Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Albatross

Two remarkable records - in the nearly seven years since we left Kodiak on board Pelagic, we had never been at sea in a gale, AND, despite my years pursuing a career as an preternaturally mediocre ice climber, I've never broken a bone.


Leaving New Zealand for French Polynesia in late May, as we did, means that you have to expect a gale along the way. We were almost famous at the start of the trip, cranking along for days at eight knots, until we decided to stop and let a subtropical depression pass in front of us.

This turned out to be a poor choice. The wrong choice, really. As things turned out, carrying on would have seen us safely across the path of the low. Stopping, as we did, put us directly in the path of the highest winds in the system. You make your best decision based on the forecast, and then live with how things turn out.

So we were hove to for one day of great traveling conditions, and then hove to for three days when the winds were in our face (southeast), with average wind speeds anywhere from 30 to 40 knots.

Conditions were sloppy on deck, and sodden below, with the odd leak, dripping rain gear coming downstairs, and thick condensation on every hatch and portlight in the shut-tight boat.

Eric got seasick and didn't get over it, to the point where we considered detouring to the trades once the low left us. Only Elias was completely unfazed by the conditions. Alisa and I passed the days in half hibernation.

Finally the winds came southwest, which allowed us to get moving in a useful direction, even though they remained gale strength. Staysail only, biggish seas from two directions, the cockpit drains regularly gurgling. All that.

That night, after the family was in bed, I was digging around in one of the galley lockers, hoping to score a can of pears.

Boom! said the wave that hit us on the side, as they did now and again.

I lost my grip, and, with only stocking feet to give me no traction on the sole, went skidding downhill, to be greeted by the chart table. I had no chance to cushion the landing, and the table caught all my weight square across the circle of my ribs.

And oh, did it hurt. hurt hurt hurt. In sloppy weather we all sleep in the saloon, so the whole family got to watch the spectacle of dad flopping around on the sole and saying over and over "I'm allright, I'm allllright" in the least convincing voice imaginable.

Wearing socks below is now frowned upon aboard Galactic.

So, situation review: 1000 miles from anywhere (in round numbers) and only one functional adult to work the boat.

"I'm so sorry I let that happen," I said to Alisa.

"I'm scared," she said.

In spite of high-grade analgesia, I spent a very, very uncomfortable night. Right then, I would have bet our new radar that some ribs were broken.

I awoke near-helpless. Alisa had to help me use the pee bowl that had previously been the sole domain of Eric. But I knew that I needed to immediately do whatever tasks I could to help work the boat. And once I was ensconced in the nav station chair to download fresh weather info, I began to improve.

While I was staring at the screen that tracked the weather model's progress through our HF radio, Alisa came down to whisper to me, since Elias was stirring in his bunk. She had a look on her face from the silent movie era, a look that said, "horror".

"There's a dead albatross on deck," she whispered to me.

Whether it was attracted by our masthead tricolor lights or happened upon us by chance, a wandering albatross had flown into the rig during the night and broken its neck.

Alisa was overcome by the Samuel Taylor Coleridge implications, and horrified at the taking of a life of such awesome wingspan and scope.

I was struck by the metaphor - no matter how clean our intent, it's hard to travel through the world without doing unintentional evil.

Giving up the chance to examine a wanderer in the hand out of concern over bringing the boys' innocence into the story, Alisa quickly slid the bird overboard, sending it in with two hairs from her head as a symbolic consort of regret.

That was yesterday. I continue to improve today, and we are motorsailing under jib alone, since neither of us is up to climbing on the granny bars to attach the halyard to the main. Our hope has grown to include the idea that we will not have to detour to an alternate port, where 24 hours ago we were only thinking about the closest port available to us.


  1. Hoping things are a little more settled now, judged you were hove to and were thinking of all on board when we checked out the weather system approaching that area. Very sorry to hear of the albatross, such beauty. Wishing you a comfortable improving passage.

  2. Cheers to the brave souls on Galactic, all 4 of you. x

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