Our 8th day at Sea

Our 8th day at Sea


Passage from Honolulu, Hawaii to Majuro, Marshall Islands

February 5 (Seattle)/February 6 (Majuro)


What do you do all day when Starr is crossing an ocean? Often people ask me this question, in particular my friends who have never made an ocean passage. The days are both the same and varied, and 24hrs. slides by much too quickly. I will describe a “typical day”.

  • My day starts at 0830 when I get up to make coffee before I start my watch at 0900 (my watch schedule is from 0900-1200 and from 2100-midnight). There are four of us on board Starr; our crew consists of two friends, Dave and Mary Utley and we all take (2) three-hour watches in a day. Dave was with us on the passage from San Francisco to Honolulu from August 29-Sept. 8, and has just became a member of the Cruising Club of America. This is Mary’s first trip across an ocean, but she has made an ocean passage before, from Boston to Charleston, SC.
  • I start my watch making my entry in the Watch Log, recording information such as Latitude and Longitude, bearing, speed of boat, distance covered, barometer reading, rpm of engine, Wind/Wave conditions. Either during or at the end of the watch, I add comments regarding anything of interest or concern that happened on my time, like seeing a boat on the radar or on the AIS screen. On this passage, seeing another boat is a big deal; it has happened twice so far and we have covered 1420 nm.
  • Then I settle into the Pilot Seat and Watch, literally. I look out the windows and watch for boats or other obstructions that might be a danger. During the morning watch I might write in my personal journal of the trip (I have been keeping a personal journal of our days on a boat since our first boat, a Cal 40 that we named Lord Jim. I have about 20 notebooks of journals of our cruising Puget Sound, British Columbia and SE Alaska for 30+ years, and then crossing the Pacific to French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga and New Zealand, and across the Atlantic to Bermuda the Azores, the Atlantic Coast of France and the Mediterranean.)
  • Around 1000 I send a Position Report to our weather router, our sons Brent and Brooke, and to our friends Brian and Mary Alice O’Neill on the sailing yacht Shibui, who left both Seattle and San Francisco at the same time as us, were in Hawaii and left before Christmas to cruise to Palmyra, and who are now waiting for us to arrive at Majuro. We will be cruising with them (loosely) to Japan.
  • The time from 11-1200 seems to disappear with small tasks such as preparing a new excel spreadsheet for the Watch Log, writing a Blog entry, “fixing” something that doesn’t work on a computer, or researching information about one of the places we plan to visit. Oh yes, around 1000 we try to call Shibui on our SSB (single side band radio), but so far we can’t get it to either send or receive clearly. Whoosh. . . the morning is gone.
  • 1200- LUNCH – we are all on such different sleep/awake schedules that usually each person fixes and eats breakfast and lunch when they feel like it, but today I made Pea Soup for all of us and we ate together. Then it’s time for me to do “small chores”, like pick up the boat or do laundry (we have a washer and dryer on Starr). I also try to fit in a time to stretch which helps prevent my becoming stiff and sore from sitting too much.
  • 1400-1700 – the first few days a NAP was necessary. Both Don and I were extremely tired because of the long days of work getting the boat ready to head off into a part of the world that is extremely isolated, with many areas that are very primitive. There won’t be much in the way of supermarkets or ship chandleries where we will be traveling for the next two or three months. Fruit and fresh greens, boat parts and other things that we take for granted in the more populated parts of the world will be difficult to find. We tried to prepare for a year of essential items. After we arrive in Japan there will be plenty of good food, but there are no places to get the necessary boat parts if any of the equipment on Starr should fail. If we don’t have it on board, it will have to be shipped to us in Japan. In preparation, Don fixed everything on the boat that he could imagine that might possibly break. He will write about what he did to prepare Starr to leave Seattle and then Hawaii sometime soon. It will have to suffice to say: it was a lot of work!
  • So, a nap was in order for the first few days. After about the fourth day my afternoons were spent on “boat issues” such as Abandon Ship preparedness and Captain’s Standing Orders (guidelines as to expectations for both Don and I and for our Friends/Crew), loading navigation software programs on computers and finally there was time to read novels and study Japanese (it’s really difficult).
  • 1700-1800 – Prior to this trip I would make dinner, but Dave loves to cook and w/ assistance from Mary, has been doing most of the cooking. Dinners have been delicious. We eat together in the Pilot House and one evening had dinner in the Flying Bridge, where we lingered and watched the sun go down. After dinner Dave and Mary disappear to their stateroom and sleep until their watches from 0-0300 and 0300-0600.
  • At 1900-I usually lie down for a “catnap” in our stateroom or read.
  • 2100 to 2400 is my night watch. It’s already dark, all of the instruments are dimmed and we do our night watch in the dark, using a flashlight for necessary light. I start with the Watch Log entry and it’s difficult to read the Wind/Wave conditions in the dark. At times it is so dark that all I can see is the white of the spindrift on top of the waves. On this passage we often have the doors to the Pilot House open, and I spend time looking at the ocean, smelling the ocean smells and listening to the waves thunk against the hull. The first day out the night was very black, with numerous squalls appearing as clouds of little dots on the radar screen. The moon, which was just beginning to diminish from its fullness, would appear from behind the black clouds and shine a pool of bright, sparkling light on the water. Then again, there would be only blackness and squalls, and occasional pouring tropical rain. The seas were a washing machine of mixed waves and wind as we experienced the refracted waves from the islands we had just left and big swells washing down on us from storms further to the North. By the end of the second day the seas had settled out with wind from the NNW with waves 4-6’, a more comfortable ride. Days 5 & 6 we had 25knt winds, gusting to 30knt from the NE with 8-10’ waves. We were rocking and (sometimes) rolling and surfing along at speeds up to 10+knts. A sleigh ride. On Day 5, we passed Johnston Atoll on my night watch, at 30nm away too far and too low to the water to see on the radar. I knew it was close, however, as I could hear a cacophony of squawking birds, but could only see an occasional bird swooping and diving as it appeared in our running lights. If we had been in the times of Homer I would have thought that the Sirens were calling Starr to crash on the reefs of the atoll. Everything calmed down after Day 6 to a gentle bobbing motion as we continue to cruise SW to Majuro. At night I listen to music to suit my mood, listen to Japanese language CDs, or to books on CD. Right now we are all “reading” Sea of Thunder by Evan Thomas, subtitled “Four Great Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign, 1941-1945”. It is extremely interesting, as many of the places we will visit are named in the book, and the WWII confrontations with the Japanese described.Often at night, I step outside the Pilot House door and look at the stars and listen to the (now) gentle swish of the waves. For some reason I have been able to identify constellations that have never been clear to me before. Orion is easy, but the lion, Leo, stands out clearly against the star-filled black sky and a faint Scorpio. Last night I saw Pegasus as the outline of a flying horse for the first time. It is very peaceful and is one of the parts that I love the most about an ocean passage. I have the time to be quiet, meditative, and introspective that I rarely have in the coarse of “real life”. The blackness of the night watch contributes to my turning inward, especially on a passage like this one where there is nothing to see but the dull green of emptiness on the electronic screens.
  • At Midnight I go to bed and fall instantly to sleep, even when the boat lunges and rolls in the waves that push us through the deep, dark, black and white, shades of grey-blue huge ocean.
1 Comment
  • Hugh Reilly
    Posted at 20:10h, 26 February Reply


    Ken’s blog led me to yours, sounds like all goes well.

    Enjoyed reading of your night-watch observation of the stars/constellations, an interest which we share. I recently came across a marvelous free download (at http://www.stellarium.org) of a star program that is rich with information on stars, constellations & planets . . . . wherever you are in the world. Download it to a laptop (in has a night-vision mode) and you spend much of every watch on the flybridge.

    All the best, also to Sharry.


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