Posted by: Katie Allen
The sea can be like gentle prison. The apprehension of time itself is bent, tweaked, and all control is taken from you, and life is experienced at the speed of nature. Indeed, after 27 days at sea, what this crew knows of the Sea Dragon is like knowing the idiosyncrasies of an old friend. Every angle has been noted. Every nook has been explored as a possible place to sit. The wind has been brutally uncooperative for over ten days now — coming directly from where we want to go. Every time I wake, I walk to the navigation station, where all the ship’s computer readouts are located. I look at our course, wind direction and wind strength. The variations are miniscule.
The weather is the same– sun mostly, but then a rain squall every now and again. The boat speed is the same. The sail combination is the same, all pulled in close (or close hauled in sailing terms) and bashing forward into the wind. True wind, as a term, is what you experience standing still on a stationary platform (i.e. land. If the wind is ten knots, that’s what it feels like on your face). But if you were to get on a bicycle and pedal ten knots into that wind, it would feel like twenty. Well, that’s what we’re experiencing; it’s called apparent wind and it makes it feel windy all the time—20 plus knots plus 5-6 knot boat speed. Swells, too, comes with the wind and typically follows the same vector as the wind that generates it.
What’s funny is that Sea Dragon was built to sail upwind for a race that went around the world backwards, against the dominant trade winds that are valued for being behind, pushing a boat along. As Rodrigo, our Captain said, “Why would anyone ever want to sail upwind around the world? I can’t imagine anything worse.” Both Rodrigo and first mate Jesse are a bit frustrated—when sailing upwind, endlessly for days, you make little progress and steering isn’t as easy as going downwind—mainly because there is no margin for error. As a driver, it takes awhile to get a feel for this boat, it’s size and how she handles. Specifically, when you go over a big wave, you have to steer hard against the wave to compensate for the wave pushing you downwind, and then quickly recover in the trough of the wave in the other direction without over-compensating. If you don’t do it right, you end up creating lateral force of motion on the ships hull, which makes for inefficient, slow sailing. Keeping momentum is what keeps you on course, and dropping even 5 degrees means miles and miles you need to make up, tacking the other direction. It makes for what sailor’s call, a ‘slog’.
Every watch the team steers for three hours, rotating out, and as of late Rodrigo and Jesse have been installing themselves and the best drivers only behind the wheel—Jesse has been drinking out of an ‘I Love Hawaii mug’ which means, “I want to see my girlfriend as soon as possible.’ Steering well is an art, and time is gained and lost in small measures that when totaled to a sum make for significant impact on time of arrival. When people ask, “When do we get there?” He says, “It depends on how well you steer.” Every little infraction counts.
And this is why sailing across an ocean studying plastic garbage isn’t for everyone. Because it’s not always easy and when the weather and wind conspire against you, it can be tough to keep from going a little crazy. Think of it this way; when it starts raining on your picnic, you run for cover in the house or under a shelter. Just imagine never being able to do that—run for cover. All you can do is put a jacket on and prepare to get incredibly wet and then cold.
But, what is important to note is that everyone loves what were doing, and the challenge of it is what gives it its sublimity. We don’t just create ambassadors for change, we put them through the ringer to make sure they’re tough enough. I’m joking of course, but it’s true, each and everyone aboard this ship is going to be a tougher person once they get home and I’m constantly impressed by this group’s ability to laugh in the face of adversity, and keep on fighting for a common goal.
Yesterday, Marcus found an orange. It’s the only piece of fresh fruit or vegetable this crew has seen in over 12 days. We just didn’t get enough fresh fruit and vegetables because trying to get Sea Dragon’s mechanical problems sorted out before leaving was so encompassing. We split the orange and everyone savored his or her bite. Everyday we wake up wondering when we’ll land as progress is made, inch by grinding inch, towards the smiles of our loved ones and solid ground beneath our feet. – Stiv, 5 Gyres