Monday, November 16, 2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015


The last week has been a blur – ARC seminars, boat chores, provisioning all day; parties and events every night. It will be good to get back to see, if only to get more rest and dry out! But it’s been AMAZINGLY FUN with new friends, and new perspectives on old friends. I’m so pleased that twists of fate brought me not to Bermuda for the AC45s, nor to Panama (although I am standing by for more fun with Pamela & Paul there, when the time comes) but instead to Gran Canaria.

A long time ago, a cloud hung over my happy life – being that I could not have children, and seemed stymied in all attempts to start a family any way possible. And then one day: boom! I was a Mom! Unlike most people, who have nine months of ‘dawn’ to prepare for a child, I didn’t. I went from barren, to parenthood. It simply went from dark, to light. Glorious light.

So over the past few years – again, despite a very happy life – things have not been 100% what I’ve desired; and yet I’ve held tight to that hope, and that knowledge, that this was just the night, and that one day the sun would burst over the horizon. I think it has.


We set off today for Sao Vicente, Cabo Verde. I don’t’ expect to be online, but you can track EL GATO at  Keep us in your prayers for a safe passage please!




Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The swiftness of night

30 OCT 2015 – 0615hrs

First light hung over the African coast as we approached Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.

We had seen the moon rise over Africa the night before: a deep ochre egg, streaked with clouds. It was not quite full, as if something had glanced over it and shaved off a bit. But it was still huge, and potent; illuminating the deck like a giant spotlight.

The next morning I was up for dawn patrol, and watched the peachy pink of first light paint the eastern sky like a rainbow: bands of pink, pale yellow, goldenrod, cornflower blue, blending into the raven night sky ... blotting out Venus, which just moments before had been so bright; and defining the silhouette of Isla Fuerteventura, now far astern.

Still a dozen miles out of Gran Canaria, the luminous blur we had seen all night came into focus, as thousands of pinpricks of light materialized on our bow.

In truth, I approached Las Palmas facing aft (east), entranced with the promise of the new day.

It took a whole hour for the sun to appear – from its first pale awakening, to a crescent of neon light that blushed the underbellies of the clouds, and painted the sea milky white. You could see the sun had already risen to the east, as the distant sky turned bluebonnet: their day had begun.

And finally, at last, a shard of light burst over the horizon, announcing our new day.

Sunrise takes so long, and yet sunset always seems so quick, so sudden.

One minute it is day, the next – night.

So it is in life.

I am still grieving the loss of my dear friend Sue, who passed away so suddenly. One moment her light still glimmered; the next – gone.

I am reminded of two things: firstly, we are spiritual beings, having a human experience. Her light still burns, but not in a concrete way. I need to keep my eyes open, to the unseen.

Secondly, a favorite essay, from Eduardo Galeano:

A man from the town of Negua, on the coast of Columbia, could climb into the sky.
On his return, he described his trip. He told how he had contemplated human life from on high. He said we are a sea of tiny flames.
“The world,” he revealed, “is a heap of people, a sea of tiny flames.”
Each person shines with his or her own light. No two flames are alike. There are big flames and little flames, flames of every color. Some people’s flames are so still they don’t even flicker in the wind, while others have wild flames that fill the air with sparks. Some foolish flames neither burn nor shed light, but others blaze with life so fiercely that you can’t look at them without blinking and if you approach, you shine in fire.”                       — from Eduardo Galeano’s “Book of Embraces”


Monday, October 26, 2015

Racing to Lanzarote

25 October


82 miles to go to Lanzarote and we need to slow down, so we don’t arrive in the dark.

But in truth, there are there other sailboats within sight, as we all converge on the Canaries, and Annie is on the helm. Annie: Olympian; champion; America’s Cup contender. So it’s a race. We put up the big white Code Zero – “Beluga” and pull a mile ahead of Hakuna Matata II to our stern; and start to reel in the Mystery Boat on the bow (they have no AIS beacon), ignoring Archipelago to starboard, as they are motoring.

The wind shifts: Beluga down, Stella up. Wind too far forward. Stella down, Beluga up.

Annie is timing us on the sail changes. TIMING US. Even though our current VMG will get us to the anchorage near midnight. All the while they are comparing notes on sail performance and polars, best wind angles and speeds for each sail, getting to know them.

The wind lightens up. Reluctantly – after hand steering the boat about four hours – she surrenders the helm to Otto (autohelm) and we douse the headsails, and crank on the iron genny. Game over, Annie heads off to the shower and a nap.

It is some of our only ‘excitement’ for the day, but that’s just fine. All systems are running smoothly, everyone is feeling good, and we’re in great spirits. Eric has been busy replacing the lifelines with hand-spliced “dynema” lines. While Annie raced the unsuspecting competitors, I cooked the remainder of the dorado - making fish tacos with the mish mash of stows we have onboard. It’s my creative outlet: making delicious, balanced meals that get ‘oohs and ahhs’ from the crew - particularly as we try to eat first the foods that are about to ‘go off.’ It’s sort of like our own version of Iron Chef. Sometimes with fresh fish.


When pigs fly

23 Oct 0100


A sail change kills an hour, most welcome at 1am.

EL GATO has some new sail inventory, so we experiment with our debutants, to determine the optimal conditions, angles and speed. “Stella” (every sail has a name, and this one – a sunflower yellow asymmetrical kite with a white star in the middle) has been floundering as the breeze has gone right, forcing us to head further west than desired. Annie and I get her down – this involves locating and running all the proper lines, in the pitch dark, making sure nothing’s foul, all while clipped onto jacklines that run across the boat aft, and up to the bow. Annie goes up to the bow, I alternately watch the sail, and the glow of her red headlamp, to make sure she’s still onboard. We snuff Stella, ease her down onto the deck, and jibe the main – all very measured and controlled; then determine we can unfurl “Gordo” (the fat Genoa) on this board, and commence that process.

Unlike racing, where everything is rushed (and you have a larger crew) every action is measured and cautious. Then we assess vmg, and settle in.

It’s odd what you can do in the middle of the night. Annie’s not sleepy yet, so she reads a book – ADRIFT – taking a break from the various manuals and tutorials. I clean up the dinner dishes, popping out on deck every 10 minutes to check the sails and traffic. One lone container ship passes astern 3nm; there’s a great deal more traffic going in and out of Casablanca, but we’re well outside of the shipping lanes so that’s moot.


23 Oct 645pm

Finally I slept a sweet peaceful slumber, not the fitful sleep of crazy boat dreams. I snuggled up across my bunk, leaned on my mountain of pillows and read, then closed my eyes, listening to gentle music. The motion of the boat was so calm, it felt like we were at the dock. The sky dull, making my otherwise bright cabin dark enough - I took a long lazy nap, until 530, when I roused to get ready for watch.

The sky is whitewashed gray, the water flat. It is sprinkling. Annie is making oatmeal cookies. I’m on deck til 9, but will find time to make some dinner in that time.

We have been following a pretty simple watch of three hours on, six hours off. With just three of us, it works well – no-one get stuck with the same watch. When Lewie joins us in the Canaries, we’ll mix it up.

I’ve done several watch schedules – 2 on at night, 3 at dusk and dawn, 4 during the day. 2 at night, 6 during the day. Or a straight 2 on, 2 off. And so on. Even so, we have tried to coordinate meals so we have at least one common (hot) meal ... today we decided to try to make lunch our ‘big’ meal of the day, and we did: we had curried chicken with rice and veggies. But then we had happy hour snacks ... and made pizzas for our dinner ... and Annie made cookies ... FAIL! We have all eaten tons of food – it seems a common theme on boats – which is good, I suppose. It means the sh*t isn’t hitting the fan. Sometimes you just need to eat, and sleep, in preparation for those times when eating (urp!) and sleeping (chaos) is impossible. But so far, that’s not our issue. We are just pigs!


Oct 22 "Non plus ultra"

22 October         

"Non plus ultra"

At 630pm El Gato entered the Atlantic Ocean, for the first time in her existence. Previously owned by Italians, she had been a Mediterranean girl all her (known) life. And now, abreast the fabled city of Tarifa, she poked her bows into the Atlantic.

Although it kept pushing her back with a strong current, forcing us close to the green, pastoral coast of Spain, with its rugged bastions and alabaster estancias; dodging the smaller fishing boats to starboard, while a cavalcade of ships converged, to port.

The wind, as opposed to the forecast light easterly, was on the nose; the seas choppy. When I finally took a nap, I was mostly airborne, and the waves smacked angrily against the hull. As if that wasn’t enough, shipping traffic at this confluence of commerce and culture, was bedlam. The AIS chimed incessantly, we had to turn it off. We sailed under headsail and main, but kept our engines running for maneuverability. Ships were coming and going from all points, squeezing toward the shipping lanes; and for several hours, it was a corridor of hell.

In fact, for centuries charts indicated here ‘non plus ultra’ (nothing further beyond): a warning to mariners to go no further. Plato referred to it as the edge of the unknown. This was where Hercules, intended to cross a mountain, instead smashed it in two, hence the Pillars of Hercules – Gibraltar, on the north, and Monte Hacho, on the African continent to our south – opening the Mediterranean Sea to the Ocean of Atlas.

The significance of Tarifa

Gibraltar had fallen astern, and a plume of clouds trailed off Monte Hacho, as we approached Tarifa.

Many years ago – 17, in fact – Susan Colby had bid me up to San Francisco to interview at Quokka Sports. “Get your ass up here, they’re hiring writers, and paying real money,” she urged.

One evening another interviewee, Neil Stebbins, Susan and I went to the massive bookstore near the hotel, to muse among the literature (that’s the sort of thing writers do for fun). Neil and I decided to select something from the enormous inventory, for the other to buy. We looked at volumes of books and listened to scores of cds. I can’t remember who chose what, but one of us selected an exotic album “Radio Tarifa” and by some quirk, the other chose the book “The Alchemist” – part of which is set in Tarifa. Although I never knew where Tarifa was; the coincidence was ominous, and to me it has remained a mystical place. And last night, there I was, off Tarifa. We sailed close, and even tucked in to the lee of the ancient fortress to raise our main. The lighthouse flashed repeatedly, astern, late into the dark morning, bidding us adieu.

There were other portents on our trip as well. A brilliant rainbow burst from the powder puff clouds over Sierra de Cabrito. And a small bird flew into the main salon, fluttered around, and flew out ... but kept us company some of the way. Little love notes from God ;)

Currently we are motorsailing in very light breeze, beneath hazy skies, some 60nm off the coast near Casablanca.