Chapter Nine: Just Me and the Stars

“At first there was none such.  Then there was one such.”  This such.  Mitch’s Nonsuch.  I hope you all enjoyed the retro soft-core seventies Nonsuch videos last time.  They certainly had us rolling during our tiki masala dinner while we were making our way across the Gulf from Clearwater to Apalachicola.  

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Everything seemed to be chugging along just fine (and I do say chugging because we were still motoring, twelve hours hard at it) until we noticed the transmission fluid leak.  It was almost uncanny the things that were repeating themselves from mine and Phillip’s trek across the Gulf in our own Hinterhoeller the previous year.  The leak seemed to be minimal (one drip every two minutes) so we weren’t too concerned, but Phllip (prudent as always) decided to kill the engine before the sun officially set to let it cool and check the transmission fluid level one last time before we motored through the night.  

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And it’s a good thing we did, because you know where it was at?

The bottom of the stick.   

There was just one tiny little pink drop at the base of it.  *gulp*  We dug out the transmission fluid to top her off.  She downed a quarter of a quart and insisted we keep the bottle tipped up.  In all, we put a half-quart in and were shocked she took that much.  Thank goodness we had kept an eye on her.  We cranked her back up and put her under load to monitor again.  Still one drip every two minutes.  I tried to mentally calculate the minute-drip-math but I’m afraid to say I don’t know how many “drips” are in a quart of transmission fluid.  I tried to Google it but … alas.  In all, we felt a half-quart would at least get us the rest of the way across the Gulf to Apalachicola where we could top off again or repair if necessary.  That pink nectar’s important!

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Once we were puttering back along again at five knots, talk turned once again to the divvying up of our night shifts.  It was decided the two-hour shift formula we followed last time spanned too early into the evening and too late into the morning.  I mean, none of us were really ready to hit the sack by 8:00 p.m. and none of us (well, aside from Mitch that once) were sleeping in until 8:00 a.m.  Shorter shifts are always preferred.  Unlike last time, there were three of us now.  More hands to do the labor so we decided to ease up a bit.  We settled on 1.5 hour shifts beginning at 9:30 p.m.  I also decided to deal Phillip a better hand and take on the “shit shifts” this time (the two that fall right in the middle of the night).  Yes, this gave Mitch another gravy shift, a second time in a row, but he played the age card and called it.  

Yes Mitch played that card, not us.  He played it often.  “You guys have to remember I’m an old guy,” he would say as he handed me a screwdriver and sent me down into a cubby, or picked up some pillows leaving Phillip to lug two bags of ice.  The funny thing is, though.  He’s not.  Not at all in my opinion.  I can’t remember the exact number, but he’s like 58 years young or someting like that.  But, he still gets out and kitesurfs for crying out loud.  He paddles.  He sails.  He rides a Harley (or whatever kind of bike – it’s like Coke, they’re all Harleys to me).  And, now he owns a boat and sails.  He’s easily the coolest 58-year-old I know (although we’re meeting more and more folks that are even older and even more active than him the more we cruise).  But, he kind of drives me nuts when he says that.  Here it is.  For the record.  You’re only old if you say you are, Mitch.  So stop saying it!

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Rant aside, while my lawyer self was sure his use of the age card was some form of reverse age discrimination, I let it go.  Night sailing can really be an incredible experience and we had agree to make this trip with Mitch for two reasons: 1) to help him get his new boat home safe (sure), but 2) to get some more offshore experience and have another adventure!  Night sailing certainly falls in that category.  So, it was decided:

  • 9:30 – 11 Mitch
  • 11 – 12:30 Annie
  • 12:30 – 2 Phillip
  • 2 – 3:30 Mitch
  • 3:30 – 5 Annie
  • 5 – 6:30 Phillip

And, I have to say I’m actually so glad I decided to take on two middle-of-the-night shifts that night because they were some of my most memorable shifts I have ever held at the helm of a sailboat.  There was once again a gnarly thunder storm behind us, stretching the entire expanse of our horizon.  It looked very far off, when it was just black billowing clouds.  But when an electric white bolt would break through and shoot out in five different directions, it looked very close.  Too close.  It was beautiful but still a little frightening and also thrilling.  

One thing I do love about Mitch’s boat is the ease with which you can drop the bimini.  While I suppose we could make this modification on our boat, we now have the solar panels mounted up there so that’s now out of the question.  And, while I love solar power (I’ve even thought about adding more on the dodger), it was cool to be able, with just a few snaps and maneuvers, to drop the bimini and literally have nothing between you and the stars.  Mitch has a huge bimini, too.  Because the Nonsuch has a huge cockpit.  I’ll have to check the videos again but I’m sure no matter how many you’ve got in there, “there’s always room for one more.”  So, dropping it really makes a drastic difference─like stepping out from a tent into the night air.  

With the bimini down, the motor performing perfectly (knock on teak) and auto-pilot doing all the work my only real job was to monitor the instruments and the horizon.  Seriously.  Sometimes it is that easy.  Sometimes.  You pay for those times when it’s not at all easy.  When you’re man-handling a weather-heavy helm in twenty-knot winds, crashing through waves, listening for things that might break, snap, pop, tear.  Some nights are like that, which is why I had no guilt in savoring the night that I was having.  

The coaming around the cockpit in the Nonsuch has this wide, fat strip of teak on it that feels like it was meant to touch the soles of barefeet.  Even tethered in, I could step up on it, holding onto the sail for support and walk (and dance) along it with an unfettered 360-degree view of our horizon.  Yes, I said dance.  There is often dancing involved in my night shifts.  I usually pop a head phone in one ear for some tunes and leave the other tuned to the boat and sails, and I found the perfect accompaniment to my starlit stage that night: Lorde’s A World Alone.  Go on, let it play in the background … you have my blessing.

Funny, though.  You’re going to laugh at this.  You may not have known this (but I’m sure you could have guessed).  I am notorious for belting out the wrong lyrics to songs.  I sing what I think I hear which is often not at all what the artist intended.  It’s like the “pour some shook-up ramen” syndrome or something.  Seriously, check out this bit.  What I did think Toto said in their famous Hold the Line song?  [Some raw footage from one of our night sails where I show off my infamous lyric-bending talents]:

Golden eye!  Yep.  That’s what I sing anyway.  And, on Lorde’s song?  I thought she said “Raise a glass cause I’m not done sailing.”  I did.  Seriously.  You may think that’s strange.  Why would Lorde bust out all of a sudden with a lyric about sailing when that’s not at all what the song’s about.  Silly you.  You assume I know what the song is actually about.  Again, that would require the ability to hear actual lyrics─a talent I clearly do not posess.  I like the sailing lyric.  I’ve determined to keep it and I like the song for sailing now for that very reason.  I played it 16.5 times during my shfits that night, standing up on tiptoes on the coaming, breathing in the cool night air and belting it out.  “Cause I’m not done sailing!”  The music seemed to beat in my chest, my rib cage thudding with the drum.  It was a perfect, crisp night and the lightning, while frightening, was still beautiful.  I wondered what it would feel like if a bolt zipped all the way across the sky and just pricked me.  Not enough to stop my heart or anything but just enough to give me a little zap.  These are the kinds of wondrous things I pondered during that shift.  Night sailing can sometimes be like that.  

Sadly, during my 3:30 shift, it was not so serene.  Clouds eased in around us and the stars faded to blackness.  The motor was still pumping along [insert groan here].  I hate to see her work that hard.  But with zip wind, there was no other choice.  At least it wasn’t storming on us.  For whatever reason, I found this shift paired better with some Simon & Garfunkle, Crimson and Clover and I sang that one “over and over!” to help bide the time.  I hate to say I was glad to hand the helm over the Phillip at 5 but I was.  I know, I know, we’re supposed to be on this big adventure, soaking up every second, savoring every minute, but I was just tired that night.  I savor sleep too, you know?  

Well, I didn’t get to that night.  Just about the time I had dozed back off─around 5:30 I’d say─I heard Phillip hollering down to me.  I roused kind of quickly, because it just wasn’t like Phillip to wake me unless he needed to.  “Go wake Mitch,” he said as I popped my head up the companionway.  “The wind’s picking up and I want to raise the sail.”  Again I hate to say it (man, sometimes I’m a terrible sailor) but a HUGE part of me wanted to just politely decline.  “No thanks.  I don’t think we should raise that big ass sail right now in the dark.  Let’s just keep on motoring and sleep.”  My sleepy self said that, internally.  But, it was just for a quick minute.  Once I started to get moving and get some night air in my lungs, I knew it was a great idea.  Phillip was right.  The wind had kicked up.  It was blowing ten, maybe twelve, right on our stern.  Perfect for the big ass sail!  And, it was certainly time to give our engine and needed break.  “Raise your glass cause I’m not done sailing!” said Tanglefoot.  

After the act of Congress it took to get Mitch up, we were soon all three top-side getting ready to hoist the sail, for the first time in seventeen hours.  I was at the mast again helping pull the halyard down.  While I could muscle it about 75% of the way up, I was useless the last twenty-five.  There was just nothing I could do but watch as that halyard stretched as taut as thread (it seemed) and yelped out with every crank on the winch.  Phillip had already told Mitch one of the first things he should do after we brought the boat back was have a strong track put in to make raising the main easier, he said it again.  “You have got to get a strong track Mitch,” as he cranked again and again on the winch, each round ending in a wicked squeal from the halyard.  But, we did finally get it up and clocked it out to starboard to catch the wind.  

The belly of the sail stretched and pulled taut when she found the wind.  I have mentioned that is one big ass sail, am I right?  Boy is it.  It’s like hoisting a barn door up into the wind.  This was our first time to sail downwind on the Nonsuch and, man, does she like to be pushed!  

“I’m gonna wake your asses up to do some sailing!” Phillip hollered when we had the sail full and were finally moving along by the power of the wind.  Mitch was fiddling with the choker and watching the body of the sail.  If you’re not familiar with a cat rig, wishbone boom (believe me, at the time, I sure wasn’t), the choker moves the boom forward or aft to stretch the sail or give it some bag.  It pretty much operates like the outhaul.

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As I mentioned, this was our first time sailing downwind, so the boys were really wanting to fiddle with the sails and see what responses they could get from the boat by making tweaks here and there.  [Daytime pictures here for fun but know that we were still in the early-hours dark.]

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I was still at the mast from having helped raised the sail and while I started to see it happen, it just happened before I could even get a word out.  Mitch is cranking in on the choker.  Phillip was talking to him about it, both of them watching the belly of the sail.  We had it full out to starboard to catch the wind coming over the port stern.  The sail started to luff a little, the boom started to creep toward the center of the boat and then … WHA-BOOM!

Accidental jibe.

In a boat with a sail this big:

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Can you imagine?  It snapped to port with a thunderous clang.  Thankfully the boys had ducked so we didn’t lose any heads but we did suffer one casualty–the outboard on the stern rail.  Or, the PVC extender arm on the tiller at least, and the sail caught the choker on the way over and yanked it out, too.

Now you see it:

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Now you don’t:

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Mitch said he was sure Phillip was just trying to make sure he took out Mitch’s outboard on this trip since Phillip and I had lost ours the last time the three of us sailed across the Gulf together.  A good theory, but just a theory.  Phillip said he was just focusing on the choker and accidentally let the boat point a little too far to port and then BOOM.  First downwind lesson learned: Nonsuches do not like the accidental jibe.

After that thunderous wake-up call, we finally got the sail settled back over to starboard and settled in for a nice downwind run.  We were just a few hours outside of the East Pass and the crew was excited to make landfall.

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Thanks to my Patrons who help me share the journey.  Get inspired.  Get on board.

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One Response to Chapter Nine: Just Me and the Stars

  1. Pingback: Chapter Ten: Everywhere We Look … Lightning | Have Wind Will Travel

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