Thursday, April 24, 2014

Atlantic crossing number 7

 This is from the end of my most recent crossing. It rambles on a bit, as the brain does at sea...

As we wrap up 18 days at sea I thought I should write a bit before my brain goes back into “normal or real life” mode. Something happens when I’m at sea for an amount of time. The way I think about things changes. My priorities change, thoughts go deeper while at the same time things simplify. Maybe it’s the lack of stimulation or some kind of sensory deprivation that does it. Maybe it’s the unavoidable realization that we are very small in a very large ocean. For a week or two we feel appropriately insignificant to the great big world. Holding on to this perspective is difficult as soon as we’re back in cell phone range and the smart phones start buzzing, but it’s a perspective that is important to have from time to time. It is equally as important to give it up and come back to land and real life. Some sailors spend just a little too long at sea and start to give up on the world on land. At sea many things seem unimportant and one can start down a long road of indifference. Though our actions, efforts and beliefs aren’t necessarily making major changes or a big difference, it is important to give those beliefs and actions their due diligence and continue to care.

On this crossing we have had relatively perfect weather. The weather pattern was different from the norm, however, and took us on a route much farther south than usual when sailing from west to east. Usually we would sail north by north east towards the Azores, stop to refuel, reprovision or just relax and continue south east towards Gibraltar. This trip took us out of Antigua and north by north east for a few days before planting a large low pressure system to the north of us. The system dictated that we stay south and ride the bottom edge of it. The breeze filled in and we basically sailed on the rhumb line all the way across with breeze abaft abeam or behind us. The breeze was on average around 20kts and we averaged a boat speed above 10 knots for most of the 18 days. Fast, great sailing at a comfortable angle, we couldn’t have asked for more. A crossing as good as this one is a pretty spectacular thing. The boat responded well to all of the conditions and was a pleasure to sail. Even as we approached Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean we had strong breeze behind us and couldn’t seem to slow down if we tried! We were sailing main only and were still well above 10 knots!

Everything seemed to align for this trip. The weather was ideal and the night sky was full of action. We left with the moon waxing and had moonlit nights for the first 10 days. The full moon coincided with a lunar eclipse that the clouds parted for and we observed the bright white fade into a dark yellow as the shadow of the Earth fell across the moon’s face just before sunrise. The sun rose before the Earth moved passed the moon and it left us pondering the basic physics and geometry that are in play when the three local celestial objects align. I’m sure I knew it all once. At least my very expensive education led to a blog with correct grammar! As with every moon phase the moon began to shrink and night watches started with darker skies filled with stars. Sailing under a full moon is beautiful and a bit easier but when the moon stays below the horizon and the world is pitch black I can see the stars. Light pollution is everywhere in our world, even on small islands in the Caribbean. Staring up at the stars and planets from the middle of the ocean can take my breath away and again I feel small, but it’s a wonderful feeling. From the boat we watch as Nature and the Universe turn and roll on and on with or without us. War, oil, climate change, politics, Nature doesn’t care about any of that. Long after we destroy the planet we live on, it will continue to exist. The wind will blow, the waves will roll, and the night sky will still be there providing a spectacular show for whoever can take the time to watch it. On and on, constantly moving. The boat keeps sailing and the watch schedule rotates. Yet another way sailing is like running long distance. I keep moving and the miles tick by. They’re not all easy miles, like a rough day at sea, but they pass and eventually I arrive at my destination, whether its 3000nm across an ocean, or 30 miles ahead of where I started.

Cardio training offshore is another story. This trip was as comfortable as one could be but it was still at an angle or better yet, rolling from one side to the other, making even basic squats and jumps difficult to do without falling over.  The last month before a marathon is pretty important for training and heading offshore for a three week crossing is not in any of the training guides. Though my muscles are constantly adjusting to the angle and roll of the ship, it’s not quite like running for hours on end. Most days I would run up and back on the windward deck for as long as my ADD would allow. When the wind did die down and we had to resort to using the engine I ran around and around the deck for an hour or two at a time. With a rough calculation I determined I run about half as fast as normal when turning 180 degrees every 85 feet. People train for and set records for 1/2 and full marathons on treadmills, this was my version of gym training. Running around and around, ducking under sheets and runners and balancing when the boat pitched or rolled is the ultimate full body training. Using all my muscles for balance and resorting to catching myself on a life line when I couldn’t must be good for the core and upper body as well as the legs. The running paired with 30 minutes of team circuits at the back of the boat will hopefully leave me with some muscle strength when I step off the boat in two days.  We did the best we could on this trip and I know full well I’ll be paying for it come the 18th, but it was worth it.

Like marathon running there is a point in every delivery that makes me think, “how long is this trip?! How much farther?” and like mile 7 that point is usually around day 7. I get offshore, usually to some slightly unpleasant conditions, hammer through it for 2 or 3 days and enjoy the reliability and comfort of the trades for a couple days after. Finally, after adjusting to the watch and sleep schedule and finishing the book I brought along, I start to get antsy. This feeling lasts for a few days, through a tv series or two and a few more books. Then, all of the sudden, the trip is over. The excitement of the next port, whether it’s a new one or one that is well known, starts to seep in. My head starts to fill with friends that I’ll see when I get there. My legs start to ache for my favorite runs. In Mallorca I can’t wait to put in some long distances out in the country, through the rolling hills and old farms. My stomach starts to rumble for whatever local cuisine is best. In Spain it is the datilles con bacon tapas, the bocadillos jamon for breakfast, and the red wine! I look forward to and dread at the same time, signing back on. Checking email and Facebook, finding the next job, making travel arrangements and packing. A good crossing, like a good run, has a little bit of everything in it and leaves me wanting more. I’m excited to tie up the boat and run around and I’m excited to jump back on board and head off again. Just keep moving, I guess. 18 days at sea with nothing to do but sail the boat and nothing to see but the sea and the sky, gone by in flash.  Let’s hope the marathon feels the same way!

Thursday, April 3, 2014


I managed to hit the 22 mile mark today but it was not pretty. Even with being out the door at 6:30 this morning it was already hot. There hasn't been a whole lot of wind for a week now and everything was pretty stagnant as I ran out of the marina. Since I haven't put in any big miles recently I decided to run this one mostly to prove to myself that I could do it. I took it slow and stayed on the flat roads. To run 20 miles in Tortola you have to do some hunting for flat roads. Even with the flat course I was looking a lot in sweat. From Nanny Cay I ran toward Road Town, through the waterfront and to the roundabout heading out of town. There is a 5 mile turn around there and a gas station where I fueled up with a water and an apple juice. I can't drink Gatorade or sports drinks primarily because I don't like them but I also because when I drank them in high school for soccer games I would cramp up afterwards. I choose to drink juice, usually apple, because its full of sugar that's easy to burn. I ran the 5 miles back to Nanny Cay and decided it was really hot and dealing with finding water on the way was a pain that I didn't want to deal with. I headed to the little gym at the hotel and set up to run the next 10 on the treadmill. Being Tortola the treadmill was pretty old, squeaking and the belt kept slipping. This is not how I wanted to spend the next 10 miles. I debated about waiting for the afternoon to finish the remaining 10. As a squall rolled through and rain came down I made up my mind to head back out on the road. I had saved the better half of the run for the second part anyways and took a left out of the driveway this time. Soper's Hole Marina is 6 miles down the coast road and is a good refuel and turnaround spot. I ran down with a water bottle strapped to my wrist with a hair band. I bought another juice and refilled my water bottle for the 6 back. I finished and felt ok but I am curious about what I should be fueling with during or before.
The water bottle on my wrist thing is working pretty well but it can't be too big or it gets really heavy to have on my arm. I am not doing any kind of food fuel and I think I need to figure something out.
What do you use to fuel before or during a long run? Do you stop and drink and move on or keep running? What do you do for food? Candy? Gu's? 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

a little appreciation

sting ray in Cuba

Parrot fish have blue lips!

Cayo Largo, Cuba

BVI Sunset

I’ve been thinking a lot about appreciating what I have. In a Superyacht event sailors get flown into whatever island the event is at, put up in a villa, fed and entertained all while getting paid to sail the boats. Some of the sailors on another boat were overheard complaining that the guests on the boat get the nicer sunscreen and the race crew only get the cheap stuff. My eyes rolled pretty hard at this and made me think hard about the silly things I’ve been complaining about. Since the grass is always greener, or the water is always bluer, I often complain about traveling so much. This winter I thought long and hard about moving to New England full time and giving up life on the water. I thought ‘I’ve done this and I’m ready to give it up.’ The truth is that I really enjoy all the bits and pieces my life ends up involving. I get to live in places when the good stuff is happening, the Caribbean in the winter during race season and Newport and New England in the summer. And I get to do some pretty random and interesting things. Spending 20 hours in Istanbul or sailing to Cuba for the second time. This week I stayed in a villa in St. Barth’s for the third time!
A friend of mine, who is a pretty inspiring runner, busted his ankle recently and it made me think a lot about appreciating what I have as a runner. I don’t have a marathoner’s physique to help with striding out over 26 miles but I have strong legs that can go forever if I work up to it. Thanks to the volcanic islands I live and work on, I’m becoming a much stronger hill runner. I’m trying to focus on the positive point in my life and in running because my motivation has been lacking in the past month. I just looked back
at my Facebook posts and realized it has been more than 20 days since I ran 18.5. That doesn’t seem right to me but I’m pretty sure Facebook doesn’t lie. That also means there are less than 40 days and four 20+mile runs until I run 30 miles. My mileage drop is my own fault, because the thing about running is everything is your own fault, the good and the bad. I can blame it on work, small islands with impossible hills and travel schedules, but let’s face it, my motivation has lacked this month. Here’s a recap of what I’ve been up to, the miles I’ve run and the places I’ve sailed.

A couple of weeks ago I delivered a boat to Cuba from Virgin Gorda. It was a 5 day trip of motorsailing dead down wind for 1000 nm. We had a pretty good sail for the 12 hours that we were between the Dominican Republic and Cuba, where the wind funnels through the two islands. We arrived in Cuba at an island cay off the south shore called Cayo Largo. Sailing to Cay Largo you can guess which song was stuck in my head for days! Cuba is a fascinating and beautiful place. You can see my photos from my trips there last year here. I didn’t get any time to explore this year since traveling back to Cuba is neither fascinating nor beautiful, just a planes, trains and automobile puzzle that takes some time. Though planes fly from Havana to Cayo Largo multiple times a day there are no planes that fly from Cayo Largo to Havana. A travel agent had booked myself and the other crew flights from Havana for the next morning and we had to get to the main land, 30 miles away, across the island that is 50 miles wide and to the big city by 5 am the next morning. We managed to find a flight to Varadero and convinced a taxi driver when we landed that he wanted to drive us the 2 1/2 hours to Havana. After a quick sleep in a nameless hotel we hailed a noisy 1950’s cab to the airport at 5 the next morning. From Cuba we flew to Panama City (sometimes you have to go left to go right, right?) back to San Juan and finally to Tortola. All in all I was pretty impressed that the agent was able to piece a trip together that only took 1 day. I even made it back to Tortola for Friday night pizza at the Watering Hole with Meredith and Ashley! 
I had a weekend on Tortola before heading back up to the North Sound for the YCCS Superyacht Regatta. On Sunday morning I managed to find the public track in Road Town. I know that Road Town is not very big and finding a quarter mile track and sports complex should not be very hard but the track is completely enclosed and it took a few laps of the area to find where it actually was. Next step was finding a way in. It’s pretty typical in the Caribbean to build a shiny new facility and then lock it up so that no one can use it. I finally found a torn down fence and an unlocked gate and let myself in. It was hot and sunny but with a bit of breeze that made the middle 200m of the 400m repeats I was doing more enjoyable. I decided to do two of the speed workouts that I’ve missed and started with two sets of 6X400 with a 90 sec rest interval. I took a solid break and continued with and decreasing intervals of 1200, 1000, 800, 600, 400 with 200m rest intervals between. It was really nice to have a proper track to run on. Repeats on a track make it easier to track how I’m doing, when I’m slowing down, ect. I ran 7X800 this morning and am really starting to enjoy speed work.
During the YCCS event I ran the hills in Virgin Gorda and the Oil Nut Bay run a few times. We sailed to St. Barth’s for the Bucket Regatta and I found a cool trail to run on, though it wasn’t very long. The run home from the harbor every day included, you guessed it, more hills. I’m looking forward to getting back to Tortola and putting in a 20 miler on flatter ground as well as a speed work out on the track.
I think I have decided on which race to do for my 30 miler day. The Sugarloaf marathon is on May 18, the day after my birthday. It looks like a beautiful course and is said to be slightly downhill the whole way. I figure if I’m going to throw in a couple extra miles, a downhill race wouldn’t be so bad.
Here’s to a more motivated April, which is, scarily, the month before May!