Voyaging with Velella: Happy Thanksgiving!

Continuing the “Voyaging with Velella” series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, Prescott and their kitten Nessie are on a planned 9-month cruise in the tropics.

22 53.65′ N
109 53.16′W

Cabo Beach

We put on Christmas music yesterday and I was reminded of being snowed in to Prescott’s apartment in Seattle a couple years ago. I held that chilly, cozy thought in my mind as I savored a tart slice of grapefruit in the blinding sun. It’s hard to believe that today is Thanksgiving, because being from “up North,” I associate this day with piles of snow and hot cider and pumpkin bread bounty. This year though, our Thanksgiving will be celebrated with a swim and snorkel in the 75-degree “pool,” fresh guacamole, and bright yellow cans of Pacifico Clara. There is no sign of Thanksgiving in the sweeping blue bay at Cabo San Lucas, but I have a long list of things I am thankful for.

Numerous times on the way down the coast, I decided to become the voluntary spokeswoman for several pieces of gear we have on Velella. I even tried to write a couple of odes (I’m not kidding). It’s no secret that cruising is seriously hard work–so our gear choices have become hugely important to me on a daily and hourly basis. Let me give you an example.

Because we’re downwind sailing almost all of the time in relatively light air, our foresail tends to collapse and snap full when we’re rolling over the swell. It’s hard on the rig and irritating, and most often requires us to douse the sail altogether and sail on just the main (a slow way to go). So, I am extremely thankful for our brand new whisker pole, compliments of Forespar, which is rigged on a sliding track on the front of the mast. The pole telescopes and holds the foot of the foresail out on the opposite side of the main (to windward), allowing the sail to fill with air unobstructed by the main and steadying it from collapse.

We spent 48 hours recently running wing on wing with the whisker pole, making 6.5 knots instead of 4–a HUGE improvement in speed for us. The whisker pole turned what could have been a passage of two nights and three days into only one and a half days. Which means more time lounging around at anchor, reading and snorkeling in the sun–and that’s the point of all this, right?

We also upgraded Velella with a SSB transceiver and Pactor Modem, a combination of radio equipment which allows us to receive daily weather forecast files on our computer and connect with huge nets of sailors headed in our same direction. Every day, we listen to Don Anderson from Santa Barbara give detailed voice forecasts for our specific locations–it’s like having a professional weather router for free. And, the modem allows us to send and receive email from home. On a journey filled with empty sea and time alone, the ability to connect over long distances with other sailors and with our family is crucial for our morale.

Perhaps the biggest boon has been the Monitor self-steering wind vane. I can’t say enough about this ingenious framework of stainless steel mounted quietly on our stern. Not only does it draw zero energy, deriving all of its power from the wind and leverage from mechanical gears, it steers the boat flawlessly and efficiently. The Monitor has taught us to be better sailors, because in order for it to work, the sails need to be perfectly balanced. It’s been the best teacher of the fine art of sail trim I’ve ever had. It steers the boat 98% of the time–freeing the former helmsman up to view dolphins from the bow, go below to make a quick sandwich, or curl up under the dodger with a book at night.

It is such an integral part of our lives that we even gave it a name (a common thing for cruisers to do actually). In our logbook when we notate the running position, barometric reading, conditions, etc., under “At the Helm” we now put “SG” more often than not. Samwise Gamgee at the helm. Prescott named it Sam after the Lord of the Rings character–-when I asked him why that name, he replied, “Because when Frodo was too weak to make it up the mountain with the Ring, Sam was the one who carried him.”

Oh, and the list goes on. Our hot black sun shower, shady sun awning, powerful array of solar panels, etc. etc. They all come together in a fantastic symphony working together to make the trip safe, comfortable, and so much fun. So I am extremely thankful this Thanksgiving that we have gear that acts as a silent crew, helping us with the heavy lifting of such an undertaking.

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