We are now halfway between Easter Island (Rapa Nui) and Pitcairn and this is as good a time as any to talk about passagemaking. For us passagemaking is whenever we do a sail involving overnights and you move a substantial distance. On this passage we’re sailing around 1150 nautical miles and it should take us somewhere around 10 days. So this is definitely classified as passagemaking.
The biggest question we always get asked is: What do you do when you’re sailing? I suspect most people think we’ll be bored to tears with little outside stimuli, but they are very wrong. To break down the day it revolves around pretty much the same thing that you do on land: We work, eat, sleep and entertain ourselves.
You work when you’re on watch. On this passage there’s four of us onboard, so we’ve divided the day into eight shifts and given each person two shifts of three hours each. I do the shift from 06:00 – 09:00 and also the shift from 18:00 – 21:00, Margrethe has the shift from 09:00 – 12:00 and 21:00 – midnight, and then Helge and Camilla have the other shifts, so that at all times there’s one person on watch. We rotate shifts every 5 days, so that in the course of 20 days everyone has had the different shifts. When you’re on watch you’re responsible for keeping the boat on course. This means adjusting the sails and making sure that we’re moving along at best ability. If there’s no wind, we motor. As the name implies, standing watch means keeping an eye around us to make sure we’re not hitting other boats or ships, and definitely keep us from running aground. You also keep an eye out for squalls: small systems of low pressure that can potentially make your watch suck. When a squall hits, the wind normally doubles in strength and varies in direction, so if you have too much sail up, it could make for a tough time. Due to the danger of squalls we always reduce our sail area at night. If we sail with gennaker and mainsail in the day, we’ll put in two reefs in the main sail and unfurl the genoa and sail with that at night. Then it’s easy for the person on watch to adjust the sails without needing to wake someone else. Looking for squalls ensures that you get plenty of time to stare out at sea, enjoying the beautiful play between the ocean, sky, sun, moon and stars. The watchkeeper also checks that lines and sails aren’t chafing or that things haven’t been damaged. We tend to do small repairs or quick fixes on passage and then we fix them properly when we’re on anchor. When you’re on watch you don’t sit and read or have your nose in your cell phone, but you can listen to audiobooks or music, as long as the volume is low enough for you to hear the sails and boat, so that you can respond if something is happening. We joke that when you’re on watch you spend 90% of your time staring at the wind indicator to make sure the wind isn’t too strong and that it’s coming in from the angle you’ve set the sails for. The remaining 10% we spend watching the fishing lines, to see if we’ve caught something.
Food becomes very important on passages, because it’s the highlights of the day. Here on Stella Polaris kitchen duty rotates, so that the crew has a day each in the galley, where they are responsible for making the meals and cleaning up that day. This is in addition to standing watch. This person checks all our fruit and vegetables, because we need to use whatever is ripe or close to spoiling. This way we ensure that our provisions last and we stretch our fresh fruit and vegetables for as long as possible. We eat breakfast between 07:00-09:00, but this is a meal we tend not to all eat at the same time, because it all depends on people’s sleeping patterns. At around 13:00 we have dinner and this is the one meal everyone is around for. Then in the afternoon, we make a fruit salad, eat banana bread, a cake, or another snack that will fill us up and give us enough energy once it gets dark. At night people tend to eat leftovers, fruit or snacks if they feel low on energy.
There’s a lot of focus on everyone getting enough rest, so we take our sleeping seriously 🙂 With enough sleep everyone operates better and with four people onboard there’s no reason why people should have a lack of sleep. The challenge is when we’re out in bad weather or rough seas, then sleeping can be really tough, because you’re bouncing around in your bunk. On this passage it’s been OK, but when we sailed from Galapagos to Easter Island, we got thrown around quite a bit, so there were many red-eyes on watch and a lot more time than usual was spent trying to sleep.
When you’re well fed and rested, and not on watch, you can spend your time however you please. We spend a lot of time reading. On each passage I go through at least 3-4 books and I think that’s true for everyone onboard. We also listen to lectures, podcasts, audiobooks and music. In short this is a great time to catch up on your reading list and to educate yourself. Margrethe has spent this passage learning French from a podcast, which will be very handy when we get to French Polynesia. Camilla has spent a fair amount editing pictures she’s taken and I’ve spent some time writing. We have an Iridium satellite phone which allows us to send email to family and friends, so we spend some time keeping in touch with people assuring them that we haven’t sunk, vanished in a storm, are lost or starving. I also use the satellite phone to download our weather every day, in order to plan our itinerary, ensuring that we hopefully find the optimal wind conditions. Every once in a while we also have spa time on the transom. Then you bring soaps, sponges and a bucket and wash off while drenching yourself in seawater. At home this would be cold, but here in the tropics it’s a great way to cool down and get clean.
The biggest complaint we have about passagemaking is that we tend not to have enough time to do all the things we’d planned to do. I love passagemaking, because the pace slows down, you relax and enjoy your surroundings. You don’t have to worry about being anywhere, except exactly where you are.