I have been at it on the Pacific for 2000nm now...
Concerned kind crew of Varamo, Limassol.
The scale of vessels was no match!
2,000 miles on my odometer...
September 4th, 2007-Day 57 15.1010N,136.9058W
Today, just shy of two months at sea, the odometer on my chartplotter rolled past 2,000nm. "30 miles a day, thousand miles a month" were the numbers that the late Peter Bird had once observed, as the average pace of a solo ocean rower.
I am 2,082nm from home in Seattle and 1,572nm from Bodega Bay where I started rowing. In 1,450nm is Christmas island where I may be lucky to stop and access the Internet for some software required for my primary PDA (I am using the spare now to write this dispatch). Another 4,784nm remains to Mooloolaba Harbor in Australia.
If you were to review my course to date, you would get glimpses of my navigation priorities at varying locations. From departure till west of Point Arena, the goal was to take advantage of the temporary favorable winds to put some distance between me and land. The next phase required a quick advance due south avoiding California shores, until I could turn southwest when even with Los Angeles. Then, I ran as far west as I could to cross 125W longitude which put cold currents between me and storms originating from the Mexican shores. Since August 11th when Hurricane Flossie formed far from me, I have been trying to put as much south into my course as possible.
The logic in this last phase was twofold: to be in position to take advantage of currents and trade winds, and to drop south of the storm tracks at this time of the year. It seems the logic has paid off, and I have reached both goals. I have engaged the winds and currents further south, so they are helping me, rather than forcing me too far west on my Equatorial crossing. Also, the storms are tracking north and east of me now. Had I not started rowing past mid-July, I would have had to postpone my departure until late August to wait out the storm season at these latitudes where I just crossed.
I was awakened yesterday morning by the chirping of my SEA-ME transponder. Normally I pick up radar signals from over the horizon, so I turned off its buzzer. It was time to get up anyway. I filled a small bucket with sea water, and using a sponge rinsed my face and head above neck, which was refreshing. Lately, the morning temperatures have been hovering around 27C (80F) and I no longer use my summer sleeping bag, which never got any more use than as a blanket over my lower back and upper legs. I wake up with a sticky uncomfortable film of sweat, beckoning a rinse off in the morning. Rowing outside in the sun is more comfortable with the blowing wind.
I then carried on with morning measurements of barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, air temperature and humidity. I report these regularly to WhaleNet, our education partner. By the time I had recorded that data, my passive progress overnight and my morning location, eventually taking my head out of the cabin, I spotted a container ship approaching from my starboard stern. It was progressing southeast.
I hailed them on VHF channel 16, then 13, neither of which triggered a response. As they crossed about 300 meters to my port side, I could see crew on their starboard stern pointing binoculars in my direction. I waved, they waved back, but why were they not responding? As the ship passed, I noticed its name and registration: Varamo, Limassol.
"In case you can hear this, I was born in Nicosia, Cyprus," I hailed. "Have a safe journey. Safe crossing. Yellow row boat out."
The ship seemed to progress without any change in speed as I started preparing my breakfast. Then it seemed there was less smoke belching out of the ship's stack, and it turned right in place, coming to a stop over a mile away. "What does this mean?" I wondered, then quickly untied my oars, and started rowing toward it. I hoped that it would come toward me a bit as well.
Surely they would want to make contact now. I tried the radio again when I could pick out details on their deck. This time I got a response: "Varamo, calling yellow boat. Do you need assistance? Over." I tried responding but my squelch was misbehaving, it should have gone quiet to transmit, but the noise never stopped on the radio. Then I noticed a low battery indicator. "Darn!" How embarrassing - a huge container ship had stopped to my hail, and I could not respond back.
I quickly dove in the cabin, set the radio back on its charger. I was able to transmit an acknowledgement from inside. "Sorry, with the turbines it takes a long distance to slow down. Do you need any assistance?" I tried responding, got back: "Sorry your message is cutting off, if you need assistance, come alongside. Over." I had to go to them, this was turning into a hassle for everyone. All I wanted was a hello and confirmation on whether they could spot me on their radar screen. The only way to resolve this empasse was to go alongside and yell up to them...
When I approached their bow, I noticed three crew members on the bow, looking down. One had a handheld VHF, another a camcorder, filming the encounter. The ship seemed to have stopped, so I crossed in front of it toward its port side, where I would be sheltered from the wind. The last thing I wanted was to be pushed against the ship, causing damage to my boat or to my oars. "I am sorry, my radio is malfunctioning," I said sheepishly. "Come to starboard side," the man with the VHF yelled down. "There is wind, port side is safer for me," I yelled back up. He motioned me toward the port side, then yelled: "Do you need provisions?" "Thank you, I have everything, just wanted to say hello." By then I was past the bow on the port side. The ship was actually moving forward, albeit slowly. The man walked alongside with hurried steps and yelled down: "do you need fresh water?" "No fresh water, thank you, I have fresh water." "Where are you from?" he was approaching the rear of the ship now. "I was born in Cyprus. I am Turkish. I started rowing in California two months ago..." he held his hand to his right ear, trying to hear my words over the whine of the ship's turbines. There was no chance to hold an intelligent conversation.
Then I looked toward the stern, down the vertical side of the ship, which now seemed to be creeping up toward me like a wall. A gushing torrent of water was coming out of a cooling pipe, and the torrent was soon to wash over my deck. I got back on the oars, turned the stern of my boat toward the ship to avoid being flooded, then gave the oars a couple hard pulls to regain a safe distance.
I stood up over my rowing station, facing the man. I placed my right hand to my heart and bowed forward slightly meaning: "thank you." He mirrorred my gesture and waved back. Soon the corner of the ship's giant stern was almost overhead as it turned.
We were both back on our way before long. I would have wanted to say: "Students in Cyprus, Greece and Turkey are following my journey. For the first time in history, someone from the Mediterranean, from our corner of the world is rowing the Pacific Ocean. This is reason to celebrate." But I couldn't.
Needless to say, the VHF radio is now fully charged, capable of transmitting my messages.