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Tale of a Sea Otter and a Little Blow

July 2, 2012

July 2

Day 12

12 Noon HST Position
44.57.113.N by 159.40.540W

The sky was too low except for the morning shot. I was on deck most of the day and did not compute local noon.

Course: 40 degrees true
Speed: 6 knots
Wind: 20 to 25 till about 3pm, then just 20
Sea: 8 – 15 feet
Sky: Low and gray all day
Bar: 1027, falling slowly until late afternoon; now back up to 1029 Air Temp (in the cabin): 53 degrees
Water Temp: 48.5 degrees
Sails: Wing-and-wing; then a tiny jib; then a tiny jib and double reefed main.

Since last noon: 118
Total for passage: 1436
Daily average: 120

Debris: Two pieces of small wood. Band aid sized piece of plastic. Nothing else. UoH and other boats report we are above the main debris fields for now.

Ships and other piloted vessels: none.

Birds: Layson’s gliding strong over waves; storm petrels dancing and rolling amongst them like waves were hills of grass.


Overnight Murre chopped slowly NE under a reefed main only, a set of sail not for speed but for sleep. Without foulies or boots this time the bag could do its job, and I had a solid night of shut eye. I bathed in the warmth. The cabin was 53 degrees at dawn. I didn’t move.

Already the wind was getting up when I did. As coffee boiled I put us before the wind wing-and-wing, a reefed main on one side and a reefed mizzen on the other and no headsail, and we made an easy six knots for a time. I sat on the bow sprit enjoying the view of a boat being sailed as a square rigger, I thought. Or a granny, said a voice.

Then the Sea Otter. Just before the bow and looking at first like a dead head (a log standing vertically in the water with only its top sticking out). A dead head that was dead ahead, that moved. A dead head with whiskers and dark eyes that looked at me with surprise as we passed, a look that said, “What the hell are you doing here?” which was exactly what I was thinking.

I dashed below to check the chart, expecting any moment to run aground on a tiny island I’d previously missed. But as I suspected the nearest island, the nearest anything was 600 miles north.

In a new country, one gets use to seeing the unexpected: birds and fishes he cannot name, an upturned boat where should be only water, a floating dock. But here was something I was perfectly used to seeing but had never dreamed of seeing HERE (Here, by the way, was 44.35.870N by 159.59.616W at 0730HST). The experience was a little like being far out in the ocean off Florida and sailing past an alligator. There was context; it was just wrong.

With the day came no sun and the cabin stayed 53 degrees. I fired up the heater.

Then it really started to blow. The sky came down gray and drizzly and by noon wind was 20 knots with prolonged periods of 25. There was too much wind to jibe the main, and it was the wrong sail now anyway. With difficulty I lowered it, and as I worked its wrapping up, Murre made 4 knots through the water on bare poles. A little jib eased out and we put before the wind in comfort.

I spent hours measuring the wind with my hand held indicator. The water whipped and spat, got gray and streaky; wave tops exploded, and real sea started running. Still the indicator read 20 knots with long periods of 25. The rigging whined, our jib was but a scrap of sail and yet we made 6 knots. It didn’t make sense.

Frustrated with the wind indicator, I turned to measuring the sea, which grew and grew as the afternoon passed. I stood on the cockpit hatches and pointed at one roller that must be at least 12 feet high.

“No it’s not,” said the camera.

“How would you know,” I said. Cameras hate telling the truth about waves. “It’s getting pretty rough out there.”

“Rubbish. Click. See?” it said, showing me a photo of an ocean that looked like … “it’s a mill pond.”

“That’s wrong,” I protested. “Here, I’m standing on the cockpit hatches, which I have previously measured, with a tape, at four feet above the water line. I’m near enough to six feet tall to call it even, and I’m looking UP at that wave there, so it must be over ten feet.”

“Click. Nope.” said the camera. “I’d estimate three and a half. And look at the pretty blue water with not a white cap for miles.”

“You can’t see straight is your problem.”

“But what I see can be verified.”

“Verified wrong! Look,” I said, “Here comes another.”

A giant of a wave rose up over the stern, thick, steely blue and muscular. As it crested I pointed at its head (which, by the way, was at a 45 degree angle above my own) and yelled, “HOW TALL ARE YOU?”

It said, “I dunno” and proceeded to collapse in a fit of laughter all over me. The camera had fled to the cabin, and I was left no choice but to leap for the mizzen mast and hug tight as Murre, unhappy herself at being drenched, shook like a dog.

But I swear THAT wave was 15 feet.


  1. Lawrence Killingsworth permalink
    July 4, 2012 10:59 am

    Or more…


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