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This is the Beautiful Ocean

May 8, 2011

Position: 12.38.269N by 123.35.464W
Course: 230t
Speed: 5.3kn
Wind: 12NE
Sea: 5 feet
Sky: 10% Cloud
Temp: 78 degrees
Bar: 1011

117 miles. We are in the trades and could have put on more miles, but I ran all night with jib only–the wind was freshening at sunset and I did not know how are it would go.

“Isn’t it monotonous, seeing the same ocean every day?” I was recently asked when describing a long passage. I don’t know how it could not be. The view is, after all, just water and sky peppered with the occasional bird, but it is not. Today is as different from yesterday as can be imagined. The oppressive cloud has lifted, and now in the powdery blue above us, young, cotton-ball cumulus begin life and move west. The sea has darkened without losing any of its sparkle. It is still sapphire, but deeper, more royal. The happy trades that have finally arrived are chugging along at just under 15 knots and stack up steep, effervescent seas that tumble in on themselves. Their whitecaps evokes feelings of infinite refreshment. Just before these seas crash, the water at the apex of the wave becomes translucent; it loses its darker hues and glints greeny aqua-marine.

For the last several days, flying fishes have been our constant companions. Or to be more specific, every few minutes a school of fishes bursts in unison into the air, fleeing any companionship whatever with what they must assume is Murre’s hungry, black maw. These repeated observations require I revise some previous comments upon flying fishes. They do not, for example, fly with their elongated lower fin constantly in the water. Rather, if after having soared some distance completely airborne, the fish feels the need to fly further, it only then dips in its lower fin. The lower lobe acts like an outboard motor. Over and over I’ve seen a fish soar toward an approaching wave, power up and over the wave front while remaining airborne, and so continue on. Typically fish stay in the air no more than five to ten seconds, and typically they pursue a straight line from take off to ungraceful splash down. But the fish must have some in-air control because sometimes a fish will catch the wind and soar, arcing up and slantwise over waves like the shearwaters do, and several times now I’ve seen an entire school of fishes turn together as if they were a flock of birds.

Are there several species? How do they see when above water–do they have eye lenses like seals? What do they eat? Who eats them? I have no books on the flying fish.

Murre usually catches two or three flying fishes a night in her scuppers. Last night I was just climbing into my bunk after a turn on deck and had just switched off the light when I heard a wet slap followed by flapping. A flying fish had flown into the cabin via the open hatch and landed flat-out on the sole. Immediately the pungent odor of flying fish filled the space–a salty, putrid, quintessentially fishy smell. I picked up the shocked fish with a dish towel and lobbed it over the side and then regretted my choice of implements. I find I did not bring enough dish towels, only four, and because I am unwilling to spare the fresh water to wash them they are all putrid in their own way. Among many other smells, this one now carries the strong odor of fish and more than a few scales. Back in his own world, I wonder if the fish is not having a similar reaction–gagging at having been handled by a filthy, brown dish towel.

In these steady winds my sailing duties today have included the following: shake a reef out of the main. That’s it. We are still wing and wing as we have been for days, and we are still dead downwind. The working jib is poled out to port; the main to starboard. I haven’t even adjusted course on the wind vane.

So, having plenty of time and warm sunshine, today I took a bath. There is a famous shot of Sir Francis Chichester, the first man to singlehand around the world via the three capes, standing in the cockpit of his boat in some distant ocean and lobbing a bucket of salt water over his head. I followed suit in all but the photograph and found it amusing that as I climbed out of my pants, I glanced around to see if anyone was looking.

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One Comment
  1. Doug WIlson permalink
    May 8, 2011 2:19 am

    Great read Randall, keep rolling!

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