Sunday, July 26, 2015

Koko Head!

Aloha Westward Fans!

We've got some good news here on Westward in terms of our view and thought we'd share it with you!

We had a hard night last night--really most of yesterday--with some extremely light winds and very slows boat speeds. That's frustrating normally, but even more so when you're 150 miles from the finish!

Around 3 am the wind picked up and we had several hours of fast sailing and are now about 16 miles from finishing. The wind is threatening to go light again, so please don't stop your wind dances!

Anyway, here's our view at the moment:


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Night sailing, sail repairs, ghost ships, and light air

Aloha Westward Fans!

It's Saturday just before noon Westward time (which is the same as PDT), so just before 9am Hawaii Standard Time. The sun is out and and sky is blue and the only thing we'd change is just a little more breeze. We have about 160 miles to our finish. We had been thinking we might finish early Sunday morning, but the breeze has really lightened up over the last 12 hours or so, so we are thinking later than that at this point. This is probably more welcome news for Howard and Wendy Suite, who are gracious enough to be our Hawaiian hosts, along with the rest of our welcome crew than it is for us here on Westward (we are ALL ready for a cheeseburger and something cold to drink), but we're happy to be in striking distance. The latest position reports have us faring ok (15th overall and 3rd in class), but we could really use all your wind thoughts to get our big beauty to Diamond Head! Since it's not a work day at home, we're not sure if this means you have MORE time to do the wind dance or will be spending LESS time procrastinating at work, but either way, we could use you!

We've had some beautiful sailing over the last couple of days, surfing and romping along happily. One of the most beautiful times out here is night. Especially the last two nights. We've had starry skies and a beautiful moon river to sail down. When it's quiet and you can hear the sound of the boat sailing through the water and see the Milky Way, it's a good reminder of how lucky we are to be here and what a tiny speck on a tiny speck of the galaxy this whole life really is. It's humbling and peaceful.

While beautiful, it's also challenging. At night, especially when it's dark, all you can see is the red lights of the sailing instruments. Just five dots of red that you look at to make sure you're going the right way and that you're doing what you can to keep your sails full. Sometimes, this leads to full on vertigo and even hallucinations. We have a brace on the top of the cabin for Westward's dinghy (which is a guppy named Scratches) and it's usually on the deck, but it doesn't come racing with us. Sometimes, at night, Two Shackles' brain will fill in the whole guppy.

Night can also bring a lot of excitement, usually in the form of squalls. Last night was no exception. An impressive amount of rain was dropped on Westward's deck (and due to some slow porthole closing inside the cabin). This late in the race, normal things are way more exciting at night. After the squalls passed last nigh, Zack spotted something abeam of Westward, then forward, then behind and concluded the only legitimate thing: We'd found a ghost ship! After a fair amount of excitement and commotion, Tubs concluded that it was not, in fact, a mythological vessel, but a fishing ship driving in a straight line while Westward floundered in the dying breeze.

Given that there is less than 10 knots of breeze on deck, this next bit of information seems almost absurd. We have gotten very good at spinnaker repairs here on Westward. We have a bit of a mismatch between the shape of our downwind sails (the spinnakers) and the bow of our boat. Because of this, there is a fair amount of chafing and a fair amount of attempts to stop the chafing (think 2x4's and lots of tape and line). All told, the probability of riping some sails made of light material is pretty high. Two Shackle Alli has gotten a lot of practice repairing these various rips (we're up to six repairs on three sails) and is thinking of switching professions (final decisions to come on that soon).

As we get closer to Honolulu, we start to see some of the other finishers sailing along. Some will pass us (the bigger boats), hopefully some we'll pass, but either way it's pretty exciting. After only seeing each other and this boat for the past 12 days, seeing other life is pretty exciting. We've got a big boy just astern of us now. They'll pass us soon and hopefully be waiting to catch our docklines and keep us hydrated once we get in!

All is well aboard Westward, stay tuned as we get closer to the finish. Once we're in cell service, there may even be some pictures!
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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Under 500 miles to go!

Aloha Westward Fans!

At the time of writing this blog, we are sailing downwind in great conditions. We had a morning of some tough sailing, with some pretty light winds (at one point, Two Shackle got the boat speed down to 2.8 knots...a trip low!), some squalls, and some confused seas, but the weather has cleared up and we're romping along just fine now. We had some excellent news in our morning position report: it says we're up to 3rd in class and 5th overall. There's still a lot of time left, though, so we're all looking for every little bit of speed we can possibly get out of the old girl.

Just this morning, the distance to finish data window on our GPS dipped below 500, which means barring a complete loss of winds or something else that would impede our forward progress, we're just a couple of days from finishing. While it's nice to be out here enjoying the sailing, we're all looking forward to passing the Diamond Head bouy and heading in to Hawaii Yacht Club.

One of the great things about Transpac is the camaraderie (read: parties) that the Hawaiians offer once you get there. Westward also has a small shore crew headed to Honolulu. Shauneen has been in Hawaii for a couple of days (we know she's enjoying herself and last night had dinner with our friends from Picante) and today will be joined by Candy and Rosey. Mara's husband, Sadato, will also be there as will Tub's girlfriend, Whitney, and her parents. It will be good to see them all.

Not much else to report from the good ship Westward today, except that Sam has taken to eating shirtless. This is a trend that we don't *think* is going to go viral, but keep on the lookout. We're still waiting for Mara and Zack to earn their nicknames. Certainly, those will be worth the wait.

Oh, and for those waiting for the nacho results, we're happy to report they were a wild success.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Headed for Hawaii!

Aloha Westward Fans!

There is all kinds of exciting news to report from the good ship Westward today.

When we last wrote, we were sailing downwind, but still hadn't turned to point directly at Hawaii. That changed in a hurry when, as if we were being spoken to from the Sailor in the Sky, we got a huge wind shift that forced us to gybe toward Hawaii. The message couldn't have been any clearer: "Hey, dorks, time to turn NOW!" For the last day and a half we have been pointed at Honolulu. It's been great sailing and good fun aboard.

We are also happy to report that it was shower day aboard Westward and now at least half the crew are smelling a little better. Before you get to thinking we're on some kind of luxury cruise, let me reassure you that "shower" is a liberal description of what happens when the Westward crew bathes. Instead, it's more of dousing yourself with sea water on the back deck of the boat. You hang a bucket over the side, get some water, pull the bucket back up, and empty it over your head. Maybe it's not the spa at the Ritz, but it sure feels good. Notably, and this is a source of pride for us, we have not yet lost a bucket to the blue yonder.

On the topic of hygiene, you'll all be happy to know that using the head has also gotten much easier. We're down to just the normal 4 or 5 steps instead of 14.

Probably the biggest and happiest piece of news to share is that the GPS in the main cabin has started to count down time to our finish in Hawaii. The GPS time to destination only will go as high as 99 hours and 99 minutes. Sometime last night, that particular data field read 99:99 for the first time. It has now counted all the way down to 81:43, although we've seen as low as 75:35. It changes a lot right now because it calculates the remaining time based on heading and speed. As those things change, the time also changes. Whatever that says, we're happy to have a countdown.

There are all kinds of bets going on aboard. The WAM watch has bet steak dinner on the highest average speed and breakfast on highest overall speed. Two Shackle Alli is currently winning highest average at 9.5 knots and Willie and Mara are tied for highest overall at 14.7 knots. However, those are likely to change as we're now on Westward's favorite point of sail and moving fast. The two watches have also challenged each other (the stakes are ice cream, cheeseburgers, and curly fries) to highest average watch speed or more miles sailed to the finish (it's not totally clear what the final number will be, but they're based on the same things). The WAM watch is currently winning this one, although Sam, Graham, and Zack surely aren't going to stand for that. The good news is that we are all winners in these bets.

Tubs is currently serving up dinner (mac n' cheese tonight), so it's time to head on deck. Tomorrow, Two Shackle Alli has promised nachos for lunch, although there's a certain amount of skepticism on board as to whether or not she'll be able to pull that off...stay tuned!

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Downwind and nicknames

Aloha Westward Fans!

The last couple of days have seen some major changes here aboard Westward. For one, we are finally (and hopefully for the rest of the race) headed downwind. This is a huge improvement in overall quality of life. The boat has flattened and we've pretty much completely stopped pounding into the waves -- instead are running more with them. Westward was designed to be great at sailing downwind and you can tell that for the past week, she's been wanting to surf along the waves. She's getting her chance to do that now.

Even though we have started sailing downwind, if you're following us on the tracker you can see that we're still not exactly pointed at Hawaii quite yet. Our route optimizer tells us that, based on a whole bunch of information about the boat and the weather, it's not quite time for us to point at Honolulu. If we do, it's likely that we will be sitting in a bunch of light air for quite some time and Westward really doesn't like light air. However, the route optimizer is based on models and predictions, so when reality plays out, we'll either look like heroes or zeros (that's the cleaner version of the language we've been using on the boat). We did just have a conversation about jibing and decided to wait for a few hours under the logic that, as Graham so eloquently put it, "we've banged the corner so far, so we're going to see it through."

Even if we do follow what the route optimizer says and it's right, we still have quite a way to go, timewise. The wind is supposed to get light no matter where we are (we're just hoping to aim for the narrowest portion of the light spot), so we're likely to have some slow days in the next week. We've traveled over 1,400 miles this trip already and still have something like 900 to go -- so stay tuned for the exciting conclusion. Right now we're 5th in our class and 12th overall.

Downwind sailing also brings along with it more jovial attitudes. We're not getting pounded around and soaked by spray every other second, so people are feeling more sociable. Even the other day when we had five sail changes in the span of a few hours (a specialty of ours), there were smiles on deck. The higher spirits also help put a different spin on the smaller errors on board. Instead of being huge downers, they become sources of entertainment and, sometimes, nicknames. For instance, you'll soon all get to meet Two Shackle Alli, who was born after regular Alli dropped two shackles in the water within about three minutes. Or Tubs (some of you will remember him as Graham) who joined the crew when trying to rinse the dishwashing tub and instead dropped it overboard. Not everyone can have as complimentary a name as the Boat Whisperer, I guess. Over the next couple of days, we'll see what nicknames Zack and Mara earn themselves.

Westward is performing well. We've had some minor challenges as you do with a 63 year old boat, but nothing that Sam and Willie can't fix or work around. Those guys are geniuses. And Westward is a performer.

We're all looking forward to seeing Hawaii at this point, but trying to keep our heads in the game. There are a lot of miles left to sail and only the sea knows what the next few days have in store for us. Until then, we're enjoying each other's company, some great sailing, and some time unplugged. The only worries are that Graham and Alli have to be back at work early next week and would like to be able to enjoy a few Mai Tais before hopping on a plane!

Think fast thoughts for us!

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Marine heads, hanger storms, and other things about life on a boat

Aloha Westward Fans!

As of the writing of this blog, we have FINALLY stopped sailing on the wind and things have calmed down and dried out. (I know in the last blog I wrote that we had calmed a little, but then we had to head up, and had several more bumpy wet hours, so I guess I jinxed it for us.) Last night, we saw big winds and big speeds. We had a little bit of everything: rain squalls, periods of no wind, bright starry skies, total darkness. Today, we're seeing a little bit of everything, weather-wise, and pretty decent speeds. Life is good.

But, enough about the racing part of this trip. Let's talk for a little while about life on a boat. This boat, in fact.

For the last five days, we had been living life at somewhere near a 45 degree angle, which makes everything...more interesting.

For instance, answering the call of nature. We're working hard, which means we're drinking lots of water, which means there must be somewhere for all that liquid to end up. That's where the marine head comes in (for you non-sailors out there, heads are a favorite topic of discussion among distance sailors). On Westward, we've got a pretty complicated process for using the head, thanks mostly to the fact that the water level higher than the plumbing of head, so we're having a bit of an overflow issue. Here's what we've got worked out:

1. Take off all your foul weather gear.
2. Open the floorboard and open the water inlet valve. (Most marine heads have a manual pump and you pump water in, do your business, and flush by pumping the waste out and clean water in, and then pump to empty.)
3. Open the outlet valve (the valve that connects the discharge pipe to the ocean. This is where a lot of water has actually been coming in.
4. Pump the head dry.
5. Close the outlet valve again.
6. Do your business.
7. Open the outlet valve.
8. Flush the head (by some pumping and some letting clean water in) as normal, but make sure to pump fast enough that the bowl doesn't overflow onto the floor.
9. Pump the head dry.
10. Close the outlet valve.
11. Close the inlet valve.
12. Replace the floorboards.
13. Wash your hands (although, in all frankness, I'm guessing this step gets skipped sometimes).
14. Put on your foul weather gear again and head up to do some sailing. Or, don't put your foul weather gear back on and get into your (most likely wet) bunk. (Note: the further south we get, the less and less we'll have to do this -- we are heading toward the latitude we don't need foul weather gear!)

Another fun thing about life at an angle: The hanger storm. We have our foul weather gear and life jackets hanging on a line that runs down the main cabin. When the boat gets rolling, the hangers do to and every once in a while Willie, who is sleeping on the downhill bunk, is the victim of a hanger storm. He's generally a pretty good sport about it.

Spirits are high on board. Today we're pretty sure we revealed Sam's secret stage name: Candy Man. Watch out, ladies, he's soon coming to a port near you.

After a long but fulfilling day, the WAM watch is off to bed. Sam, Graham, and Zack are on deck. Hopefully they'll make some good progress to Honolulu in these next four hours!

-Westward and her crew





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Friday, July 17, 2015

Phosphorescent Dolphins

Aloha Westward Fans!

First and foremost, the entire crew of Westward would like to wish Shauneen Bell a very happy birthday!

We're now in the middle of our fourth day (which means it's time for the morning watch change) and have somewhere around 1,500 miles to go. Since the last posting, things have calmed significantly and we've started to dry out a bit more. We're sailing on a tight reach--sometimes romping along at up to 9.4 knots average! But, according to the latest weather reports, it seems that all could change. Before the race started the weather reports and our routing software had us sailing a more northerly route to avoid some hurricanes that were forming and that we'd be having some pretty good wind. Now it seems that we may be spending some of the later days of the race in no wind and that we could be out here quite a few more days. Only time will tell.

For now, though, the sailing is beautiful. Last night, there was a sky full of stars and the WAM (Willie, Alli, and Mara) watch was joined by some dolphin for about half an hour. They had phosphorescent trails and so we could see them swimming towards the boad as bright green streaks. They'd catch one of our stern wakes and surf for a while before veering off and then heading back for more. It was an amazing sight.

Dan Brandt, if you're reading this, we'd like to give a special thank you for the flashlights you gave Sam. They're really, really bright. And Sam knows(?) how to use them. We've all fallen victim to some night blindness when he's wielding those things around at night.

On another note, today is the Dutch Shoe Marathon. This race starts at SDYC and finishes in Coronado at CYC. Over 100 boats will head out onto San Diego Bay for the long downwind race. Many of Westward's crew sailed this race at the age of seven. In many ways, this race is the Transpac for Naples Sabots: you start with an upwind portion (not always the most fun), then you get to sail downwind for a while (fun), then you navigate a tricky channel to the finish (fun and rewarding), and finally you hit the dock to a party (fun)! If you're in the area, watch for them and if you're sailing, good luck! Check out sdyc.org (I think) for the livecast featuring Daniel Bell!

Time to head up on deck--here's hoping for a great day of fun fast sailing aboard Westward.


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