Beneath the Subcontinent

Sophie is now just 235 south of India as we leave Sri Lanka behind us and enter the Lakshadweep Sea. I thought I knew the names of all of the bodies of water we would transit on this passage until “Lakshadweep Sea” popped up on the chart. Lakshadweep. It just rolls of your tongue, doesn’t it?

We had our best sailing day of the passage yesterday, averaging 8-10 current-aided knots for most of the day in bright sunshine with minimal seas. Our noon-noon run was 164 miles, but that doesn’t take into account our 15 mile dash south across the shipping lanes and the fact that we stopped twice for fish.

Sophie’s current position at 3:52 UTC +7 is 05 04.104n, 080 11.725e. We are sailing at 7 knots under jib and full main on a course of 277m with a 9 knot apparent wind on our starboard quarter. With the exception of our jog across the highway, we have been on the same tack for almost a week. We are 403 miles from Male and should arrive there in 2 days.

We had a yellowfin tuna double takedown yesterday morning, where Nic and Travis boated fish simultaneously off the two rods, each trolling a small hoochie. These fellows were 4 and 5 pounds respectively, and they no longer exist. Jenna made sushi for lunch and the remainder was pan seared for dinner. We stopped fishing after the takedown because of our boatspeed, because I didn’t want to clean any more fish, and because I wanted to take a nap. I now wonder if some sort or temporary insanity came over me. Jenna was even asking me if I felt alright. I’ve gotten over it now, and 5 small hoochies are going out at sunrise.

We started seeing fishing boats yesterday for the first time on the passage about 70 miles south of Sri Lanka. On three separate occasions a boat stopped what they were doing when they saw us, changed course, and headed in our direction with their entire crew yelling and waving their arms at us. These boats were all about 30 feet long with a deep draft. We had heard stories of cruising sailboats last year that were harassed by Sri Lanka fishermen, and we wanted no part of that action. I am sure they were all just being bored and curious, but we just smiled and waved back at them as we turned the motors on and motorsailed past them at 10.5 knots. Given their draft, they couldn’t match our speed and in each case soon went back to work. We’ve seen another 10 fishing boats this evening, but at night they are leaving us alone.

There has been a lot of Yahtzee action in the aft cockpit for the last couple of days. It’s been too breezy back there for cards or board games. It has been a lot of fun, and we are holding off on doing Yahtzee shots until our big beautiful Rocna anchor is buried in sand.

We still don’t know the results of the NFL playoff games this weekend. We know the Patriots were beating Kansas City 14-6 at halftime, and my mother vaguely mentioned on the satphone that they had won “20 something to something.” A friend (and you know who you are) promised to send us via Sailmail all of the game scores plus a couple of the New England game stories, but he has gone dark on us. I hope he is not in the hospital or stranded on some backcountry Montana mountainside, trying to rub two sticks together in order to make a fire in a desperate attempt to survive in the cold and desolate wilderness.

But enough of my first world problems. In two days we will be swimming in crystal-clear water in some palm-studded atoll. Life is grand.

Crossing a Highway

Sophie encountered 40 ships today as we sailed into the main shipping lane that connects Europe and the Middle East with Asia on what we can only describe as an extraordinary day.

Our current position is 05 33.102n, 083.13.251e. We are sailing on a course of 263m at 7.5 knots under a full jib and reefed main with a 14 knot wind on our beam. We covered 174 miles on our noon-noon run, averaging 7.25 knots. Sri Lanka is just 105 miles to our northwest, and Male is 580 miles ahead of us.

The southern tip of Sri Lanka is 880 miles due west from the entrance to the Malacca Strait, creating an imaginary line that is the shortest distance for ships traveling to Singapore and China. We realized that Sophie had wandered into this highway a little after lunchtime when a cluster of 8 ships suddenly appeared on our AIS. The smallest one was 650 feet. We had clear weather and good visibility, so there was no immediate risk. We even spoke to a few of them on the radio.

But after 2 tankers passed well within a half mile on either side of us, Jenna and I did the math and realized that if we continued on our rhumb line course, we would have to cover 75 miles to cross the shipping lane. We would have these behemoths passing on either side of us well into the night while doing so. We decided instead to gybe and head 20 miles due south while we still had visibility to clear the traffic. It’s better to dash across a highway during daylight, right?

So I went up to the wheel and was waiting for the 1,050 foot tanker “Hyundai Titan” to overtake us a half mile to the south when the starboard fishing rod exploded with a hit.

FISH!!!!!!

This fellow had good timing. We were sailing at 8 knots under full main and jib, but Sophie’s crew went to work like a well-oiled machine. Jenna ran to the wheel and turned north to slow the boat and get us away from Mr. Hyundai. Hazel helped her on the winches. Leo went below and started the Yanmars. Rich clipped in and joined me on the transom with a gaff. Travis and Nic brought the other lines in. Kate grabbed a camera and passed up tools. The clutch on this rod’s reel was on its last legs, and I was reluctant to let someone else land the fish. I had just replaced the line with 300 meters of brand new 80lb braid, so this guy wasn’t going anywhere.

We landed a 13 pound bluefin tuna, and everyone on Sophie was happy about the team effort. As soon as the fish was on board, we executed the gybe and kept both diesels on as we sprinted across the highway for the next hour and a half.

Soon the ships were behind us and we resumed our rhumb line course. School ended, and Jenna played dice games with the youngsters in the aft cockpit while Rich and I sat up top and enjoyed the warmth of the late afternoon. We cut the fish into steaks and pan seared all of them for dinner, serving them up with red rice and salad. We had a hungry crew, and the fish was delicious.

Immediately after dinner, I joined Jenna up top for the start of her watch when a pod of dolphins decided to play off our bow. Two of the dolphins were babies, and Hazel insisted that they were twins and that she could understand what they were saying. Then the dolphins left just as the clouds shifted and the sky exploded into a deep tangerine rose color. Everyone became silent and let the color soak in. Then we went downstairs and watched the NFL Films DVD of Super Bowl XLIX. The Patriots won.

It was a pretty good day, as days go.

Ohhhhh …. Halfway There!

Sophie hit the halfway point between Phuket and the Maldives at 3:30 this morning, having covered 770 miles in exactly 4 and a half days at an average speed at a scooch over 7 knots for the entire distance. We have 750 to go. Kate, Rich, Nic, and I celebrated with a shared can of Coke while looking to see if a certain Journey song was on the flybridge music player. It wasn’t, so we had to sing a cappella.

Sophie’s current position is 06 15.572n, 085.51.538e. We are sailing on a course of 163m at a speed of 7 knots on a beam reach with a 10 knot apparent breeze. We have the jib out and a reef in the main. Sophie covered 164 miles in yesterday’s noon to noon run, but given our current speed, I assume we will beat that number today. We once again had the gennaker and full main out all day yesterday and then switched to the jib and reefed main for the night. We seem to have developed a pattern. We have motorsailed for less than 10 hours for the entire passage. This steady northerly simply doesn’t want to go away.

Kate and Nic did a watch together tonight, and they did quite well. Except for the fact that that they convinced themselves that the ships appearing and then disappearing on the screen 15 miles south of us were stealth pirate ships coming to get us. I explained that we were just north of the shipping lane between the Suez Canal and Singapore and that hundreds of ships were passing 50 miles south of us. They remained unconvinced, arguing that perhaps they were seeing pirate submarines instead.

We are just 240 miles from Sri Lanka. I can already sense the wild elephants, especially the baby ones. We will pass the southern coast of Sri Lanka on Sunday during the day, missing it by 40 miles. I doubt we will see it. Life is a series of tradeoffs.

The fishing program finally got in gear yesterday! We hooked our first mahi mahi, using a yellow hoochi lure on the rod with the reel that our friend Bill Walker gave us over the holidays. Unfortunately the fish was the size of Hazel’s forearm, so we let him go. Later that evening we pulled in our meatlines for the night and saw that something had crushed one of my new cedar tuna plugs. They are out there.

Rich and Nic saw a whale spout a few hundred meters from us. There are lots of flying fish. We haven’t seen a bird in four days. I assume that will change soon.

We had spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, and for Friday Family Movie Night the kiddies watched a Lego documentary that their sister/future sister-in-law. Tonight we will barbecue pork loin on the grill. Yes, it’s that kind of passage.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Bay of Bengal

Sophie is currently in the middle of the entrance to the Bay of Bengal as we continue on this fast and uneventful passage. Sophie covered 168 miles from noon to noon, for an average speed of 7 knots.

It is 4:00 AM Sophie time. We will change our ship’s clock today because we have traveled so far west that sunrise is now at 7:30 AM and sunset is at 7:30 PM. Our current position is 06 45.228n, 088.28.666e. We are sailing at 6.1 knots on a course of 262m with an 11 knot breeze slightly aft of our beam. The wind and waves picked up a bit yesterday afternoon, so we tucked a reef into the main around 2:00 PM and kept it there throughout the night until I came onto my shift just now. Even with the reef in, we were hitting 10+ knots of boat speed in 15 knots apparent on a broad reach. But the waves were 2+ meters and steep, so having the reef in gave us an easy motion with no stress on the boat or crew. It was a gentle and uneventful night.

We are 905 miles from our destination of Male, and we have arranged for an agent to bring government officials to the boat to help us clear into the country when we arrive on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning. We are only 394 miles from Sri Lanka. The Indian weather service is forecasting no storms and consistent weather for the next 48 hours, and the longer term weather models are showing more of the same. It looks like we picked a great time to leave.

I feel like I am on vacation with so many crew on board. I slept for 8 hours last night before my sunrise shift. Every time I am about to do one of the chores I normally do on a passage, I turn around to find someone is already on it. I go to chop up vegetables for the chili? Kate and Nic are already on it. I go to do the dishes and empty the dishwasher? Rich and Travis already beat me to it.

I could get used to this.

Jenna and the kiddies had an excellent day at Sophie School with no meltdowns. The kids had a great attitude, and Leo even stood his sunset shift. I literally mean “stood” after I gently reminded him that being on watch doesn’t mean you lie down on the flybridge and read your Kindle.

Still no fish, but we only had the meatlines out for half the day yesterday. I didn’t want to deal with landing a fish with a rod during 10 knots of rock and roll.

Dinner last night was chili. Tonight we will eat spaghetti and meatballs, unless we land that fish.

I just completed reading Elvis Costello’s autobiography “Unfaithful Music.” I like the fact that one of my favorite singers is married to one of my dad’s favorite singers.

Overall Sophie’s crew has fallen into the rhythm of a passage. We eat. We sleep. We hang out. We do school. We stand watches. I had forgotten how much I love this life, and how lucky we are to be living it.

Sailing Along Quite Nicely

Nothing new to report after another uneventful 24 hours. Sophie covered 190 miles from noon to noon, averaging 7.9 knots of speed with the gennaker up during the day and the jib at night. 190 miles is considered a good day, even for a heavy cat like Sophie.

It is 3:00 AM Sophie time. Current position is 07 20.733n, 091.32.188e. We are sailing at 7.3 knots on a course of 270m with an 11 knot breeze slightly ahead of our beam. We have been on the same starboard tack for the entire 60 hours since we left Phuket. The wind died a bit in the afternoon so we ran an engine for a couple of hours to keep our speed up. We still have 330 gallons of fuel on board (including 2 fuel bladders on deck that we are trying out), which is enough for us to motor on both engines for the 1,090 miles between us and our destination of Male.

We are 560 miles from Sri Lanka, 708 miles from India, and 866 miles from Bangladesh. It’s kind of cool to see these countries on the same chart as Sophie.

Dinner last night was barracuda and Spanish mackerel in a coconut milk ginger sauce with bok choy, red rice, and lemonade. The Germans made apfulkuchen for dessert. The fish was from the freezer because we had no luck on the first day of our fishing program. At one point we did see a school of dolphins tear through our lures, causing some big fish following us to jump into the air. At least there are fish out here.

Sophie School had its first day. Leo was a rock star, and Hazel had a couple of transition issues. Today will be better.

We are basically a third of the way done with our passage. I couldn’t imagine an easier trip. There is no swell, small wind waves, and a consistent light northerly that keeps pushing us along. We have barely started, and I am already beginning to regret the end of the passage.

More tomorrow …

Sophie is Wicked Fast Again

Sophie has covered 265 miles in her first 35 hours on our passage from Phuket to the the Maldives, averaging over 7.5 knots of boat speed over the first part of our 1,500 mile journey. That’s right, Sophie is on the road again. Sorry for not updating the blog over the last 2 months. We’ve been crazy busy with a side trip to Cambodia and Laos, a 2 week haulout where we fixed multiple systems and painted the bottom, a 3 week visit to Seattle to see friends and family over the holidays, and then a mad 5 day scramble to provision and fix a bunch of things that broke at the last minute. Jenna and I have some writing to do and will share more about our fantastic November and December.

But it’s all good right now. This is our first offshore passage in over a year. We have 8 souls on board: my brother Rich (a veteran of our Marguesas passage), his adult children Kate and Nic, our friend from Seattle/Munich Travis, plus Jenna, the kiddies, and I.

It is 3:00 AM Sophie time (UTC + 7) on January 13. Our current position is 07 38.205N, 094 10.652E. Our course is 272m, making a speed of 7.5 knots with full main and jib on a broad reach with a lovely 10 knot breeze from the NNE. Swells are under a meter. There has been no rain.

We have actually slowed down in the last couple of hours and were making 8-10 knots since noon yesterday. We had the gennaker up for the entire day. Life is good. At this speed we will reach our destination of Male in under a week.

We’ve spent the first 36 hours of the passage getting our sea legs and organizing the cabin. I’ve only had to repair two toilets so far. The pump in Hazel’s head needed a complete servicing (I wish she wouldn’t swallow so many hair rubber bands), and I had to replace the Stephen Fell memorial joker valve in the yellow room’s head.

Overall the crew is pretty happy, because it is hard to not be happy when you are sailing at 8 knots in flat seas on a passage in the tropics. Leo was queasy for much of yesterday, and we will try to get Sophie School going today. First night’s dinner was pasta, and last night we had cheeseburgers. The fishing program will begin in earnest at sunrise as we pass north of the Nicobars. 5 lines are going in.

We are so very, very lucky. Nothing lightens your mood like a smooth bottom, a favorable current, and fair winds.

Stephen vs. Danny: We Won!

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I wrote a blog back in August about the friendly rivalry between my nephews Stephen and Danny about who was going to have the best Sophie Adventure Cruise. Stephen joined us for 3 weeks in August for a visit that was epic. His younger brother Dan joined us for a 2 week visit in October that turned out to be equally epic. The real winners of this contest? Me, Jenna, Leo, and Hazel. We had the pleasure of sharing our home for almost 2 months with family members who were a lot of fun AND served as excellent role models for their younger cousins. Well, at least for most of the time.

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“DanDaMan” arrived on flights from Switzerland on the evening of October 1, and we set out the next day on for the same basic loop around the “Dandaman” Sea that we took Stephen: Koh Racha, Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, and Koh Hong. Unfortunately, when Dan landed the entire Phuket area was blanketed with smoke from the Sumatra palm oil fires that are plaguing the area, limiting our visibility. We also got off to a late start and tucked into the Chalong anchorage for our first night. The next morning headed down to Koh Rocha and grabbed the mooring on the west side anchorage, only to discover that the bar on the rocks overlooking the beach that Stephen and I enjoyed so much had been razed. So we went around the corner to Racha’s east coast to visit “Beer Beach”, which turned out to be a charmless wasteland of multiple tourist boats, small amounts of beach, and even smaller amounts of beer. So we decided to ditch Koh Racha altogether and head over to Koh Phi Phi. We spent a night anchored off Jasmin Restaurant, and then spent a week at Monkey Beach.

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Dan LOVED Monkey Beach. We swam every day, and he coached us on our flips and splash dives. We played Settlers of Catan. We went around the corner and into town for meals and onshore Sophie School. From a vacation point of view, Dan thought it was perfect. “After all the work on my PhD, this is exactly what I needed. Oooagh!”

One day we took the big dinghy and bombed the five miles over to Phi Phi Le, with a first stop at Maya Beach. Upon arrival, the kiddies were thrilled to discover that Dan had a big rip in the seat of his swim shorts. Dan was able to successfully manage the situation and enjoyed the spectacle of the hundreds of boats and thousands of tourists that crowd into this little beach.

After Maya Beach, we bombed around to the east side of Phi Phi Le and dropped a hook in the middle of the floating party boats. The boat next to us had 40 backpackers on board, and the owner gave each of them a tallboy can of Chang Beer that they all took into the water. They floated together in a little group, sipping their beers, as the owner then climbed 50 feet up the cliff on the side of the hong and did a magnificent backflip in front of the assembled fleet. It was pretty cool.

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When Stephen was with us, we became friends with some backpackers on Phi Phi. Actually, it was Hazel who made the initial connection. Adz and Audrey were playing Frisbee on the beach at Phi Phi at low tide, and Hazel worked her way into their game. An hour later they joined us for a drink at the beachside restaurant where we were hanging out. Adz is a tattoo artist, and he swung by later that evening to check out the situation while Stephen and I were getting out tattoos. He thought the local guy was doing a good job and was inking clean lines. We wound up inviting Adz and Audrey for a ride back to Phuket on Sophie, and they accepted and even spent a night on board. Adz was so happy at one point that he did a headstand.

We became friends with some backpackers while Danny was with us in Phi Phi as well, but this story is a bit more of a caper. Unfortunately, Leo woke up one morning feeling sick to his stomach, and Jenna suggested that Dan and I head into town to pick up some ginger ale and some beer (we were out.) Since Dan was on vacation, we also thought it would make sense if we stopped for a bite to eat. So we took the big dinghy over to the Rolling Stoned beach bar for a quick beer. 10 beers and one AWFUL hamburger later, we left and got the ginger ale and beer. As we walked across the low tide beach to the dinghy, Dan begged if we could join the pickup soccer game. We did, and we were terrible. We got in the dinghy and drove back to Sophie, where Jenna pointed out we had no beer or ginger ale with us. We had left them on the beach!

So we went back to Phi Phi, reloaded our drink bag, got into the dinghy, and then encountered a group of American kids hanging out in the water having fun and drinking beer. They seemed like our kind of people, so Danny and I invited them back to Sophie. After a little bit of consideration, they agreed, and Ella, Kevin, Maggie, Anna, and Shannon joined for a few hours on Monkey Beach.

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They had all recently graduated form Loyola Marymount University in Baltimore (which means they were Jesuit-trained, like me) and were taking the smart step of backpacking across Thailand before getting on with their careers and the rest of their lives. We hung out in the water for a few hours and had a great time, except that Kevin got bit by a monkey (it didn’t break his skin), I discovered that the new dinghy wouldn’t plane with 7 adults on board (which really bummed me out), and Jenna was so busy taking care of Leo that she never got her beer (she is a loving mother with incredible patience.) But we made some new friends and have a new story to tell. Also, as you can see from the photo, the Sumatra smoke was still with us.

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After a week in Phi Phi we headed up to Krabi to stock up on fresh produce and sing some karaoke at the Krabi River Marina. I got a haircut, and we took Dan to the wet market, the night market, the local temple, and to some of our favorite haunts. For karaoke, Dan opened the night with “Like a Virgin” which for some reason didn’t go over super-well with the local Thai crowd. The mike was passed to a group of ladies celebrating at a corner table, and we never got it back for the rest of the night. They did let Dan and his cousins dance with them, though.

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After Krabi, we took Dan up to Koh Hong and grabbed a mooring on the south side off the national park beach. The Sumatra smoke had cleared, and Dan finally got some sunny weather with spectacular views.

We took him into the beach, where he discovered that the fishies love themselves some Hazel.

But all good things, including Dan’s visit, must sometimes come to an end. Which means we couldn’t convince him to stay another a week. So after Koh Hong, we headed back to the Yacht Haven Marina in northern Phuket for one last meal with some of our cruising friends. On the way we stopped for lunch at the Paradise Resort on Koh Yao Noi. Hazel likes the big swing there.

Dan’s flight left at 8:00 PM the next day, so we had the opportunity to spend a last day exploring Phuket with him. We headed down to the Tree House Restaurant, where we had once taken Stephen, for lunch. Unfortunately it was closed. Jenna still hasn’t eaten there. So we instead headed all the way down to Chalong for a waterfront meal at Dickie’s Lighthouse.

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Dan enjoyed his last meal in Thailand. Unfortunately for me, I’ve been SUCH a good host for my nephews during their 5 weeks here that I’ve been eating and drinking this way during their entire visits. We’ve gone on a bit of a cleanse now before we host our next Adventure Cruise in November.

After lunch, we decided to drive up the hill and visit the Big Buddha statue that dominates southern Phuket. We’ve seen it from a distance dozens of times but never bothered to visit. What a mistake!

For starters, we passed multiple concessions that will take tourists on elephant rides, and they all have baby elephants out by the road. You can never see too many baby elephants!

At the top, there is a huge statue of Buddha that also serves as a temple, with monks inside singing prayers. If you turn your back on the temple, you can look out and see the “Dandaman Sea” and the loop we took over the last ten days with Dan. It was a great way to end his visit.

After the Big Buddha, we drove up Phuket’s west coast for one last sunset beach beer and then sadly dropped Dan off at the airport.

It was the end of two great visits that in our minds and hearts blended into one extended family fest, which is something that is especially important for Leo and Hazel as they continue to explore the other side of the world from where the rest of their family lives. Stephen and Daniel, thanks for the visits. We had a great time. Everybody is a winner!