Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Journal Entry - October 29, 2008 - Sailing with The Boys!

Author: Scott

Tonight I am speeding downwind towards Australia with my surrogate crew sleeping, one in the cockpit and the other in "the nest" also known as "the pit". With Pam's absence aboard Starship "the nest" is just one of the strange changes that has taken place during this piece of the voyage. You see normally Pam and I alternate sleeping in the aft berth while the other is on watch. The linen is always kept crisp, clean and dry to maintain one haven of sanctuary while living on passage in what is similar to spending your days inside a washing machine. Alas the pristine sleeping berth, now known as "the nest", has become a conglomeration of sheets, sleeping bags, blankets, throws, pillows and maybe even a towel or two, all swathed and intertwining. Starship's current crew does not clean one's feet and carefully climb into the aft berth; they now hurl themselves upon the nest and burrow their way into position so that there is a thick barrier against the lee cloth and ample layers of sinewy coverings twisting and snarling around their body parts to serve as covering during watch. Add in the factor of limited showers and washing, hot tropical weather, and by the end of the voyage the nest would serve as a great whelping den for a litter of street puppies.

Yes, things aboard Starship are certainly different. The crew is made up of me, Tony Purkiss, and Patrick Silver. Tony has been mentioned in a number of prior Log-Blog's, he is an Australian blind sailor who became our mate last year during cyclone season in Australia. When I phoned Tony to see if he could help me sail the boat to Australia from Vanuatu due to Pam's sudden vision crisis, Tony simply said he would do whatever he could and promptly cancelled all of his commitments to help out.

Patrick is a new acquaintance and now friend that we met in Port Vila. Patrick is a friend of Graeme and Rebecca's on 'LL" and has been working in Vanuatu for the past eighteen months. While in Vila we were soon seeing Patrick often and he quickly became a regular member of our little group as we explored the island. In fact, it would be strange if we didn't run into Patrick whenever we were in town, and he could always be located at the coffee shop. When Patrick first learned of Pam's situation while we were on Santo he was off in a second hunting down local medical resources in Vanuatu. Knowing that Patrick was planning on returning to Australia for a few months I immediately thought of him as potential crew for the passage. Upon asking, Patrick said he needed a little time to work on the details, but called the next day to say he would be happy to be on the crew. I now had two crew members in less than two days!

As this is not an official passage of the Blind Circumnavigation with Pam and I aboard, but rather a delivery of Starship so that Pam can continue the voyage from a port she has previously sailed the boat to, we are able to allow Patrick to be crew despite his limitation of being fully sighted. An example of this limitation became clear when I was orienting Patrick to the boat and I described the location of the fixings for tea. These items are tucked way back on top of a shelf in a locker. I told Patrick if he just reached in the locker he could feel four Ziploc baggies. Well, he rooted around, fumbled, groped but still could only find two of the baggies. Eventually he had to succumb to bending over to stick his nose in the locker and even with his eagle eyes; he still only managed to find three of the baggies. Sighted people! You wouldn't want to stand between one and the toilet the first night in an unfamiliar dark hotel room, yikes! We have officially dubbed Patrick our token ‘sighty’. Actually he is an excellent sail trimmer and racer by day, but needs to be kept below at night so he doesn't hurt anyone. Okay - okay - okay, maybe I am being just a little silly here, and I do have to admit that it is awfully convenient having a pair of 20/20s on board. Imagine being able to see the direction of an approaching container ship, or thread your way almost effortlessly through a narrow marina. Having Patrick aboard has given me a true respect for the challenges Pam and I face every day on voyage.

Speaking of sight let me give you a few visuals of the temporary crew aboard Starship. Tony is a big guy, not obese, just big in a Shrek sort of way. He has a booming deep voice and would be your guy if you needed to fend off an oncoming fishing trawler or push an iceberg out of the boat's path. Patrick is tall and wiry, bordering on lanky. He moves gracefully around the boat but is quite strong from his profession as a builder. Both Tony and Patrick are seasoned sailors with far more racing experience than me. We have settled into an eating pattern that coincides with our body types. Tony gets about half the meal, I get a third and Patrick is happy with whatever is left over. Our meals on passage have been quite gourmet with offerings like pork loin baked in apples and cinnamon, and pan sautéed steak in fresh garlic and olive oil. Being volunteer crew, I was determined to feed the crew well. This may be the first passage where I have actually gained weight.

Now I must say that the new crew does have a tendency to taunt me with their
Aussie slang and threats of feeding me Vegemite and lasagna with cream sauce (imagine that, lasagna with cream sauce… Hey, that's okay mate, I just pull out the yellow American mustard and instant coffee bags to keep them shivering in their boots.

So far our voyage has been quite peaceful, especially compared to my last tour of this part of the ocean. It is a pity that Pam is not experiencing these calm seas, light winds, and endless blue skies as we traverse a big 1020 high. We have had both good fast sailing and long calms with the iron headsail purring away. Oh, did I mention that we are not only crossing with the boat "LL", but as always we are racing. As of 06:30 this morning we were nearly 30 nautical miles in front with eight less engine hours. Now, the fat lady hasn't sung yet, but I can almost taste the frothy schooners at the pub, our prize for not only winning this leg of the race to Australia but also having already won the leg from Vanuatu to New Caledonia. Looks like "LL" might stand for "L- Loooooooooosers" - hehehehehee. Okay, enough of my gloating, they could magically still pull out a win on leg two. We will just be happy to see our friends in Australia - and of course catch their dock lines for them!

Each day I have communicated with Pam via email over the SSB radio. She has been to the doctor as described in her recent Log-Blog. It seems from here that she is doing well and her retinal tears are healing as expected. Starship and I certainly miss our fellow crew member, but soon she will be back in the saddle, or rather the PFD to continue the voyage after cyclone season.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Journal Entry – Ocotober 27, 2008 - Life Happens Even…

Author: Pam

This past month or perhaps even the past eight months has been a reminder for me that life happens even if you are sailing around the world. It may also prove true that life seems more magnified and events feel more significant when you are thousands of miles away from home. You may recall in February I had a nasty fall and as a result I have a new Australian smile with crowns on three of my front teeth. In May, while crossing the Coral Sea Starship was knocked down by a huge wave, which destroyed her dodger, resulting in a two month unexpected delay in Noumea, New Caledonia. On September 22 my right eye decided to come to the party which resulted in an emergency trip from Vanuatu to Sydney to seek medical care from an eye specialist.

Over the past month while I have been dealing with this latest event I have had a lot of time to think and ponder life. Especially as I struggled to lay face down 22 out of 24 hours of the day post surgery for five days. I was originally told I would have to perform this pretzel defying feat for ten days. I was sure after being sleep deprived and every muscle tied into a knot my eye might be better, but I would surely be a crazy woman. It was proving to be one of the ultimate living in the moment experiences I have had so far in my life.

Today is five weeks since I first became aware of the blurriness in my right eye. It has been two weeks today since I had the Vitrectomy. I saw Dr. Downie last Friday and he said “the retina seems to be in the right place as far as he could tell”. As far as he could tell is the disclaimer I guess for how difficult it is to get a good look at the back of my eye due to the size and shape of my pupil. I was experiencing some pain on Thursday and Friday and discovered that was due to the pressure being quite high in my eye (again). He increased the number of drops and put me back on a pill to lower the pressure. It is down, but I don’t believe it is back to normal yet. I will see him again this Friday. All of the gas has dissipated as of today, which is nice, it was like looking through a liquid fog at first and then circles that got darker as they got smaller. I now have to wait several weeks before the stitches in the front of my eye dissolve and then I should be able to wear my right contact lens again. I have been wearing my left contact lens and relying solely on that eye. I did wear my glasses some, but I found they magnified the blurriness. As of today I am feeling good about the healing process and my attention is turning towards what’s next for Starship and her crew as we wait out yet another cyclone season.

Starship and her surrogate crew (Tony and Patrick) arrived in Koumac, Northern New Caledonia on October 20th, after a 48 hour passage from Port Vila. They left Koumac on Friday, October 24th after waiting for a weather window. Leaving on a Friday is notable because it is the first time Scott and our boat has left for a passage on a Friday. It is a nautical superstition that it is bad luck to leave on a Friday and we have thus far chosen to observe this belief, as well as no bananas on board. There are several other superstitions we have made exceptions for either knowingly or unknowingly. We usually have bacon (pork is supposedly a no no) and recently we were told umbrellas are bad luck and we have five. As of yesterday Starship was 716 nm (nautical miles) from Newcastle, Australia. The crew is all doing well and Starship is sailing like a champ. They could reach Newcastle as early as Saturday or as late as Monday.

Since our plans for this cruising season were very unexpectedly interrupted Scott and I have not had an opportunity to even discuss what we will do during cyclone season. I am looking forward to having my home back. Although I have once again been reminded how blessed I am to have such amazing friends I am looking forward to at least feeling grounded by being back on the boat. I am also looking forward to a little more variety in my wardrobe; the options I packed are feeling a bit slim.

So, as I have said this journey has been the ultimate opportunity to live in the moment and to stretch my edges. And, Alexander Graham Bell said: “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” I am not looking upon the closed door, but wondering what lies beyond the one that has opened.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Journal Entry – October 14, 2008 Update on Pam

Author: Scott

When last we left Pam she was being closely observed by her ophthalmologist in Sydney. She returned to the Dr. last Friday and learned that she had increased bleeding inside of her right eye. Based on these findings the Dr. informed Pam that she would require a vitrectomy, a surgical procedure where the vitreous fluid inside the eye is cleaned of blood and other material, allowing the Dr. to more thoroughly examine Pam’s retina. This procedure was completed yesterday and it was determined mid-surgery that Pam had two tears in her retina. The surgeon then attempted to make immediate repairs by introducing a gas bubble into Pam’s eye that would hold the retina in place while it hopefully reattaches. Pam is now comfortably convalescing in Sydney with our dear friends David and Donna Marshal. At this point we have no further information on a long-term prognosis and Pam continues to cope with this situation with amazing resilience and bravery.

Back here in Port Vila, Vanuatu I am awaiting the arrival of our good friend and blind sailor Tony Purkiss, who will be joining me on the voyage to Australia. Also on the crew will be Patrick a recent acquaintance and friend in Vanuatu. The three of us will sail across the Coral Sea to the east coast of Australia, and then make our way south to Newcastle. Once in Newcastle Pam will be able to rejoin the voyage after the cyclone season from a point where she has sailed with me, allowing Pam to continue the voyage without any gaps in our route.

If you would like to send Pam your well wishes, please send us an email through the website and I will be sure she gets your message.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Journal Entry - October 5, 2008 - Fish for Pam!

Author: Scott

Today rates among one of the strangest days I have experienced thus far on this incredible adventure. Today I am single handing Starship from Oyster Island to Banam Bay, Vanuatu. But first things first…

Our recent Log-Blog explained that Pam had to suddenly fly to Australia because of potentially serious symptoms she was experiencing in her right eye. I received a few updates last week that put Pam and I on the worry roller coaster. Her original diagnosis was that her eye was inflamed but no other problems were visible. Two days later she returned to the same ophthalmologist only to find that she had experienced a hemorrhage in her eye, with the possibility of a retinal tear, and a very high pressure reading of 44. The next day Pam saw an eye surgeon in Sydney (thanks to the help of our friend Tony). The specialist in Sydney confirmed the hemorrhage but operated from a sensible position of observation, after some extreme suggestions from the first eye specialist. Pam's pressure was at a normal level with the help of eye drops and the bleeding in her eye seemed to have subsided. At this point the ophthalmologist wants to closely monitor her eye and Pam has another appointment on Friday. The ophthalmologist also advised Pam that she should not continue sailing to remote locations until more information is available about her condition, therefore we have decided to return Starship to Australia for the cyclone season. This change in routing will certainly alter our plans for the remainder of this cruising season but not extend the overall length of the voyage, as we intend to continue on to South Africa after the southern hemisphere cyclone season.

With this turn of events I am now single handing the boat to Port Vila, Vanuatu. I will then either sail Starship with our good friend Tony Purkiss who is also a legally blind sailor living in Australia, or with Pam if she is given the go ahead from her ophthalmologist. In either case Pam will be able to resume the voyage next year from a location she has sailed to, thus continuing the voyage for her without a lapse in routing.

So here I sit without my friend and sailing partner for the first time since departing San Francisco. I am in radio contact with our good friends Graeme and Rebecca on LL, but Starship feels strange and lonely without Pam. The seas have been rough today with nasty wind on the nose. However, with every cloud there is the proverbial silver lining and today I caught a big juicy Mahi Mahi, only our second fish to date on Starship. Tonight I will honor Pam (aka the Fish Girl) by devouring a feast of fresh fish for her. By the way for our cynical friends out there, YES I did get a photo of the fish.

So, yet again the crew of the Blind Circumnavigation has proven to expect the unexpected and roll with the punches and we are moving forward or perhaps a little backwards with a smile on our faces. We achieved our goal of returning to the South Pacific to visit Vanuatu and New Caledonia and this experience has enriched our overall voyage greatly. I am confident that our time during cyclone season will be full of wonderful experiences. We already have an invitation to take part in the barbecue sail to Lord Howe Island and maybe a sail on a returning race boat from this year's Sydney Hobart race, and of course we get to see our many wonderful Aussie friends in the deal.

Don't you worry the Blind Circumnavigation will move forward with gusto!