By far, one of the most common questions I have been asked upon hearing that I am sailing around the world is, “What will be your longest passage?”. Well folks, this is it. The South Pacific stretch from Galapagos to Marquesas, as the crow flies, is just shy of 3,000 nautical miles. Add in weather, currant, and optimal sail angles and you’re closer to 3,200 – right around three weeks. That’s farther (further?) than driving from New York to San Fran, at a rowdy 6-7 mph, on a road trip where you NEVER pull over.
So you can imagine how on night 12, after about 1,800 miles, I might want to throw myself overboard, except I realized Ahab most likely would not come about to pluck me out of the water.
As long as the weather conditions are tolerable and equipment working well, long passages are really not too bad. You fall into a predictable rhythm, just like any other household: sleep, eat, clean, work. However, the monotony and ultra-confined space on sailboat (less so on a catamaran) can take a seemingly minor annoyance, and amplify it to Three Mile Island status. Let’s take, for example, power consumption. On land, I honestly never really thought about it beyond turning the lights off when leaving a room, or maybe swapping out old lightbulbs for those fancy curlicue numbers. (Full disclosure: I have been known to leave sliding glass doors opens in Florida while AC is running.) On a sailboat, where you are responsible for making your own energy, power consumption moves up towards the front of the attention line.
Any electricity we want to use comes from solar panels, which are good, but not great, or burning diesel (engines or genny). Much to my chagrin, we don’t carry enough fuel to burn all the way across these 3,200 miles. Therefore, Ahab has us all in energy conservation mode. This is coming from a man who does not know how to spell “budget”. A bit of a contradiction, but I get it. The last thing I want to do is to run out fuel in becalmed conditions, hundreds of miles offshore. Lights are off, outlets turned off at the panel, and charging electronics occurs in bulk only when the generator is running. For a few precious hours a day, Ahab fires up genny to recharge the batteries drained by the fridges/freezer, radar, auto-pilot, and navigation equipment. Gone are days of ice cubes and blown dried hair. While genny is doing her thing, she likes a heavy load, so we make water, do laundry, run AC, and heat water.
Hot water…. Now this is an exotic luxury, and the straw that just might break my back. I’m not talking about hot water for showers, or doing dishes. I manage fine with whatever temperature coming out of the tanks. My beef is over hot water for brewing tea. Just one cup. At midnight. So I don’t fall asleep during dogwatch. Frankly, I’d just assume not drink it at all, but I’m so freaking tired. I figure tea is a better option than amphetamines. Now comes the throwing myself overboard part… (Which would probably also help keep me awake now that I think about it.)
My alarm goes off at 10:45 or 11:45pm, depending the time zone/daylight savings/watch schedule, and I wake in state of confusion, dry mouth, and crusty eyes. My body yearns for more than 3-4 hours of sleep at a time. I feel like the mother of a newborn, but without the great boobs. Dragging myself out of a sweaty sleep, I throw on my watch clothes (yoga capris and long sleeve shirt), splash a little water on face, and head up to the galley. Most nights, but not all, I make a cup of American Breakfast Tea (tastes just like English – with milk and bit of sugar, but with twice the caffeine – YEAH!). Since Ahab is now in energy conservation mode, I have to turn the breaker on at the panel to run the electric kettle. After the water heats, about a minute or so, I turn the breaker back off, brew my tea, and stay awake to beat the iPad at backgammon while standing watch. This has been going on for weeks, if not months, and it feels like years, without a hitch in our giddy up; except
for tonight when Ahab came in from the helm during my tea ritual.
Him: “Do you realize how much voltage that draws?”
Me: “Umm, probably a lot.” I really don’t care, there is nothing else on.
Him: “Well, you do realize that if you’re pulling voltage for the kettle….drops it down to 11…auto-pilot might not work…..blahblahblah.”
Me: “Yep. Making tea pulls a lot of power. Watch the voltage. Got it.” For the love of Neptune, just let me get the caffeine injected into my bloodstream.
Him: “No. Let’s talk about this for the next 20 minutes and design a system whereby we set parameters for use of any additional…blahblahblah ”
Me: “You are crazy. Go to bed. Leave me alone. Crazy. Crazy. Crazy”
I may have exaggerated here, but I kinda zoned out because it was midnight, I still hadn’t had my fix, and the next four hours of dogwatch were growling at me. Lord knows I love Ahab with all my heart and soul, but for cryin out loud he can choose the most inconvenient times to discuss and micromanage seemingly trivial issues. I assume he went to bed, perhaps wondering what my next move might be.
My position is thus: I shall continue my nightly tea ritual, whilst keeping on eye on the voltmeter lest the auto-pilot negotiate a strike. Ahab, if he continues to insist upon late night debates, may have to wonder what is in his morning coffee, or perhaps who’s electric toothbrush was used to clean the toilets.