3 AM Coffee

Our first passage is finally behind us. We left Neah Bay on September 1 in fog, and we arrived at Pt. Reyes National Seashore just outside the Golden Gate on September 6, also in fog. How far south do we need to go to get out of the blasted fog? As we dropped anchor we were what’s known as ‘dog tired’, which means you’ll do anything to get some sleep. We anchored in Drake’s Bay behind Pt. Reyes, took hot showers, and hit the sack. The Proscecco in the fridge would have to wait.

Pt. Reyes. We will revisit this place on the way out. I still want to go ashore.

Mike fell instantly asleep. I did not. Now, understand that I had been sleeping like a baby on benedryl during my off watch hours during the passage. Mike and I did a three hour rotation starting in the evening when the sun went down, which, by the way, happens sooner and sooner the further south you go, in case you didn’t remember that. We sure didn’t. When Mike popped his head up the companionway to change shifts I wasted no time and very little effort getting undressed and into the midship cabin berth. I would be out in less than 2 minutes, sleeping like I would never get rest again, which is pretty much how it feels to do 3 hour rotations for several nights in a row.

So don’t ask me why I couldn’t fall asleep once we were anchored and I could stretch out in my own big berth. I was too keyed up; like a toddler with no bedtime. Thinking back to one of my earliest memories, I remember being put to ride behind the back seat of my parent’s Volkswagon Bug. It was carpeted with nubby fabric that I would rub with my fingers. I remember that sensation, the snug warmness of riding back there, the motion of the car and being able to see the stars through the back window. I was an infant, or at least small enough to lay back there without climbing out. It was a good time in my life, that snug little place. (See how my mind is still wandering? And this after a good 12 hours of sleep, plus an additional 3 hour nap.)

This is how the midship cabin berth began to feel to me after about 2 days on little sleep. It’s small and snug, you can hear the engine (if it’s on) droning. If the engine is off, you can hear the water rushing over the hull. It feels safe and dry and warm. While it doesn’t have a lee cloth, half of it is behind a wall so you can get wedged back there with pillows and you won’t roll around. It doesn’t need a lee cloth. It’s like being swaddled. I decided that I would go back to that cabin and try sleeping. Bingo. I was instantly asleep. I awoke sometime in the night and decided I could continue on in the aft cabin with more room and now I’m back in my big girl bed. Some of us don’t do transitions well.

Our midship cabin. Very comfortable and snug.

I’m still not sure how to talk about much of this passage. It’s hard to break things down. The north Pacific is a mercurial bit of water. So every few hours was something different. First it’s perfect sailing, like you’ve always dreamed of. You set the sails and then relax. Then it’s up with the wind and waves. Then the wind shifts a bit. Then it dies down altogether. Honestly at first it’s like some dark magician is just waving his wand willy nilly. After a few days, it all sort of starts to make sense on a visceral level.  A passage like this is like taking all of the daysails you’ve ever done and stringing them together with night time sailing, which is an animal all its own. I have mixed feelings about night time on passages. Sometimes it’s beautiful. But then there is the sleep deprivation. On the third night, I could feel my mind going a little from lack of sleep.  I kept notes. I publish them here for your amusement.

3 AM Coffee

  1. Sailing in the dark in big waves that come up from behind you and try to grab the stern sucks big time. Is this fun? I submit to you that ‘fun’ is not the correct word.
  2. The phosphorescent animals just under the water are oddly comforting. I don’t know why.
  3. When God invented coffee they knew what they were doing. Probably they figured some human would be crazy enough to be in a cockpit in the pitch black in the middle of the damn night and their life might depend on caffeine.
  4. The Pacific Ocean is big and does not give a shit about me or my tiny boat.
  5. About every third wave is a monster. It’s best not to think about it. In fact, the only way to stay sane is to just not think about it. Just keep sailing.
  6. The 3AM-6AM shift is the worst. But also it’s the best because at about 5:30 it starts getting light and the monsters go back in their closet. (At this point I had not realized that the time of sunrise changes as you go south. Life is filled with little disappointments.)
  7. Everything is wet with condensation. The cockpit drips.
  8. When the wind and waves suddenly calm down, I get suspicious. What will they do now?
  9. Some of these phosphorescent animals are long and rectangular. Some are round. Maybe they are really Extra Terrestrials in little submarines going to their under water cities.
  10. The damn flag (American Flag on the back of the boat) is worthless. No one cares that we are Americans out here. All it does is add to the caucophony with its incessant flapping! Damn that hideous flapping!  But I am not about to go to the aft deck and try to get it down. No way in hell. Maybe I’ll get lucky and it will get shredded. With what’s going on in our country, that would be poetic.
  11. I never thought I would appreciate a safety harness. I do. No one is getting me out of this cockpit without a fight.
  12. I like how it looks when I shine my headlamp on the foresail.
  13. Our boat interior looks like it’s been trashed by marauding raccoons.
  14. Did I eat dinner? Hard to know. Am I clean? Bloody unlikely.
  15. If we get to San Fransisco, I’m going to put flowers in my hair. After I wash it. Does this give away my age?
  16. Wait. Do these glowing animals signal each other? Because it seems like they blink like undersea fireflies. I’d like to do the Google. Alas.
  17. I cannot believe it is September in the North Pacific and it’s not cold. By all rights I should be freezing. Wait. If you get hypothermia, do you know it?
  18. Things must be settling down. It’s been 20 minutes and I haven’t had to hold on to keep from flying across the cockpit. Why don’t they put seatbelts in these things?
  19. Whoops. Spoke too soon.
  20. 6:00 and it’s almost dawn. Maybe the dark was better. Everyone says ‘fair winds and following seas’, but the sea is following a little too close for me. It’s just that close to breaking on the stern. Bad sea. Bad.

    A watery sunrise.

There would have been more to this, but fortunately Mike came up to relieve me and I hit the sack.

Someone is bound to ask why we didn’t take extra crew on board with us. The answer is twofold: first, we didn’t know anyone who had ocean sailing experience and was available to go. We are not going to put just anyone on our boat with us. This is true for a wide variety of reasons. The wrong crew could make or break a passage. But really, we wanted to do it ourselves; to rely on only us. We can’t count on having crew all the time in order to do a passage. We have to know how far we can push ourselves as a couple.

I almost hit my breaking point when we sighted land at Pt. Arena, sailed close to it, but then the wind forced us to either turn on the engine and bash into wind and waves, or tack back out to sea. We chose to tack. We were both so tired. I knew this would extend our time at sea by another day. But it was the right thing to do. Bashing into wind and waves isn’t good for boats, or for people. I will probably do another post on the emotional side of this kind of passage. It’s something people do not talk much about but it really is an important part of the experience that people should prepare for.

When this fog lifts we’ll go under that Golden Gate Bridge. I’m not going to waste my photo ops on a foggy day. Meanwhile, we are anchored at Bolinas Bay. We left Drake Bay behind due to fog and no cell reception. Here, there is sun and I’m writing this post. More later after more sleeping.

S/V Galapagos out, for now.


33 thoughts on “3 AM Coffee

  1. Get in touch when you are in Ventura or Channel Islands Harbor! Would love to meet up! Lots of WWS here Ev Anderson 805-252-0719

  2. The fog. I can deal with the night, even a moonless night. I have been doing the midnight to 4am or occasionally 5am. I don’t mind it a bit and like the later morning which is my best sleep time (hormones). But fog? Day time or night time, I feel anxious. Claustrophobic. The fog has been endless it seems since we left as well. I am impressed with your 6 day passage! Enjoy SanFran.

    • You’ll have to let me know your recommendations for this area. We are not really city people. I get overwhelmed with the sheer business of places like this. I think it makes me feel like fog makes you feel. I resent fog, but I don’t hate it. I do think we may try the 4 hour watch schedule next time. It may work better if we can get used to it quickly.

  3. Oh my, this brings back so many memories, Melissa, although we did not go down the American West Coast. Instead we headed out from Bamfield (Canadian version of Neah Bay) until we were right off the Continental Shelf. The took a left turn and headed directly to the Marquesas.

    Your description of the 3 hour watches (which is what we also did) are brilliant! And I giggled at your list of random thoughts you recorded whilst on watch. One’s mind really does go a bit wonky with lack of sleep.

    I look forward to reading about your future adventures.

    Fair winds and smooth seas!! (a bit better than following seas??)

    • I’ll take smooth seas any day! We have been to Bamfield a couple of times, once by boat. It’s an interesting place with its little cat village where their strays live and people feed them. I think Galapagos would have been happier with your route. She kept trying to head out to sea because that seemed to be where the really good sailing was. Glad to have you following along!

  4. Yey to you both. The first one is always the hardest.

    For seasickness, many cruisers take Stugeron. It does not cause drowsiness. It is not FDA approved in the USA (go figure). Outside of the USA it is sold over the counter. In the UK, it is commonly used to treat nausea for pregnant women. My point being, it is quite safe to take.

    I use it sparingly. I usually take some when I know we are going to get a blow and due to it not having side effects, I have my wits about me. Much easier to stay alert on watch when not drowsy 🙂

    Many sailors while in the USA will order it from Canada. It is very inexpensive.

    When we first got some, I took it while at dock to make sure I don’t have any issues. Like all other people I have talked to, no side effects and no seasickness.

    Mark and Cindy
    sv Cream Puff

    • Another recommendation for Stugeron. We bought some while in the UK, over the counter, and carry it with us along with meclazine and scopalmine patches. We are fortunate in that neither of us is prone to sea sickness, although Mike can have little flutters if he has to be in the engine room under way or had to focus on reading something and the boat’s moving around alot. We stay very well hydrated and that helps as well. I know our day will come. But, knock on wood, spin and spit three times, I hope not. We both commented on how if we had been sea sick this trip would have been a whole different story.

        • Oh, I have no idea if I can take meclazine! We haven’t tried any of the sea sickness meds, and we really should do that before our next passage. I would lean toward Sturgeron because so many cruisers recommend it for its lack of side effects. But Mike and I have never (knock on wood) suffered from sea sickness, although we’ve had opportunity to do so. I’m hopeful we can keep it that way.

  5. You conjured up so many memories of our first passage. Not all the memories are good ones though none are actually terrible. Fair winds to you both.

  6. Congratulations , what an amazing life milestone to share together, arriving in Sausalito! Well done. Thanks for sharing your journey

  7. Congratulations on your first passage. We don’t travel at night; there isn’t usually a need. But on long car trips that go through the night; I am always the nighttime DD. I’m not sure if hubby would be able to stay awake.

    You are both quite fortunate that you don’t get seasick. Neither do hubby and I; except as you mentioned. If we have to go below for any reason for an extended period it usually does us in.

    Love SF and Sausalito. Hope you have plenty of time to explore. If you are into wine; a winery bus trip might be fun…..

    • I’d love to not travel at night. This is probably what we will miss about coastal cruising. We’ll be able to explore San Fransisco for a few days anyway. Not sure how long we’ll be here, though. We’re not really into wine, although I know this is a great area for those who are!

  8. Congratulations! What memories ! We did 5 on, 5 off at sea except that leg when we had ” crew”. I usually started at midnight. Great If conditions were ” routine”. If not watches were adjusted or no one slept. Seeing the sun come up on a new day at sea was my very very favourite thing. As in ” made it through another night”! I always made hard boiled eggs for the night, good protein and easy to eat. Only once did I try to peel one in the cockpit! I did try those dry noodle soups, just add boiling water from the thermos, but the cockpit floor in the morning, yuk. Awesome, Mike and Melissa, hope you get that package or I will re-send priority. No advice from here about SF or area. It was 1993. But it was really fun. Galapagos knows how to get to Alameda YC if it is still there. Nicely out of the way.
    Thanks for posting, Best regards, Jan and Skooke.

    • You know, I forgot about the hard boiled eggs! That would have been a good thing to do. So it’s on the list for next passage. We had the package forwarded to our house, but it’s not there yet. Hopefully it will get through. Seems silly it would take that long! And I completely agree about greeting the sun! It’s such a relief to see it after a night watch. Thanks for sticking around for the blog!

  9. Congratulations ! Sorry we’re late but we were also on passage(s) and I’m just getting caught up. We only had a 40 hour passage this time and things were beautifully calm but I was stlil brain fogged and exhausted at the end. You have all my admiration for 6 days in the fog !! Melissa, I had exactly the same reaction to the bed situation. We were visiting friends and I thought I would luxuriate in a big flat bed in their home. As soon as I laid down, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of sadness. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me until I realized that everything was too quiet and too still… I felt dead ! I got over it fast, though…
    Congrats again from a blustery Porto Vecchio Corsica

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