A Crewmember's Friend
A Crew’s Companion in the Loneliness of the Back Deck
Long hours on the back deck staring at the wake, watching the jigs for a strike, can leave a crew member stark raving nuts. There is little debris like eel grass to clear off the hooks. The hooks have been sharpened twice already. The jigs just follow the boat long hour after hour. Above the water soars a friend, having spied the boat from many miles away. Boats mean bait, food, and amusement to an albatross. They glide up to the stern from nowhere and watch the boat’s wake for goodies. I often tossed up some small chunks of tuna to watch the albatross dive and then take off again. They actually land on the chum, tip arse over teakettle, and grab it in their beak underwater. Then they run over the water into the wind, wings out and flapping until the airspeed is right, then the webbed feet tuck up and back to allow soaring as they bear away to gain speed. They soar back and forth behind the boat, scything the air until certain there are no more treats and then leave as suddenly as they appeared. We loved the company of birds like the southern royal albatross (diomedea epomorpha) and the largest of all albatross, the wandering albatross ( diomedea exulans) with an average wingspan of 10.2 feet. In addition to albatross, there were many more shearwaters and storm petrels. Four of their species nested on the Pitcairn Island group atolls, Oeno and Dulcie Islands.
Murphy’s Petrels (pterodroma ultima)
Kermadec Petrels (pterodroma neglecta)
Herald Petrels (pterodroma hereldica)
Christmas Shearwater (puffinus nativitatis)
Another albatross which I am almost certain we identified was the Pacific Albatross or diomedea bulleri platei. This bird of the diomedea genus circumnavigates the southern ocean from 40 degrees S. latitude down to Antarctica. There is a thrill in watching these birds catch a lift off a large wave, soar up, bear away, and lift up and over another sixteen foot wave. When you are hanging on in raingear waiting for an albacore to bite, watching an albatross frees the mind and lets your spirit soar along with this magnificent creature. Sailors of past centuries have written about the good luck an albatross brings to a voyage. I feel connected through the ages with Charles Darwin, Captain Cook, Herman Melville, and other explorers and travelers who viewed these albatross with the same admiration, and who shared the mariners’ boon/curse of excessive hours to observe and appreciate the flying acumen of these largest of ocean birds.
Labels: Royal Albatross
Hamming-A Real Yawner for Most
A Typical CW (Morse code call) on the Ham Radio
On our first South Pacific Ocean tuna trip, I was an Advanced Class Amateur Radio Operator with the call sign, N7LHJ. The “N” identifies you as American, and the “7” locates you in the Northwest section which includes Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, and Utah. The final three letters are issued in the order the license is earned. This call sign was difficult to send because the last three letters are all four dits & dahs. A “dit” is a dot, short, and a “dah” is a dash” or long. N7LHJ was tapped on our straight key as: dah dit, dah dah dit dit dit, dit dah dit dit, dit dit dit dit, dit dah dah dah. Tapping call sign was usually preceded by a CQ, CQ, CQ de N7LHJ. Basically this worldwide format of CW/Morse Code is easy to understand unless the station is sending at over 20 words per minute. Most expert CW’ers are very fast and leave me in the dust. At that point in time I could copy 20 wpm but send at about 15 wpm because of the rough weather and the limitations of a straight key.
Ham radio operators have QSO’s or conversations in Morse code on certain parts of the amateur radio bands. I liked twenty meters (14000 MHz -14500 MHz) because it was usually open to somewhere. A QSO has a usual format which determines the credibility of the contact. Some locations in the world are very rare to contact such as Bouvet Island.
First you give a signal report. 599 is a perfect signal report. Then you give your name, and then your QTH or location. In your log, the time is recorded also in Zulu time which is the same as Greenwich Mean Time. Hams use shorthand which now is similar to text messaging. An actual QSO on the Papa George went like this:
14049 MHz 14:12Z 3/27/1993 33 S Latitude X 162 W. Longitude
Me:CQ CQ CQ de N7LHJ K
Them: N7LHJ de SM5AXB ur 549, ur RST is 549 my name is boes boes QTH QTH is nykoping Nykoping pse ur name bk
Me: Tnx fer rpt ur 559 559 name hr is holly holly QTH is south pacific ocean on fishing boat on fishing boat bk
Them: N7LHJ de SM5AXB, Ok on Holly bt my tx is 120RX WX is sunny. OK tnx fer QSO es gd luck 73 de SM5AXB bk
Me: SM5AXB de N7LHJ OK fb tnx fer QSO boes 88 de N7LHJ
Some other contacts made that day were with:
V63DJ, FK8GA – George in New Caledonia
YU7EA- Val - Serbia
UB5ZEP- Boris in Nicolav, Ukraine
UB5JPU –Yuri in Yalta
ZL2BNI- Nelson, NZ
HC8A- Rick – Galapagos Islands
LY1TR – Lithuania
Sending and receiving Morse code sounds dorky to say the least especially when you mostly just send signal reports, locations, weather reports, and names. After that it’s transmitters and antennas. Like any hobby, many hams spend lots of time perfecting their ham stations and bragging rights are truly warranted. Most of all, I enjoyed listening to hams all over the world from our isolated position, and it was a geography lesson to find the different countries in our atlas. In the ham world it is called hunting for DX, or making a contact with a rare country like Bouvet.
One particular QSO in Hawaii, an eyeball or face to face contact, was especially interesting. Steve and I had visited WWVH on the south coast of Kauai and noticed a tall ham antenna in a town on the way back to Poipu. We parked the rental car and walked through the neighborhood. As we were gazing up at the 80 ft or so tower with an array of antennas attached, the owner came out and invited us in. He and his wife were tour guides around the island of Kauai and his main hobby was hamming. He was a student and friend of the famous ham, KH6IJ, Katashi Nose. One entire room was given over to ham memorabilia….special QSL cards, certificates of awards, etc. We appreciated how much time and effort went into achieving these awards, and that is one reason he invited us in. All hams are family anywhere in the world.
Labels: A repeat photo of Holly at the Papa George ham station
Our little corner of the World
My Booklist for This Fishing Expedition Across the Pacific
One prerequisite for a long journey at sea is a box of books, both light reading and what some call heavies. My reading list centered on historical novels which could be found at used bookstores. The most unique use of a book was the inclusion of Adrift
in our life raft along with food, water, and extra fishing gear.
My offshore booklist:
Adrift- Stephen Callahan (1986) survival at sea in a raft
The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914- David McCullough
Fatal Shore- Robert Hughes (1988) The settlement of Australia
Two Years Before the Mast – Richard Henry Dana- One of the finest sea stories ever
KonTiki – Thor Heyerdahl - another great raft story
Sailing Alone Around the World – Joshua Slocum – My fourth read of this classic
The Sea Wolf- Jack London
The Gulag Archipelago- Aleksandr I Solzhenitsyn (1973) to know the survival of the human spirit and the desire for freedom- a must read for those who doubt our American ideals. It is a difficult read when you are stuck on a boat 1000 miles from land.
Lonesome Dove- Larry McMurtry (1988) on my top ten novels of all time list
Typhoon & Other Stories- Joseph Conrad
Moby Dick- Herman Melville – the best American novel ever. No. 1 of top ten
The Maturin/Aubrey series- Patrick O’Brian – Pure satisfaction of good storytelling
Pride & Prejudice- Jane Austen
A Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage – John Ledyard (1963)
The History of the English Speaking Peoples Vol 1-1V- Winston Churchill – the forward to Vol. 1 is a magnificent synopsis of our rule of law from chaos to civilization
Along with this list were numerous books by Tom Clancy and other contemporary authors. Sometimes we traded books, VCR tapes, food items, and mechanical parts with other boats. The technique sounds easy but sometimes it took two or three passes to get the bag of goodies. The technique:
Put items to transfer in a box. Put the box in a double garbage bag. Inflate the garbage bag and tie it securely. Take an empty plastic bottle with airtight lid and tether it with a 20 ft. long string to the inflated garbage bag. Position your boat upwind of the receiving boat. Throw it all overboard and let it drift to the other boat which picks it up with a boat hook on the first pass. If the crew fails to grab it, the boat turns around and makes another pass, and maybe another.
Labels: Our little corner of the world
Weather. It was always “weathering” in the South Pacific Ocean at 36 degrees South Latitude. We had stiff southerly breezes, a big lump, and a secondary swell from some unknown storm in a faraway region. Typically you lived life hanging on, bracing on the shower wall while bathing, sliding down the companionway wall to reach the galley, or clutching the sea rail on the edge of the galley table. Hanging on was second nature. I served spaghetti one night and a quick jerky roll slid the entire meal off our plates.
We forecasted our own weather. Our Furuno weather fax machine was programmed to print several pictures a day which included the 24 hour surface, the 48 hour surface, the 96 hour surface forecasts as well as sea direction and height. This was in the early 1990’s, hence technology onboard our vessel did not have satellite internet or images that today we take for granted. We did get a scroll of interpretations drawn on top of a crude map which showed Lat/Long and the outlines of islands and continents. The low and high pressure systems were delineated and their direction and speed given. Forecasting our own weather was a daily ritual and we were right nearly 50 % of the time!
We had some help from an amateur radio operator on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. He was Arnold, ZK1DB. His goal was to give accurate weather forecasts to the cruising fleet of sail boaters heading from the Marquesas westward through Polynesia. He helped out with search & rescue also. With an office at the airport, he was privy to the latest bulletins and locations of the typhoons which swoop across Polynesia every summer. We listened to Arnold on the 20 meter maritime net and sometimes called him to check in. We were usually too far south to be useful, but we did offer some on the spot weather checks.
Of course the WFOA fleet net gave weather updates only when it was going bad to worse. The skippers talked weather or “WX” as we abbreviated it. Our friend Tony, alias “Shamrock” would grunt as his boat bucked into a nasty wave. It literally took the air out of his lungs. You could hear it weathering if it blew over 40 knots. The rigging would hum and a loose line slapping against the mast would drive you nuts, especially if you were nodding off in your bunk. The waves slapped the sides of the boat and the sound of flying spray on the hull and portholes was like being hit with shotgun pellets. My at sea philosophy was that our bad weather day earned us an equal and opposite wonderful day, in the near future. Our trolling days in the South Pacific changed that ratio a little. We had crummy seas , grey skies, and marginal fishing for three solid weeks before some sunshine dried us out. As the skipper always said, "No whining or snivveling....you're on for the duration."
Here is a typical WX picture which is much like the ones from which we forecasted our daily weather.