Friday, September 2, 2016

Adrenalin Delivery–Big Ocean, Small World

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A few days before we were due to leave, I accompanied our ragtag group to the Times Market in Kailua to pick up something to eat and drink for dinner. I noticed a woman standing outside the market, her head bent intently upon a guidebook. She looked familiar and I realized, somewhat to my shock, that she looked exactly like China, the wife of Steve, one of my fellow J35 crew mates who I hadn’t seen since sometime in the 1990’s. They lived in the tiny apple-growing town of Graton, in Sonoma County, California, and Steve had dropped out of sailing. I wanted to go up to her and say something like, “Excuse me, but is your name China?” But it seemed utterly impossible, so I chickened out.



The next day, we were at the Kaneohe Yacht Club and I happened to glance at the family sitting at the next table when, again to my shock, I realized that I was looking at a slightly older version of Steve. And there she was, the woman I saw at the market, sitting across the table from him.

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This was more than a coincidence – I believe that I actually conjured them up. As we were anticipating the delivery and its challenges, I had recounted to Mark my most painful night ever of seasickness – and it was with Steve. We were on the J35 Slithergadee (Steve is the guy sitting just forward of the mast) coming back up the coast from the Santa Barbara race. It was the deepest, darkest, earliest hours of the morning and Steve and I were on watch together. The wind was light, the seas were confused, and we were either motoring or trying to sail; it doesn’t matter, either way, we were losing our bearings and, without an auto pilot, spinning in circles. It’s something that happens at night. Without realizing it, you are heading the boat off course and, when you try to correct, you overcorrect, become confused, and start throwing the helm back and forth. Next thing you know, you’re doing donuts.





It was at that point that my head and my stomach joined forces against whatever seasickness medication I had been taking, which had been working for the past 2 days, and the result was a kind of backlash – like, I was seasick times three – one for each day, all saved up and unleashed at once. I was in so much pain dry heaving that it was worse than childbirth. At dawn, to my great relief, we entered the calm waters of Monterey Bay and I immediately felt better.

The next leg of the trip took us across from Monterey to Santa Cruz, a day I thoroughly enjoyed. We sailed the whole way, with me driving. Steve took the photo of me above, which he later presented to me, and I have it in a frame in our “sailing bathroom.” It reminds me that, sometimes, following your heart can take you way out of your comfort zone. But eventually, somehow, it’s worth it.

I went to talk to Steve, and found that he was there with his son, all grown up now and with a kid of his own, and his son lives in the apartments near the yacht club and is a member there. Steve hasn’t sailed since the 90’s. It was so great to see him, but when I mentioned that I was doing the delivery, he gave me a meaningful look and said, pointedly, “And you don’t do well in the ocean.”

“Yes. And you are one of the people who knows that best.”
“YES. I am.”

He was telling me to be careful. And, without saying it, asking: What the heck????  I could only explain that I’d gotten better. It was true; I usually didn’t get sick any more in the ocean, but that was always near the coast, on shorter trips. This one was going to be the real test. It was only fitting that Steve would appear at exactly that time, because I knew that now he would be thinking of me, and wishing me luck as we crossed the ocean.

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As we motored away from the KYC docks for the second time, the boat was much quieter, the mood far more serious, than the day before. We reviewed the safety equipment and procedures, including what to do in case of a man overboard situation. As readers of this blog know, we are all too aware that it can happen, and when you least expect it.




“But,” Mark said, “nobody is going overboard. Because we’re all going to be tethered, all the time, day and night.”

As we left the channel and Oahu behind, I think we were all heartened that the weather had improved over the day before – now we had sunshine and happy, puffy clouds, not the mist and rain of the day before. The waves were still big, and coming from two directions, but they would settle down in a day or two as we got away from the islands and the effects of tropical storm Darby. That’s what the weather guy said.

Shana made up a watch schedule. We were in pairs, four hours on, four off, but staggered. So my watches were 6-10 a.m., 2-6 p.m., and 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Mark and Shana were the watch captains, and I would be with Mark my first two hours, and Shana for the second two. Dustin was my other half.

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I was feeling good – not a pang of seasickness the day before, and I had high hopes that I would make it through the first three days and be home seasickness-free. I’d been sitting on the high side for the first few hours, near the wheel as the autopilot drove, feeling fabulous, when, out of nowhere, I suddenly barfed! WTF! I didn’t even feel queasy!

Then, I got this ringing in my right ear. Like a warning bell. Uh-oh.





So, here’s the thing. I hear people talk about getting seasick and sometimes they say things like, “I just lost my appetite.” Or, “I felt like crap but I didn’t throw up.” That it NOT real seasickness. I have never read an account of the real deal, and maybe that’s because nobody really wants to read it. YUCK!

But it’s important to understand the stages, because you can really get into trouble. In fact, there was a boat racing in the Pac Cup this year and they had three crew members get seasick. Two got better, one didn’t – and by the time they were 1000 miles from land, they had a real medical emergency. I don’t have all the details but from what I could gather, it sounds like the third crew member was in a diabetic coma, and they didn’t have the medical supplies on board to help him. Fortunately, this year for the first time, the Pac Cup organizers had contracted with a service to provide remote medical consultation to the racers. The ultimate result was that the US Coast Guard airdropped the needed supplies, and a life was saved.

I was thinking about this as I started my downward spiral. One of the reasons I had so much trouble that night with Steve was that my stomach was empty, and I got the dry heaves. This sets up a really horrible pattern that is hard to break, and I didn’t want to go down that path. So, I was determined to keep something in my stomach, even if it meant barfing most of it up.

I started with Coca-Cola (the kind with sugar) and Saltines – which I have never been fond of. After a few hours, the Coke I was drinking began to taste like – guess what? – barf. So then I tried eating an apple. It tasted good, but then – it was applesauce! Ginger snaps and water. More Saltines.

I was laying on the low side, where I could lean over and, you know. I was in the groove, every hour or so. Then rest. But my watch was over, and it was time to go below. One of the hardest things, for me, is to transition – to literally lift my head and move it to another place. It disrupts everything. But I had to do it, so I staggered below, grabbing a bucket to keep near me, and flopped into a bunk in the main cabin – the one that Mark was supposed to be using. I assumed the survival position, which is flat on my back, perfectly still, with my hands clasped over my chest. Like a corpse. If I didn’t move, I would throw up less often. And that was the key. I had to stay in control.

I wasn’t doing all the heaving, though – the boat! It was going up, down, banging through waves, shuddering, slapping, and just generally rollicking along. Just moving around, even for an able-bodied person, was a challenge.

And then. I had to go. To the bathroom.

When I was a little kid, my dad had a daysailer called a Ford 20, which he brought up to our rented cottage on Lake Huron one year. My grandpa was still alive then, so I was probably 6 or 7 or 8 years old. Dad took me, my sister, my older brother, and Grandpa out sailing. It was a nice day, but not much wind. Grandpa went down below, was down there for awhile, and when he came back up he had the bucket, which he emptied into the lake
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“Grandpa, are you sick?”
“A little, but I’m ok now.”
“How come you didn’t use the toilet?”
“I was sitting on the toilet.”

And in my young little mind, I got the visual. Poor Grandpa! But he was a stalwart Irishman with a great sense of humor, and we all laughed it off. I guess I grew up to be just like Grandpa.

Anyway, when my turn came to take my watch, I hauled myself back up and Dustin made me some tea, or something. By this time to Saltines were like dry plaster in my mouth. The hours began to blend, the sun went around in the sky, and I really don’t remember much except that I was inside my head, and my head was focused on what was going on in my stomach. Was it time to eat something or give it a rest? Where was my blood sugar? How dehydrated was I? I could feel myself getting weaker. I knew that, if I got weak enough, the dry heaves would come. That. Can’t. Happen.

It’s one thing to be out along the coast, where you can duck into a port in a few hours. But we were committed for two weeks, two thousand plus miles, and I had to get over this thing. I had to. I knew I could, I hoped I could. I’d always heard that, after three days, everybody always got over it. Would I be the exception? No. That would not be acceptable. I would get this thing.

That is what was going through my mind.

At the end of the second day, I said I wanted to stay up in the cockpit all night. I was actually starting to feel stronger, but I just didn’t want to move again. But Shana was worried that I was getting overexposed, to the sun and to the salt spray and air. She was right. Once again, I lurched down below, this time to my aft starboard berth, where I again assumed the cadaver position, happy to have not barfed. When my watch came up, Mark told me to stay below. “We’ve got it covered.” He’s my hero.

But now I felt really bad – guilty. I hate being sick because it lets the rest of the crew down, and makes their job harder. But at the same time, I noticed that I had pretty much stopped throwing up. So for the next two days, I worked on building my strength back up. Dustin made me oatmeal – so sweet it would normally make me gag, but now it tasted like exactly what I needed – although it took two hours to eat one serving. Then, at some point on the third night, Shana suggested miso soup – brilliant! Little by little, I came back to life. On the fourth day, I was delicate but eating. By day five, I was myself again, but where I was sprawled in the cockpit always looked like a homeless encampment by the time my watch was over. Opened and uneaten packages of snacks, water bottles, cups, and other detritus.

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Meanwhile, as I was wallowing, the boat was sailing, Dustin was catching mahi-mahi, and we were communicating with our shore support – the “weather routing guy” and Shana’s husband, Mark, about our course. I remember, one time, that we were told that we should tack (we were going north, and then we would tack to the east, for home) on August 11th. “That’s a week,” I realized aloud. That’s when it hit me. We were really doing this. A week seemed like a long time but it wasn’t. Not in the big picture. Would we be in these windy, bumpy conditions for another week?


“As we get further north, the wind will be lighter and the seas calmer.” That’s what they said. It couldn’t stay like this much longer.

Could it?

Next up: Halfway

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Adrenalin Delivery–Start #1

How many omens does it take?
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The Pacific Cup parties were over, the awards hauled off, including a 3rd place trophy for Adrenaline. The torrent of Mai Tai’s and beers had slowed to a reasonable flow. Everyone’s thoughts were on the delivery home. When was the best time to leave?
 
 
 




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We attended the Saturday weather briefing. “Look at this map; what do you see? That’s right – nothing!” the weather expert said. After Tropical Storm Darby, which had colored our entire two weeks in Hawaii, this seemed like good news. “You can leave tomorrow,” he said, “but the seas might be calmer if you leave on Monday. You’ll have a couple rough days heading north from Hawaii, then things should calm down as you approach the Pacific High.” Yes! Thankfully, the hurricane weather was a thing of the past. Right?
 

Then we got some advice from the guys who are experts on the trip home. “If you decide to go swimming, be sure you have a swim ladder, or some way to get back on the boat,” one guy said as he showed a photo of his boat in a calm, glassy sea – taken by a swimmer in  the water. Yes! I was looking forward to swimming in the ocean 1000 miles from land!

He also said – I’ll never forget this – that we should plan to do some boat maintenance during the trip, since there wouldn’t be much else to do. “You could rebuild your winches, or polish up your bright work. There’s no reason why the boat can’t arrive home in better shape than when it left Hawaii!”

Yes, so, doing a long ocean voyage on a sailboat has been a dream of mine for 40 years, ever since I left Michigan and headed to the West Coast in 1976. There are several reasons why I didn’t do it sooner. The main one is that I have always struggled with motion sickness. As a little kid, I was car sick within 10 minutes.

Eventually, I got over it enough to sail happily under most conditions. When I started sailing with Dad in the 1960’s, I got sick only when it was rough, on  a bumpy reach, or at night. When I started sailing in San Francisco, I was relieved to find that I didn’t get sick at all in the Bay. However, the ocean was a different animal, and it took years to find ways to manage it – medicate ahead of time, keep something in my stomach, sit in the middle of the boat, don’t watch the sky go dark … blah blah blah. It all worked, within limits.

So, why on Earth was I signing up to sail across the ocean from Hawaii to San Francisco, approximately 2400 miles and about two weeks of sailing?

My side of the story is that someone suggested I join the almost all-woman Adrenalin delivery crew over a couple of bottles of wine one Sunday at Richmond Yacht Club. Mark was there, and he said something like, “I think you should do it. You’ll be fine.” Over the next few months, the crew list changed and, as I had not so secretly hoped, Mark signed on. Without him I would probably not have gone, but if I had, I might not have survived.

During the weeks leading up to the trip, my email was filled with plans for the food. While there was one person who was head of provisioning and cooking, he realized that Mark and I like to cook and we were encouraged to come up with ideas for meals we’d like to be in charge of. The boat has an oven, and there was discussion of baking bread; even making homemade tortillas. When I wondered aloud how practical this was, it sounded like we would be motoring through a dead calm for a week, bored out of our minds and looking for anything to occupy our time.


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All of this collective imagery – the swimming, the baking, the boat maintenance – lead me to believe that I was in for a beautiful trip across the Pacific. Sort of. But there was, I admit, another voice inside me saying, Don’t assume anything! “Pacific Ocean” is a misnomer! It can be rough! The sea is a cruel mistress! All I had to do was listen to the stories from the race to understand that. And my better sense told me: Two tropical storms just passed through, and where are they headed? North. And where are you headed? North. Right behind them.




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We set 0800 Monday as our ETD. Leaving the dock at Kaneohe Yacht Club, the energy onboard was high, bordering on frenetic. Motoring our way out of the channel while avoiding the reefs was tricky, but finally we made the last turn, passed the “Chinese Hat” and the last channel marker.






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We’re in the open ocean now!” owner and skipper Shana called out. “From now on, everyone is clipped in at all times, day and night!” Mark went down below to fetch our tethers and, to our dismay and embarrassment, we realized we’d forgotten them. Fortunately, there were a couple of spares on the boat. Still, I didn’t like starting the trip that way. It just wasn’t a good omen.
 


 
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We got the sails up, and were settling down. The seas were big, and I was glad for the three days of Stugeron vertigo and motion sickness medicine (not FDA approved, not sold in USA or Canada) under my belt. The cockpit was crowded because we were carrying five 15-gallon drums of diesel fuel, which were placed in the main part of the cockpit where people’s legs would normally be. Where you could normally seat four or even six people comfortably, now there was barely room for two, and no room for legs. When we got to the Pacific High and used fuel motoring, we would transfer the fuel to the tanks and move the empty barrels out of the way. But until that happened, there weren’t many places to sit.
 



 
Then, it was time to shut the engine off. Except, it wouldn’t shut off. After several minutes of pushing the shutoff and power buttons, Mark noticed that the engine control panel was dead. “I can shut if off manually, but then I don’t know if I can start it again,” he said. Second bad omen.

Then another crew member who was down below in the cabin with Mark said, “Hey Shana, there’s a lot of water down here.”
Shana: “That’s normal!” The hatches all leak, and there was rainwater in the boat, which comes in through the mast.

A few minutes later: “No, there is really a LOT of water down here! Come and look!”

We had a hose in the stern that had torn, due to someone stepping on it when they were checking the rudder wiggle (another story) a few days before. Now, as the stern came down with each wave, seawater flowed into the hose and was gushing from the rip and flowing into the boat. Bad omen #3.

“I think we have to go back in,” Mark was saying. “I don’t know what’s wrong with this thing, it’s just dead. We need to get an electrician to look at it.” Meanwhile, people were down below pumping water into buckets, and Shana was taping up the tear in the hose.

So we turned around and headed back. Although we were only a couple of hours out, the island had disappeared into the clouds and mist. As it reappeared, I wasn’t sure what to feel. I was relieved that we weren’t going to continue with the problems we had. But I wondered if this all meant that the whole delivery just wasn’t meant to be. Would we be able to get the engine fixed? How serious was the leak? And, after seeing how rough it was out there, I would be disappointed if we didn’t go, but would I also be relieved?

PacCup Delivery 127 (2)_thumbAs we entered the channel, I took the helm. Mark was down below, looking at an electronic chart on the computer that showed our boat. And this is when things got really weird, and really tense. I was fairly confident that I knew where the channel was; I had driven on the way out; and I could see the buoys although there are two channels, so we needed to be careful and make sure we were following the deep one. Mark was telling me to turn to the right, when I could clearly see that the channel was to the left, and that’s how I remembered it from a couple hours before. Nevertheless, I tried turning to the right, then he said no, no the other way, and people on deck were giving me directions too.

I think that he was somehow turned around, giving me directions that were exactly the opposite of what was correct (people who sail with us will understand immediately) but we’ll never really know. What ensued was lots of yelling and changing course, me begging Mark to just come up and look, and me finally refusing to rely on anything but my own eyes. Mark and I don’t fight much, but he’s half Italian and so he yells when he gets excited. Then if I’m right, I stand my ground. I think that, for someone standing around, it could get a little uncomfortable.

When we got back to the yacht club, they said they didn’t have a place for us to tie up – boats were arriving for a race to Kauai the next weekend. Too bad – we tied up there anyway. But we soon discovered that there wasn’t anybody available to help with our electrical problem, at least not for a week or so.

Rather than letting it go at that, which meant that the delivery would be postponed indefinitely and Shana would probably have to hire a professional for the delivery at a later date, Mark manually shut the engine off and began to troubleshoot the engine. “I couldn’t help it,” he said later. “I couldn’t stand not being able to figure it out.” After about an hour, he got the engine running again, but now the 12 volt electrical system that ran everything on the boat was down. It turned out that when Shana got the tool box out of the storage compartment she tripped the 12 volt system breaker. With a phone call to Peter Cameron, our J70 boat partner and electronics installer who had worked on Adrenalin, Mark located the hidden breaker and reset it. After running the engine for awhile, the engine control unit, which had apparently overheated, was now staying cool. But it was all still a bit of a mystery as to why it happened in the first place.

Meanwhile, within an hour of our arrival back at port, one of our crew had decided not to continue with the delivery, was informing Shana, and removing gear from the boat. A second crew member was having second thoughts and, I will admit, I was wondering whether I wouldn’t be happy for the excuse to bail.

But it was fixed, and we determined that we would give it another try the next morning. We went back to the rented crew house that night, had yet another barbecue attended by an assortment of people who hadn’t left yet, and by the end of the night the second crew member had decided not to make the trip.

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Mark was trying to bargain them back on board, while Shana was deeply disappointed and discouraged. She just wanted to go home, home to her boat, and I volunteered to go with her, leaving Mark at the house. It was raining yet again, but it was a chance for me to settle into the boat. I still, I felt, didn’t know the boat. Sleeping there would settle me in.




 
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Next morning, as we prepared to leave the dock, I was having some serious mixed feelings. Now we had four. We were four pretty strong people (my penchant for seasickness not withstanding) but, as Mark pointed out, if something happened to somebody we could be in trouble. As Dustin and I stood on the dock moments before we were to cast off, I said, almost in tears, “I’ve wanted to do this for 40 years. I just, I wonder … so many things can happen out there. But …” and Dustin finished my thought: “People have been doing this for hundreds – thousands – of years.” And he smiled this beautiful, confident, 26-year-old smile. Dustin is the same age as some of the 5th graders that I once taught are now. I taught them about the brave explorers, and those lessons are one of the reasons I wanted to do this trip.
 



As we left the dock, I knew in my heart that it was going to be a tough trip. The fact that two crew members had decided against going shook my confidence. But. Everyone has a reason for their decisions, and usually more than one. The two crew members who ended up not coming with us had their reasons, including: a bad knee that would have made trying to move around the fuel barrels very painful; a new puppy left behind; the echo of a recently passed father’s caution about going out to sea; and, who knows, maybe the energy of the day before, not least of which was the friction between Mark and me, could have put people off. If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend two weeks at sea with us if that’s the way it was going to be.

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But I did know better. I have been at sea with Mark more than anyone, and I know how he is at sea. He is a rock. Never sick, always strong, and always looking out for everything that is going on with the boat. So I looked at the four of us: Shana, who has sailed the mighty Southern Ocean; young, lithe Dustin, who works on boats; Mark; and me. Of the four, I felt I was the weakest link because of my seasickness. Hopefully, my medicine would take me over the humps.



And so off we went.

Next up: how it went for the first few days. It wasn’t easy, especially for me.