Ocean Watch
Susan Scott

Trip wasn’t easy,
but it was worth it

Sometimes I wonder what ever possessed me to sail to an atoll a thousand miles from home and live for months in the Intertropical Convergence Zone, where the heat is equatorial, torrential rains often come with gale-force winds and the boat needs continual attention.

Two months ago, I arrived here minus a forestay, jib and roller furling system, which had broken and gone overboard in big seas. In addition, both autopilots had conked out, and diesel, oil and sea-water leaks had sprung up here and there throughout the boat.

Now the rig is replaced, the pilots repaired and the leaks are under control. All this took two months and loads of work from a lot of people, both here and at home. For me it also took its toll in worry. When that jib rolled neatly around the new foil and Alfie the Autopilot took the helm, you could hear my sigh of relief all the way to Hawaii. Until I leave here, I thought, the hard stuff is over.

Then last Tuesday evening while we were eating dinner in the lovely new shoreline galley, a storm blew in from the northwest. Matt, the island manager and a fellow sailor, squinted at the lagoon through the driving rain.

"Susan," he said, "I think your boat is moving."

And that she was. Alex and I would have to reset the anchor.

Alex kayaked out to scrape the corrosion off the windlass terminals (an ongoing chore) while I rowed out in the dinghy praying the starter would start. (Another corrosion problem I'd tried to fix.)

Both machines worked -- but the depth sounder didn't. And without it, finding the one good anchorage here was impossible, especially in the pitch-black night with 30-knot winds blowing rain sideways.

So we just dropped the anchor until the boat stopped moving, taking time, of course, to admire the dozens of moray eels attracted to the water's surface by our deck lights.

Hourly that night, we got up to check our position. And although the boat was not well placed, we got lucky. It stayed put.

The next morning, Alex and I fixed the depth gage, reset the anchor correctly and were back to where we started.

But what a mess that storm made. Besides everything being soaking wet, a black noddy had gotten confused by the boat lights, crashed onto the cockpit and thrown up. Also in the cockpit lay dozens of paralyzed spiders, food for mud dauber larvae, amid clods of dripping mud. The wind and rain had broken open a hidden wasp nest.

Tired and overwhelmed with work, I sighed, wishing I were home. Then I remembered a Mark Twain quote a thoughtful reader sent me recently:

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

The dream to explore and discover is what possessed me to sail here. This adventure has not been easy, but I'll always be glad that I did it.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Marine science writer Susan Scott can be reached at http://www.susanscott.net.

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