Atlantic Island Voyage: Tobago 1999

Shifra's Log, January 30, 1999
Anse Bateaux, Tobago.


We've been here in the tropical paradise of Tobago for a couple weeks now, I figure it's probably about time I checked in with y'all. Since we are in the Caribbean I thought I would take advantage of the crystal clear water, well preserved reefs, and our multiple sets of dive equipment to finally learn how to scuba dive. It just so happened that the hotel overlooking the bay where we are is not only situated near some of the best diving on Tobago, but it is a "Five-Star PADI Resort". I'm not sure what that means (other than that they can charge more for lessons and we get a GOLD certification card rather than a SILVER one), but they are only a miniscule dinghy ride away so once we got here the entire crew of the Good Ship Tammy Norie started in on dive camp. Each morning at nine o'clock we putted in to the dock with our PADI manuals tucked under our arms, Advanced Open Water Diver course for them, ordinary Open Water Diver course for me. After an excruciatingly boring 3 days of classroom work, not to mention the HOMEWORK (I thought I had finally escaped school!) I was ready to "see the fun and adventure diving offers". Sadlly enough the course didn't offer a ritual torching of the PADI manual, because really, there is nothing I would like more than to see that thing go up in flames. Anyway, despite the cheesy writing in the textbook, diving is incredible. The feeling of being underwater and just hovering is...amazing. I feel like the reef is sort of an added bonus, just feeling the water all around me and watching my bubbles ascend to the surface is enough to give me chills.

Nonetheless, the reef is there and what a bonus it is! I've become accustomed to creatures that have previously only existed in photographs. I've learned that parrotfish aren't just blue, they glow, and trunkfish are even stupider looking in 3D, but most importantly I've learned that no photograph and no drawing could ever hope to capture the mindboggling grace of a manta ray. On my final training dive I had the incredible luck to be visited by one of those exquisite creatures. He/she/it was...wow. The only way I can describe their movement is like the most fluid and graceful bird, but without bones. This manta was about 6 or 7 feet from wingtip to wingtip and seemed just as curious about the 5 oddly colored noisy things that had descended into it's world as those bizarre things were about it. I spent most of my air in a gleeful ten minutes of communing with the manta, we followed it up towards the surface, then down again to the depths. We petted, tickled, and caressed it's back and belly until it got sick of us then followed it around until it was ready for more. It was strange, even from close up it looks like mantas would be velvety smooth, like an eel, but they're not. Their skin is rough, like a cat's tongue or a 5 o'clock shadow, and when you touch them you can feel and see the muscle twitch under your hand. It was such a beautiful experience, the woman who was diving with me came to the surface at last when her tank was completely empty and screamed at the top of her lungs out of sheer joy, even the dive masters were feeling giddy.

Hopefully while we're here I'll get a chance to see another one, keep your fingers crossed for me. 'Till next time,

Shifra T.

Atlantic Island Voyage: January 1999

Captain's Log
0200 hours, 9 January 1999

Mike, navigating

Mike, navigating

Position is 11d34m north, 59d31m west by a very satisfactory fix using the moon, Capella and Canopus. Conditions are the best they have been for celestial navigation, with seas running not more than 10 feet, perfectly clear skies, and a half moon giving enough light for a clear horizon, but not so much as to blank out the stars. The stars are a bit different down at this latitude: Polaris is very low on the horizon, and we can see both the Southern Cross and Canopus, neither of which is ever visible in Maine. This fix is consistent with yesterdays sun fix, and within 2 miles of our GPS, and puts us 57 miles west of Tobago, in good position for a mid-day landfall today, which is ideal. And a very welcome landfall it will be, although it is almost sad to watch the glass run out on this best of all possible passages, 2200 miles in 14 days, with a steady wind all the way and the proverbial flowing sheet, no significant gear failures and no injuries. Almost too good to be true; no doubt something nasty is waiting for us in Scarborough, which is where we will go to clear customs.

This run has been an interesting laboratory for observing our adaptation to motion. There was no gentle transition this time: we went immediately into steep 15-20 foot seas and 30 knot winds, which moderated only in the second week. We experienced the usual spectrum of nausea and more or less difficulty spending time below at first, which is always the case. But I was particularly struck by the more subtle effects of motion this time, not very original observations I am sure, but fascinating to contemplate nonetheless. There are other physical effects besides nausea; headache is common, as is lassitude, both in the sense of sleepiness and in the sense of great mental effort being required for tasks which are normally easy. Sleep is more fragmented and less restorative, with all of us needing more daytime sleep in the first few days. One is more susceptible to fear, and to a sense of feeling overwhelmed by it all and unable to cope with new challenges. These are particularly poignant impairments in weather conditions where frightening things occur, and crises requiring masterful coping and quick action are likely to arise. Other fairly subtle psychological effects occur, including a sort of deadening of the higher human traits: sense of humor is strikingly diminished, as is the capacity for pleasure and delight, and for creative or imaginative thought. The parallel with clinical depression is irresistible. The best description I can come up with to describe the entire constellation of changes would be "dogged coping". To be sure, some of this is purely physical challenge. For example, to heat up and then eat a can of soup in a seaway, without flinging it all over the boat or yourself, and without grievous bodily injury, is a kind of epic gymnastic feat, not unlike what the ancient Irish warriors had to pass through to join Cuchulain's band (minus the requirement to memorize poetry).

The motion-induced changes come into sharper relief as we begin to emerge into our normal states of function. The nausea improves, to be sure, but far more than that. One begins to hear spontaneous laughter again, flashes of wit. The log entries become funnier and more articulate. Appetite improves, and the food both gets and seems much better, not just fuel, as if a Norwegian palate had become French overnight. Undone tasks start to be tended to in an increasingly brisk fashion. And one begins to hear phrases like "Hey, we should try ..... sometime"; imagination returning, like spring. It is so much like what people describe as they emerge from depression or chronic illness, there must be some neurochemistry in common, although the time frame is far more compressed. Perhaps it is just that motion, like any other stress, has an depressive effect on mental function, but one that most people can adapt to and overcome in a matter of days.

And more than overcome. Perversely, motion itself can become a source of pleasure. Take the case of Bernard Moitessier, the famous French singlehander. After sailing once around the world in the Globe race, well ahead of the other competitors, he amazed the world by forgoing the prize and continuing on for another 10,000 miles to Tahiti, most of it in the rough seas of the high southern latitudes. In part, he did this because he loved the sensation of constant motion; he described a kind of hypnotic joy, and dreaded ending it by going ashore. Any lessons here? Probably not, just some random reflections from a mind reawakening to what passes for normality aboard this here barky. I hope you all have a week that is moving, but not too moving. 

MR

Atlantic Island Voyage: 12deg 28min North- 55deg 25min West - 1999

Crew's Log- January 7, 1999
Joel Rowland (nephew etc.)
What shall we do with the Drunken Sailor?
Position- 12deg 28min North- 55deg 25min West

My last entry and news from home about the huge snowstorm got me thinking (ouch) and I entertained myself for the duration of an entire 4 hour night watch pondering these two questions...

What would be worse to be hit by than a flying fish?

a flying cow
a frying pan
a snowstorm
the Mafia
an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile
a flying fish wrapped in a lawsuit
a wet cat
a truck driver
What are things I'd rather be hit by than a flying fish?
beer
ice cream
a thrown kiss
a biscuit
a flying fish wrapped in a hundred dollar bill
a revelation
(this has got to end somewhere)
(truck optional)

Believe me the list goes on, but 4 hours of things that make me snigger at 4 o'clock in the morning probably isn't what ya'll were hoping for when you logged onto this website.

Onward and upward---

Mother Ocean and our galaxy have been putting on a spectacular show for the past week and a half. At night when the sky's clear the moon and stars have been spectacular- a few days ago when the moon was full it was so bright that I couldn't look directly at it without hurting my eyes. Sunrises and sunsets have also been of the religious experience order and I'm lucky enough to be on watch from 4-8 morning and evening, so I see them all. The other evening there was a particularly amazing one which inspired me to write in my neglected journal, here it is... Before I start I'd like to point out the lack of references to beer and ice cream- thank you very much.

'The sunset tonight was long and slow and beautiful. I was enjoying steering the boat, wind shifty enough to keep it entertaining. I was focused on the seas coming up behind us, wheel in my hand, our sails winged out in front of me and the boat moving and alive beneath my feet, hardly noticed the sun was setting. My mind drifted and I became aware of the sky, first the colors pulled me in, pretty sunset colors shimmering orange and pink against the blue, then the texture of the clouds, all at different altitudes and distances- Tall, billowing cumulus clouds- distant and sweeping black and gray squall lines, high cirrus wisps and tiger stripes of stratus, and I noticed that one side of each cloud was dark- they had a day side and a night side. The sky behind the clouds was a deep blue with a hazy silvery sheen- For a moment all my senses opened up and I felt like I was on the outside looking in at the vast sky above me- I saw the line where day and night meet- Twilight- I could feel the Earth moving through space and sensed the planet spinning beneath me. I watched the twilight line move westward. We are over a thousand miles in the middle of the Atlantic and I know we shared this sunset and this twilight with no-one on Earth, the colors of the clouds darkened, the sky became azure and stars began to appear and to sparkle and the night began.'

So that's it, things are well. We are now within 350 miles of Tobago. Next island, next party. Quality, Mon.

Peas Ruv, Joel

Atlantic Island Voyage: 14d 34m North, 34d 33m West - 1998

Captain's Log
30 December 1998, 1600 hours local time

Position: 14d 34m North, 34d 33m West

Day 4 of our passage to Tobago, and we have covered 580 miles, a little over 1/4th of the way; outstanding progress for the old barky. Still contending with a very boisterous trade wind, up to 40 knots at times last night, but moderating some today. The tossing and heaving is mostly done, but we are still rockin' and rollin'. A few bruises and some minor wear and tear on the boat. Lots of flying fish aboard during the night, with the occasional fish in the face while standing watch: that wakes a person up! Still flying single jib, reefed down most of the time. While crude, this has the advantage of being able to reef and unreef quickly and safely from the cockpit as squalls come and go, so no one has to venture out on the exposed foredeck. If the wind ever drops, we will try some more creative sail plan. The poor rooster that we picked up in the Cape Verde's doesn't know what's happening, and has taken to biting the hand that feeds him, although he let out a good crow at dawn today; Joel will be providing a full report in upcoming logs. Happy New Year to all our friends and family.

MR

Atlantic Island Voyage: 260 miles West of Brava - 1998

Captain's Log, 28 December 1998
Position: 14d 42m North, 29d 08m West (260 miles west of Brava)
Wind 20-30 knots, northeast
Course 264 degrees true, speed 6-7 knots

The "Milk Run" to Tobago has begun as more of a Milkshake; lots of wind, 15-foot waves, lots of water aboard, and caked salt has now replaced the harmattan dust on our decks and persons, arguably an improvement. We are making fine progress, 144 miles in the past 24 hours, and happy to be moving purposefully again, though we could all do with a bit more modest motion. 1900 miles to go--New World, here we come!

MR