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Mistral Madness and the Hunt for Mid-Med Magic – 3AM Musings

3AM Musing while on-watch the Sailing Vessle Golden Glow

The shine of the moon extends from the aft of Golden Glow like a river of light in the darkened sea. At less than a quarter full it is enough to share its glow with the occasional cloud, but not enough to lighten the expanse of water we float upon.

Hidden in the darkened night there are clouds ahead of us. Resting on the horizon they are brought to life with bursts of yellow, orange, and an occasional white. Several lightning storms hover over the islands we approach. The light-show looks like a war in the distance, alien to the quiet, nearly cloudless moon softened night we are sailing in. Yet a reminder of the last week: where we had headwinds of 30+ knots and seas to match.

We have been playing cat and mouse with a storm system as we left eastern Italy to sail to southern Spain. The wind was often in our face and the seas were forecast to be 12-15 feet. We had a 1000 mile trip and with our dodging the worst of the weather, turned it into 1200. At 3-10 miles an hour, that translates into a week plus. Occasionally we had both engines revved into the wind and were making only a couple knots headway.

Originally we were going to stop over in Malta and maybe Tunisia in North Africa, but plans changed, we headed north in an attempt to hide behind Sicily and Sardinia and catch the winds higher up so we could sail downwind towards Mallorca and eventually Gibraltar.

The intention was to avoid the southern part of the Mistral and come down with it from the north, we had to be quick as a second storm arrives right after this one through the Tyrrhenian Sea just west of Italy. This change brought us along part of the seafaring path of Odysseus (Ulysses) in Homer’s 8th century epic poem. We passed through the Messina Strait, a narrow 1.9 mile wide cut of sea between mainland Italy and Sicily. These are home to the monsters Scylla and Charybdis represented by treacherous currents on one side and jagged rocks on the other. One could question our choice: we traded Malta and North Africa for tumultuous and whirl-pooled seas and a has-been goddess nymph with dogs emerging from her abdomen. All to avoid a few miles of headwind and 15 foot seas. What were we thinking?

The winds were manageable, being less than 35 knots for the most part, but they were blowing from exactly where we wanted to go.  With rising seas we were having difficulty making headway so we resorted to some engine assist. With the seas breaking over the bow and occasionally pounding our two levels of front facing windows, any speed we created was halted with the tremendous force of the oncoming waves. Golden Glow is in excellent shape and well maintained so the experience is not threatening to her well being, but the shudder and tossing can make a dance out of simple tasks like sipping coffee or taking a shower.

Being in head seas takes more energy than following seas. While Ellen and I have done many crossings with just the two of us, towards the end of the first week, the four hours on-watch, then four hours off-watch starts to eat into your restful state, even with the occasional extended sleep shift of 5-6 hours every other night or so.  To keep us both in wide eyed form, we chose to take a brief break in Asinara National Park on western Sicily. Normally we do not have this luxury so thought, why not? Nice to have a Sunday-feeling day after so many work days at sea.

The distant light show is moving closer. Prior checks on the radar showed little evidence of rain, as they do now. However the deep orange and red flashes have given way to more white flashes, and the storm clouds are becoming more visible in the moonlight. Signs that another storm is nearing our little home on the sea. Perhaps it is time to take some of the electronics and put them into our lightning-protective faraday cage that doubles as an oven.

I hope we never have to test the faraday-oven. Though earlier this week as we closed in on eastern Sardinia, we had a lighting strike so close that the sound and light were immediate and everywhere. You could feel the pressure of the explosion, and like another close call we had off Florida, Ellen found herself in the salon shaking her hands like she was shaking off a spider.   She does a good high-step too. Perhaps justice for robbing us of Malta and the North African coast while I slept on my off-shift. (To her defense I did tell her I was OK with either route.)

The seas and lightning are such a contrast to the calm-after-the-storm experience. What a difference a day can make: sitting on the deck reclining on arm chairs, watching artisan sunsets like we were at the Guggenheim. Sipping cool cocktails and snacking on fresh caught Albacore with ginger, wasabi and soy sauce. All under the steady pull of our spinnaker as we sail downwind on gently rocking seas. I love having this time with my woman. We talk about everything and sometimes talk about nothing. The sunsets, sunrises and experiences in whole are grander and more glorious with her hand in mine. The evening turns to night.

The Milky Way arches over the sky, horizon to horizon, like a massive rainbow of powdered sugar and stardust. Then, reflecting on the water back to the boat on both ends making a galactic circle. The sea sparkles with the mirrored sky and just below the surface iridescent jellyfish float by as they rise from the ocean depths at night. Their slow gyrations add to the magic of the infinite stars and the bigger-than-life galaxy that is our home. Holding Ellen we sway with the boat and share in the speechless “ahh” that makes for another awesome ‘Life of Pi’ moment with sky and the sea and the sea-life all shining their best dance.

Earlier in the evening the quiet of the passage was broken by the alarm whir of line running from the fishing rod. My meditative selection of fishing hardware has paid off. The winning lure: a Frankenstein creation divined from a couple battleworn lures of an earlier Atlantic and Med passage. Fresh Albacore on the hook, now time to put on the battle mindset followed by the hunter’s knife.

Albacore on GoldenGlowCatching larger fish has changed for me. Last year, after catching and eating a marvelous yellowtail tuna in the Caribbean we had two tuna shadow the boat for what seemed like more than a day afterwards. Parents or siblings, I will never know, but it made the ceremony of thanking the fish and using as much of the meat as possible all the more meaningful. And those big eyes… I wonder how many pescatarians are fisherpeople too. Small solace in saving the lives of smaller fish from the one we ate.

While Ellen and I both are primarily vegetarians, we do like occasional fish and the even rarer piece of meat. Fresh tuna, painted with olive oil, coated with an herb concoction we got from the “Spice Lady” in St Martin and then grilled. Ahhh… The freshness of catch to grill in 10 minutes, the art of pouring vodka on the gills, immediately stopping the brain, and bleeding the stressed blood make for an amazing taste. While it is an appreciated treat, the process of catching, killing and preparing makes the sacrifice the tuna made feel that much more heartfelt.

What we caught yesterday was perfect size: 12-20 lbs. That is big enough for several days of meals but not so large that we have to do a freeze. For the two of us fish over 25 lbs qualify as catch-and-release.

Taking that a step further: What if everyone who ate a McDonald’s hamburger had to raise and feed the cow and then look it in the eye prior to killing it. Then take a knife and cut it open to get to the meat and then grind that up, tossing the unused parts away. Do you think it would change our society? Billions served then converted to more fresh veggies.

But I digress.

Now the lights of Mallorca start to show themselves amongst the lessening lightning strikes on the horizon. Ellen is soon on shift and I to get a few hours rest before the sun rises and we eventually make landfall and enjoy Mallorca for a few days. 3AM has given way to 6AM and my musings for the day are over.

I will leave you with this: One of the mixed blessings of returning to land is getting cell coverage and eventual wi-fi. The Zen of the crossing is altered when the phone starts to buzz and the messages pour in. We love the re-connection with family, friends, and business, yet miss the simplicity of being totally present with those on the boat and our wonderful planet under keel. I am in gratitude for the blessing to share a little of it all with each other, and you.

As always, Hugs and Joy and make a Glorious Good Day!

Rand and Ellen from s/v Golden Glow September 23, 2016

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