple the size of a speed bump roll in from the distance and continue past me into the dark, beyond the reach of my senses.  They rock my boat gently, creating occasional sound number two, the subtle displacement of water as my boat regains equilibrium.  Otherwise, there are no fish jumping, no surfacing whales, no bioluminescence, no disturbances, just the reflections from above. 

Looking east, there are 3 cumulus clouds in a formation like the top three winners-stand at the Olympics.  The center the tallest, the two outside stepping down in height.  The bases are all equal, hovering only 100 feet from the surface.  The altitude of cumulus clouds over the sea is still a novelty after all those years of land-based cumulus viewing.  They create distinct shadows, almost too dark too see what's lurking below.  I can't detect any cloud movement, cloud growth or dissipation, they are just resting there, beautiful, puffy, silver-white formations.  They too, are silent.  Even so, it feels like they are saying something.  

I stare at the 3 clouds until there's a dark flash.  I don't see anything until it's past me, maybe 10 feet to my left, slightly aft of my shoulder.  Then I hear it, just for a second, then it's gone.  It sounded like someone threw a wild pitch a bit too close to my head.  All I could make out is a dark colored left wing, not even a head or body, but some kind of night-qualified airborne predator definitely buzzed the tower.  If it was flying blind, it probably would've hit me directly in the chest before I saw or heard it.  Luckily that didn't happen, I'm guessing that would be unpleasant for both parties.  These sea birds can blend into the environment remarkably well.  Once I was 10 yards away from a dozen birds sitting on the water.  I didn't see them until they all took flight together, right in front of my face.  It was slightly startling. 

Other than low altitude cumulus clouds, there's nothing obstructing my view of the surroundings.  Looking in every direction, the shimmering mirror reaches to the horizon itself.  It's a distinct line, a mysterious demarcation reminding me of The Truman Show.  In reality, the line is where the earth curves away from the line-of-sight capabilities of my eyes, only 3 or 4 miles away.  Looking above, the moon obscures the brightness of stars, but not enough to block the clear path of our own Milky Way.  Between the occasional water displacement and gentle brush of air, I've never experienced anything quite so remarkably void of sound.  With no cultural lighting, no boats in the immediate vicinity, no land for hundreds of miles, and no aircraft above, I've never experienced anything quite so remarkably void of human influence.  It's really quite amazing.  

Paddle On

Day 244

It's usually sound that gets my attention first.  A new sound is generally not good for my future.  It's normally just a nuisance, sometimes a bigger problem, but if I'm lucky, it's nature doing something I haven't heard before.  Once, I kept hearing a faint tapping sound, but it was only audible when I laid down to rest, which is the most annoying time to hear new tapping.  After days of frustration, I identified the sound as the nozzle of my portable shower gently bumping into the side of a compartment.  Just knowing the origin, regardless if I take measures to stop it, alleviates loads of anxiety.  What is that sound?!!!  Ughhh!  Oh, it's just that stupid nozzle that leaks; now I can get on with my life.  Yesterday was a day of new sounds, but it was one of the lucky days.  

I heard what initially sounded like rain.  There wasn't any falling water I could see or feel, but the sound got louder.  The sound grew into something resembling a waterfall.  I stopped, looked in front of the boat, and saw what appeared to be boiling water.  It was an area the size of a basketball court.  Churning everywhere.  My first reaction was panic - oh no, did I miss something on the charts?  Am I about to fall into an abyss, then hopefully rise to safety on top of an underwater alien ship?  No, it was just fish.  Loads and loads of them jumping and thrashing and doing what fish do.  Not a single airborne predator in sight; they missed a huge score.  Who knows what was going on below.  By the way, when this boiling fish soup occurs, the jumping is very chaotic.  Fish are landing in every imaginable orientation. I didn't expect to see fish land dorsal fins first, but that apparently happens. 

A new sound like that would be troubling at night.  Luckily, I haven't encountered anything so audibly dramatic at night. However, I have experienced the visually dramatic. The night sky, of course - the Milky Way, the constellations, the shooting stars, the intensity of the moon.  I'm talking more of a terrestrial visual anomaly.  Rowing at night can be tricky. The moon is the biggest help, it can light up the sky enough to see waves almost as clear as day. When the moon is gone, even the stars will suffice on a clear night.  When the clouds roll in and the moon is gone, things get weird. Or at least they have recently.  I've seen bioluminescence, but this is bioluminescence on steroids.  

Normally, when a wave breaks, the water churns white and within the churning is the activation of dozens of individual green lights.  Sometimes all you can see is a faint line of green showing the location of a breaking wave.  It's the same stuff that lights up around your foot as it presses into wet sand or lights into a swirling halo around your hand as you swim through the water.  They also swirl around my oars, and when waves decide to enter my personal space, I've identified little green lights inside my boat.  They are invisible to the naked eye unless illuminated.  It appears they illuminate when some threshold of agitation occurs, which is why this situation is unique.  It's an explosion of illumination in what otherwise appears to be relatively calm water.  

It starts as a ball, maybe 1 foot across, illuminating suddenly and brightly, like seeing lightening embedded within a cloud.  Except this is night-vision green and underwater, inches below the surface.  I can't imagine the number of tiny bioluminescent creatures required to create this ball formation, it must be thousands.  The ball flashes suddenly and rapidly, just like lightening.  Next, and somewhat simultaneously, the ball expands to a 4 foot diameter circle, the brightness diminishing as the circle grows.  Then it's gone, the whole episode lasting maybe a second.  The first was startling, then there was 2, then dozens of green lightening spheres surrounding the boat.  What is happening?! 

I don't know why that was happening, but I'm grateful I was able to see it.  It was all I could focus on.  It was intense, but only lasted a few minutes, then it was back to regular agitation-induced illumination.  What was it?  Signaling? Communication? Defense mechanism?  A message letting me know they are hungry and to give them food?  Probably not the last one.  I can tell you one thing, it's very unlikely you'd find me swimming in that lightening storm.  Not until I know what's happening.  Just like that tapping nozzle, I'd need some investigation for peace of mind.  Maybe one of you can provide some insight. 

Paddle On

Rain clouds rolling in as the sun sets

Rain clouds rolling in as the sun sets



Do you know what ancient memories feel like?  They are there, the same ones our ancestors felt.  Perhaps it's a matter of parsing out the ancient memories from newer, more relevant information.  You don't have to remember the ancient details, just the vague feelings that help you survive and flourish.  I didn't teach myself to stop, raise my heartbeat, dilate my pupils, and pump adrenaline through my body at the sight of 1 inch diameter wiggly things on the ground.  But it happens every time; it's an ancient memory at work.  I don't remember anything about why that memory is there, but I know what it feels like.  That must mean memories are not for remembering, which seems odd. 

The ultimate memory must be the recognition of consciousness.  That must've been terrifying.  We're still dealing with how that memory feels.  Can you imagine being the first creature to look down at your body and realize you're somehow occupying it?  And then to realize that other creatures that look like you die, which means that you must also die.  Then to become aware that you end life to survive.  Then to understand that different, scary creatures want to end your life to survive.  And they'll try, desperately and viciously.  You've seen it - now you know what it is, and it's everywhere.  It's the recognition of vulnerability, the recognition of some demarcation between your body and the thing witnessing it.  

Of course, we all still undergo the transformation from ignorance to becoming painfully aware of our vulnerabilities.  It's still scary.  We have stories that tell us it was scary for everyone before us, and we have stories on how best to handle such a peculiar arrangement.  They certainly aren't scientific stories, at least not yet.  Scientific stories have only been around for a few hundred years, our ancient memories have been around for much, much, longer.  Billions of years - according to science, here another quagmire emerges.  I'm baffled by how much people think they know, scientific or otherwise.  

I can't think of anything I know with certainty.  Not even 1+1=2 works anymore, since apparently on the quantum scale 1+1 doesn't just mean 2.  Any scientific fact is only a fact for a specific sample size, at a specific time, under specific circumstances, with the constraint of certain variables, and with a level of certainty less than 100%.  So I can't say I know any science - I know we got close to certain using statistics.  And that's highly useful, but irrelevant on the grand scale of declaring absolute certainty of anything.  It's seems we don't need absolute certainty to survive, since we are all here.  The stories of our ancestors say we don't need certainty, we need something called faith.  Faith isn't knowing either, it's something else.  As far as I can tell, nobody truly knows anything.  

It's obviously terribly unproductive to just declare nobody knows anything.  I know there are some things in life that improve my situation, and others that are detrimental, and sometimes I get it wrong.  I know feelings influence my decisions in some manner even if I don't understand how or why.  I know there are certain ways to act that are acceptable, and I know I've gotten that wrong too.  It's like a self-correcting sine wave, overshooting certainty, oscillating closer and closer to some semblance of knowledge, but never truly arriving.  Maybe somewhere in that narrowing oscillation lies wisdom.  

If memories are not for remembering, then there must be some other function.  It turns out the best treatment (thus far) for dealing with a traumatic experience is remembering it, understanding it, feeling it, over and over until the remembering isn't painful.  We remember until it's no longer a salient emotional past detail, but a fully integrated part of us.  We become more resilient, better prepared humans, capable of surviving a wider range of experiences.  But experience tells us there are some things we never forget.  Maybe these things we never forget eventually turn into a vague feeling for those following in our footsteps, a nudge to pay close attention - that wiggly thing might kill you.  

Row On