Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Passage preparation - Seattle here I come!

[March 24: Added an update at the end.]

Well, its this time again.  I arrived in New Zealand in mid November and its now late March and time to be looking for a weather window for my departure from this fine country.  Last year when I left, I was heading back to the tropics for a season visiting Tonga and Fiji.  This year when I leave, I'll be heading back to the Pacific Northwest, and eventually Seattle.  I could fly back in a day or so, but by choosing to sail, I won't be arriving until sometime in August.  One of the many joys of sailing back - I get to avoid the security lineups in the airports.  I guess there are pluses and minuses either way.

Once again, I have spent my time in New Zealand hanging out in the best home office ever: Luckness anchored in Otaio Bay on Urapukapuka Island, the Bay of Islands.  I really should come back here sometime and see more of the place.

Otaio Bay, looking East from Luckness

Looking down at Luckness

Otaio Bay, looking West from Luckness

When cruisers who aren't part of the EU arrive into New Zealand, for example, me, they are granted an initial 3 month visa.  Before it expires you need to apply to have it extended, unless you fly out of the county in which case you can deal with that when you re-enter.  My visa extension last year was for 3 additional months.  This year, they gave me 6 extra weeks, and as a result my visa expires in the middle of April.  I wonder if I'm running out of my welcome here?

As the deadline is approaching quickly, I have been busy preparing Luckness for her upcoming passages.  Its roughly 8200nm back to Seattle, which I'll do in three legs.

The first passage is from New Zealand to Papeete, Tahiti.  The second from somewhere in the Society Islands to Hawaii, and the third from Hawaii back to Neah Bay, in Washington State.  Of these three, its the first which is somewhat tricky.

The weather for the last passage is dominated by a large stationary high pressure system, and to sail to Neah Bay from Hawaii, you basically leave Hawaii heading North or NNW, go up to around the latitude of Neah Bay, turn right and finish your sail.  There are nuances of course, depending on what the actual weather is like at the time you sail, but this simplistic description is basically the plan and is more or less what I did the last time I sailed this passage.

The weather for the second passage is dominated by trade winds, which blow East or SSE, SE around the Society Islands and East or ENE, NE around Hawaii.  So the plan for that leg is to leave the Societies, head NNE to make my way east far enough so that after crossing the equator and getting through the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) I can head to Hawaii and not have my entire trip be sailing upwind.  Again, there are nuances to the trip, but the plan is pretty simple really.

The first leg is the tricky one.  The weather systems down here are migratory - high pressure systems are generated over in Australia and move east across the area, with lows between them.  Depending on the latitude and strength of the highs, and the latitude and strength of the lows, the conditions are vastly different.  Into the mix you can add the occasional spinning low which descends from the tropics, heading south.  Its a somewhat chaotic mixture.  There are guidelines of course.  A weather book by Cornell suggests that the best time to do this trip is mid-March to May.  That is based on climatic averages.  The thing is, each time anybody sails this passage, they can't depend on a climatic average for their trip - the weather is quite variable and the weather they experience may be quite different from the averages.  Of course, before leaving I'll be watching the weather forecasts and trying to pick a good weather window.  This passage is roughly 2600nm, I'm expecting to sail it in somewhere between 20 and 30 days.  A weather forecast can go out for 10 days, however the portion of that forecast that you can rely on might only extend for 3 to 5.  So, no matter how careful a sailor chooses their weather window for this trip, much before the half way point, the weather they will be sailing in will be whatever it decides to be, there is no way to plan the whole trip.   The longer you wait, the lower the probability of a cyclone but the higher the probability of a gale generated off of a low from the South.  This is all part of the passage making game though, you shouldn't play without knowing the rules.

Aside from studying the weather, I've been working on boat chores and have managed to get through a long list of them.  Luckness was hauled out a little while ago, and I painted her bottom as well as finishing up a bunch of other things: completing the installation of the new water maker; reversing my anchor chain; clean/service the prop; replaced the knot meter; things like that.  Before hauling out I had done some sail repair; climbed the mast to inspect the rig; replaced the wind instruments bearings; examined all the sheets and halyards; inspected the quadrant and steering system; etc.  We are pretty much ready to go at this point.

Luckness, just hauled out

I try to avoid gathering interesting cruising stories, you know the kind, how someone narrowly avoids disaster by making a series of clever last minute decisions.  I prefer, if possible, to avoid those situations altogether.  If I can finish a passage and describe it as uneventful, that's just fine with me.  Unfortunately, I had an interesting experience a little while ago.  At around 2am, on the morning before I was planning on hauling Luckness out of the water, I was fast asleep when I was woken up by a strange noise coming from the bow of my boat.  I sprung out of bed and ran up to the bow where I discovered that my windlass had decided to start bringing my chain in.  It seems that something had shorted out, some contact was closed and the windlass started up.  Once I figured it out I went below to break the circuit at the circuit breaker and went back to sleep.  In the morning I tested the circuit again and it was now back to normal and so I was able to raise my anchor and make my appointment at the haul out easily.  I'm so happy that I happened to be aboard when this happened!  I had been leaving my windlass circuit breaker powered up for almost this entire cruise.  If I had been out hiking Urapukapuka Island when this happened I could have come back to find that Luckness had raised her anchor and then strayed off somewhere - I don't ever want to come back to where I had anchored her only to find her missing...  So one of my chores while hauled out was to go through the electronics of the windlass.  I think I've found the problem, and fixed it, but I now power down the circuit breaker when its not needed.

I'll miss this place when I'm gone.  The Bay of Islands is a wonderful cruising grounds.  By all reports, all of New Zealand is, but I'll have to leave that wider question until I return again sometime in the future.


The next blog post will likely be from sea.  As always on my passages, if I post blog reports for a while and then stop, nobody panic, electronics can go wrong.  If this happens, I'll update the blog when I arrive in the port and get access to the internet again.


Several people have said they will dig out an atlas and look up my route.  Here it is:

When I first started this journey, New Zealand felt like it was "half way around the world!" - its not, nowhere near half way around really.  Hawaii is one time zone East.  Seattle is four time zones away. There are 360 degrees in a circle, half that is 180, and from where I am to Neah Bay is only 72 degrees of longitude (East/West) away - not even 1/4 of the way around.

Papeete, Tahiti is the first dot up from the lower right one.  I plan to arrive in Hawaii into Hilo, on the eastern side of the Hawaiian island chain, and leave from Hanalei Bay, on the western side of the chain.

Friday, March 11, 2016

A new food for Passages, and more

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, you may recall that I mentioned that I was going to experiment with a new food source I have been curious about.

The food is a powdered meal replacement called Sipreme.  

Background - Soylent and Sipreme

A little background may be useful.  There is a company called Soylent in the USA, that has been around for a few years now.  It was started by a group of software developers who switched course, and rather than developing the next great software project, they instead created a new food category.  How they started is an interesting story.  I first became aware of Soylent in 2012.  At that time, the company was in startup mode and was not selling to the general public.  They started deliveries after I had already started this cruise, and I have been curious ever since then but have not been able to buy any, as they were delivering to the USA only at the time (now Canada as well.)

Soylent is a powdered meal replacement.  This means that you can 'eat' Soylent for 100% of your nutrition needs.  It has carbs, protein, lipids (fat) as well as all the vitamins and minerals that your body needs to survive.  Its in the general category of "food is fuel."  Its not meant to be savored and served at dinner parties, but rather, if you would like a quick, convenient portion of food that will provide everything you need, this may be for you.

Since Soylent's introduction, some other companies have started providing their own version of this food, if you google Soylent and various other terms, you will likely quickly find many alternatives.

When I was in Fiji last year, I did a little googling around Soylent and alternatives and discovered a new company in New Zealand called Sipreme which offer their own version of a Soylent like product.

Why I wanted an alternative

As I've been sailing on this cruise, and the previous one, I have mainly been eating normal food.  I have a small freezer aboard Luckness and before every passage I would organize my provisions for the trip.  This involved many trips to various stores buying protein (mainly chicken, beef, sausage, etc), veggies, onions, rice, eggs, bacon (if available), beans, seasonings, sauces, snacks, and so on.  Depending on the length of the trip, and the weather conditions experienced under way, this worked pretty well.  My longest passage to date is 21 days, from Hawaii to Neah Bay in the Pacific Northwest.  By the end of that trip, I had plenty of food left, however the veggies were down to things like carrots and maybe peppers, although peppers are nearing the end of their life at that point.  Onions last for a while.  Rice lasts forever, as do canned goods.

Preparing 'normal' meals at sea can vary between being easy, to an extreme, frustrating workout.  A normal meal for me on passage would be a one pot meal, something like: put some onion into a pot, along with oil and start browing; cut up your chosen protein and toss it in; let it cook for a while; cut up some veggies, toss them into the mix; add some sort of sauce or flavoring of some sort; add some cooked rice; cook a bit more; put it into a big bowl and try to enjoy.  Following this recipe you get a mediocre meal, that will sustain you, but won't win any prizes.  Prep, cooking, cleanup all take time.  Breakfast was normally scrambled eggs, bacon, some veg, some beans thrown in.

When sailing downwind in gentle conditions, going through all these steps was pretty easy really.  When you aren't sailing in easy downwind conditions, going through these steps can be quite challenging.  Its hard to describe, but imagine an amusement park ride where the room you are in is launching up and down and also rolling back and forth in, both in an unpredictable manner.  Doing something like cutting an onion can be a challenge - you need to always keep either one arm wrapped around something solid, or one hand attached to something solid otherwise you may find yourself flying across the cabin.  I have only gone flying myself twice, which is twice too many - an injury at sea, possibly thousands of miles from anything can be serious.  

I haven't kept track of the number of times the prep I was working on for a meal went wrong.  Its routine to: cut an onion; turn aside and find somewhere safe to place the knife (as you don't want the knife flying around the cabin); to return to the onion and see that its slid off the cutting board and needs to be gathered.  This is typical and applies to every step of the process.  Having cooked a large meal I would need to get it into a bowl to eat, and that step can go badly wrong.  Making scrambled eggs in the morning and finding the cracked and whipped eggs flying into a wall is a little depressing.

Preparing meals in an active seaway is a chore.  The thing is, I wouldn't mind going through all the work if the result was worth it, but one pot meal after one pot meal, even with a variety of flavors, gets tired.  I was basically just cooking as simply as I could in order to feed myself.  Meals underway aren't something I look forward to, the vast majority of them are immediately forgettable.  The only purpose they serve is to feed myself, hopefully with a variety of nutrients so that I can stay healthy as well.

Many times, if the seaway was too rough, I would revert to simply opening a can of something and eating that, cold, right out of the can.  Yum.  This is fine for a while, but eating cold canned spaghetti or beans gets old pretty quickly.

I wanted a food which was: easy prep; healthy; easy cleanup; which has a long shelf life.  It turns out that Sipreme (and Soylent, although I haven't yet tried it) satisfy all of these requirements.

Giving Sipreme a try

Once I arrived in New Zealand, for my second time, in November last year, I ordered some Sipreme to try out.

My goal was to see if I could use this new food as a Passage food, and as I plan on several long passages this year as I sail back to Seattle, I wanted to test my plan by living on this new food for at least as long as a passage, between 20 and 40 days.  So I decided to switch from 'normal' food to Sipreme.

Sipreme comes in an envelope which contains just over 2000 calories, an average daily portion.  I had earlier bought four 700ml protein shakers, and to prepare a days worth of either product, I would: divide the powder evenly between the four shakers; add water; use a chop stick to stir to avoid clumps in the corners of the shakers; then shake and put in fridge.  Prep for a day takes less than 5 minutes.

The first time I 'ate' a meal I was a bit apprehensive - what would it be like?  How would it taste?  Would I feel full?  After drinking one portion - 500 calories - I had a little giggle.  I drank the portion in a couple minutes and thought to myself - is that it?  Am I done?  Cleanup took no time at all and I started to realize that I may really like this new food.  I'd just saved myself at least 1/2 an hour, probably more, in prep, cooking and cleanup and it tasted just fine.

Some of the advice I had read about switching from a normal diet to one based on a Soylent like replacement was to start slowly.  Don't suddenly switch 100% from your old diet to the new one.  People who did this reported a few symptoms, such as headaches.  I knew this, but decided to switch 100% anyway, I was anxious to get started.  I did have mild headaches at first, something that I wouldn't have if I had switched over more gradually (as recommended.)  However aside from that, everything else was good.  I was wondering how my energy levels would be as I hiked on Urapukapuka Island - I found no change.

Living on Sipreme

After living on Sipreme for a little while, I found I missed crunchy food.  I've since added crunchy veggies (carrots, etc) along with humus and possibly some cheese and salami to the mix.

After living on Sipreme for the length of a passage - a little more than 20 days, I decided to keep on going.  I haven't cooked myself a meal since December.  Aside from morning coffee, my stove is now idle.  I've found that I really like this new food.

I've been at anchor in the Bay of Islands for longer periods than last year.  Since Sipreme has a very long shelf life, I was basically limited by the amount of fresh water I carry rather than the amount of food I have onboard.  I have since bought a new water maker, and so the length of time I can survive away from a store will depend on how much food I can carry - and Sipreme packs pretty compactly.

Sipreme aboard

I recently bought 3 more months of Sipreme, which will be enough for me to live on for the rest of my time in New Zealand as well as last me through my passage to Hawaii.

7 boxes of Sipreme = 7 weeks, 49 days of meals
A four week pile
Starting to fill a locker
One months food supply
Easy access to three weeks of food

Finally, wrapping up

If you're a sailor and are looking for a food to try out on Passages, give this a try.  I would suggest you try living on it before heading out to sea - you don't want to be experimenting with something as basic as food before a long passage, do your experimenting before hand.  That's what I have done, and I'm glad that I did.  What started as a new Passage food for me has become, simply, a new type of food, one which I'll be eating regularly.