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Passage Blues

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Tired but okay, handsteering over the Atlantic. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Tired but okay, handsteering over the Atlantic. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

Do you get the bitter-sweet passage blues?

I do. Even after 10 years of cruising, leaving a cozy anchorage for a longer passage stresses me out—unless it’s a dreadful place I can’t wait to get away from. It’s a strange mix of indecisiveness (watching ever-changing weather forecasts on an hourly basis), anxiety about what could go wrong and worries that there might be too much wind for a comfy ride or (even worse) not enough wind, a certain wistfulness to leave a place and people we’ve grown fond and of course pleasant anticipation of a new destination ahead.

Vibrations loosen everything. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Vibrations loosen everything. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

We usually think we are ready and set to go days before the actual weather window.

Christian was up the mast with a wire brush and magnifying glass to thoroughly inspect all parts of the rigging. We have changed sails: downwind we want the big genoa up, upwind the smaller yankee in combination with a cutter works best. Quite often a last inspection of the sails reveals some seams that need restitching, telltales that have to be replaced or chafed areas that should be reinforced before more damage happens underway. Next comes the engine: when did we last change oil? Fuel filters? Impeller? We never plan to motor underway, but want to be prepared anyway.

Waypoints—Boon or Bane?

Tired but okay, handsteering over the Atlantic. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Tired but okay, handsteering over the Atlantic. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

On the last day we get into a hectic rush anyway

Declattering cupboards, baking bread (and maybe a cake as a treat), storing the dinghy on deck, setting up whisker poles if it’s a downride ride, securing things that might get catapulted off shelves, cleaning the sink drains so they won’t be smelly in rolly conditions, closing the sea cock of the bathroom sink to prevent a geyser if we’ll be heeling to port, taking preventive seasick medicine and a dozen other little tasks we thought too minor to do before. By the time we finally lift the anchor, I usually feel ready to collapse on the sea berth, but of course there’s still a lot to do. Steering out of the anchorage, setting and trimming sails, adjusting the windvane, checking for traffic and getting the lure out. Once the anchorage disappears behind the stern and only dark blue stretches out ahead towards the horizon, serenity settles on the boat and the passage blues fade away. It’s simply beautiful to lean back and admire the boat in her element, as she’s doing what she was designed for. All the maintenance we’ve put into her yields a feeling of safety: she’s strong, she’ll do her best.

Ripped gennaker. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Ripped gennaker. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

Despite the best preparations things can go wrong.

Out on the ocean we’re on our own and have to deal with whatever might come up. The first time I fully realized the extent of the responsibility blue water sailing implies, it hit me like a bucket of cold seawater. We were on the third day of our passage across the Atlantic, when our trusted windvane broke. All attempts at fixing it in high seas failed, we couldn’t call the AAA or a welder to swing by, we had to deal with the situation ourselves. And we did. At first I thought that doing 2 hour shifts at the helm day after day was impossible, but 11 days later we arrived in Suriname. Exhausted, but overjoyed. When the main boom broke on the upwind passage from Rarotonga to Tahiti I thought we were done sailing, but Christian simply riveted scrap metal pieces across the tear and two hours later we were bashing close-hauled into the wind again. Or when our gennaker ripped in light winds and we had to reach Tahiti before an approaching front without a working engine. We got out the sewing machine while Pitufa was rolling miserably in the long ocean swell, stitched the gennaker and made it to a safe anchorage. None of these situations were life-threatening, but the fact that we handled them (after a brief spell of panic) is a very reassuring thought whenever the passage blues tries to get a grip on me again.

Sail repairs underway. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer
Sail repairs underway. Photo By Birgit Hackl and Christian Feldbauer

FEELING WELL PREPARED HELPS FIGHT THE BLUES

Know your boat:

  • Where are the seacocks? Are there any ventilation holes where water could enter in rough conditions? Where are the fire extinguishers and how do you use them? Where are the bilge pumps located, how are they operated and what to do if they get clogged? 

Cruising Suriname: A Path Less Traveled

Know your stuff:

  • Tools, spare parts and pieces for makeshift repairs are only helpful if they are accessible and you know where to find them in a stress situation.

Know you can do it:

  • Reading tales of the cruising pioneers puts things into perspective: Hal Roth’s wonderful stories of calmly tackling hair-raising emergencies (“Two against Cape Horn”, “Chasing the Long Rainbow”, etc.). Lyn Pardey (“Sailing on Serrafyn, Storm Tactics, etc.) describing how their tiny, engineless boat bravely weathered hurricanes. The Smeetons didn’t panic just because their boat had done a somersault, lost the mast and was full of water in the Southern Ocean (“Once is enough”). We are capable of much more than we’d think possible.

If you like this, you’ll love:

Birgit and Christian have been cruising on their S&S 41 SY Pitufa for 10 years. Check out their blog www.pitufa.at for more info! 

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