15 July 2016. As sad as this makes me, this will be my last entry on Billy’s Paccup 2016. Last I left it, we were motoring sail-free into Monterey. Severely disappointed, but relieved that we made it out of the roley-poley with the mast still standing. Within a couple of hours the Psyche crew, and the very competent workers at Breakwater Cove Marina had de-rigged and pulled the crippled mast out of Psyche. By afternoon, we had cleaned up much of the mess down below.

Such a mix of feelings. Relief to bring Psyche safely back to port. Longing to be out there changing headsails as the wind clocks. Gratitude to have a crew like this, each of whom works hard as can be till the job is done, whether it be hoisting a genoa, derigging a mast, or celebrating a “half-way” party (see below). Obsession, with the race on windyty, and whether we would still be in the running (conclusion, still in the running).

There was something about our sans-sails cruise from the rhumb-line to Hawaii into Monterey that I wanted to mention. Because we were powering, we just had 1 person on deck at a time. This meant 1 hour on, 4 off; a cushy deal, indeed. It also meant there was no chattering on deck. Very different. I watched the sun sink into the sea on my watch. It takes 3 minutes. I haven’t done that in many years. My 1AM watch let me watch the half-moon set as well. These moments are priceless. They don’t happen at home, although there is no reason they couldn’t. As soon as we came into cell reception range, it was all over.

Coming to dry land brought its rewards. A son of Sam (who “taught” me how to sail by challenging me to a dinghy race at Catalina Island; I tipped over) and Dana Bell, John Bell, activated a bottle of rum through his sister in law, Ashley, who is an active member of the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club. Although I can’t well remember her last name, I can well remember the generosity of her and her family’s spirit.

We drank their rum at the dock in our half-way-party garb. Transformative.


Clockwise from upper left:  Jim Barber, Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club, Scott Barber, Billy & the Mast, Capn Steve Calhoun, Don Burdge

Then, spontaneously with little discussion, we suddenly cast off our dock lines and powered the now mast-free Psyche out to the starting line of the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club’s “wet Wednesday” and loudly cheered for every clean spinnaker set we saw. Then we powered Psyche back to the club-house for their post-race barbecue.   A fantastic, warm, friendly yacht club. We are grateful to them for that. I waited patiently with two Mai-Tai’s for my sweet wife, Bird, who battled traffic and boredom to drive from LA to pick me up! In she walks, and the room just lights up. She’s a wonder, and we’re still together, and I am grateful.

And grateful to be alive (did I say that already?).

Noises, bare poles, and climactic anticlimax.

Pac-cup. The start!
Wed July 13. 7:30 AM
Munching on a delicious “pnut beure et jelie,” complements of master chef, Scott Barber.

Mondays start: An amazing group of well wishers on the dock. Nervous energy everywhere. We bid them all adieu, and head out a little early, noting that the 13-knot wind is already strong enough to merit the #3 jib, rather than the big #1 genoa. After our sails are up, we notice that  Redhead, another Cal-40 and one of our main competitors, put up her #1. We’ve previously used our well-cut # 3 to sail past Cal 40s down in LA carrying their #1 in 13 knots of breeze, so we are cautiously optimistic, especially given the forecast of a building 20-25 knot northwesterly. We know that the global objective is to be on the right end of the line to get to the middle of the channel, where the current is strongly going out the middle of the bay.  However, the left side of the line is so very favored that the boats in our start (maybe 10 boats) are well dispersed along the line. Redhead gets a spectacular start on the port side of the line with a ton of speed. We get the second best start with less speed, but come on, let’s crank in the #3 and get Psyche in the groove, and we should steadily move ahead of the over-canvassed Redhead.

We don’t.

Redhead just keeps marching over the top of us as we all near the Golden Gate bridge (I forgot to look up underneath the bridge, so caught up was I in the race). Thats ok, think we. As the wind climbs into the mid-late teens, we should start to move on her.

The wind dies.

What the hell? The forecast called for a steadily increasing wind. But Redhead knew (and I now vaguely remember someone saying something about this) that just past the Gate, the wind often abates, until one has reached the synoptic wind, a few miles farther where the wind that is beyond control of coastal contours, and is free to blow.

So we flounder in the light stuff, and drag the # 1 out of the bilge and hank it on, and now we are finally holding our own, but Redhead is far ahead. We tack into Bonita Point hoping for the Northwesterly, and don’t get it. Out we go on starboard tack again. Heading for the shipping lanes.

Big oblivious humpback whales EVERYWHERE! Really cool views of gnarly backs and blowholes and black tiny dorsal fins.

A view of whitecaps on the horizon. We tack to port again, hoping to get into that wind a little earlier.  Finally the wind fills. It strengthens gradually to 15-18 knots. Psyche is tipping too much, so we change back down to the #3 as we tack over to starboard and head toward Farallone Island.

Lots of chop and slop, and we have to keep things a little loose to keep our speed up. Seems like we might be gaining on Redhead, although she is pretty far out there in the mist.
We’ve finally sailed into the synoptic wind. Cooler, gusty. It grows into the 20s. Everyone sitting on the weather rail happy to be in a groove, determined to run down Redhead.
The wind strengthens more (as advertised), inching over 25. We put a reef in the mainsail (see previous blog), and Psyche starts to dance. The wind has shifted to the right ever-so-slightly, and we start to fly. 8 knots, 9 knots, even a 10 in there every now and then. We seem to be gaining on the two boats (Redhead and another) ahead of us.

We see cold, moldy, Southeast Farallone Island to windward, an apparition in the fading light. I spent 2 very memorable weeks doing intertidal research on that island, but that is another story.

Night time, now. The wind gusting, the white-caps breaking over the boat. Suddenly with a shout, Jimmy says oh no! The line that holds ALL our halyards, the lines we plan to use to pull up our sails all the way to Hawaii, breaks! Up go all the halyards, swinging in the breeze, just out of reach. If they get up too high the weight of the line on the other (mast side) of the blocks through which they run will take the outboard side of the blocks all the way up the mast. The only way to retrieve lost halyards is to drop the jib and use its halyard to send a man (that would have been an interesting lottery) up to the top to grab the halyards and pull them down. Not something we want to do in 25 knots and breaking seas.

Jimmy is tall, he snags a halyard.  I am lucky and a bundle of halyards swings into my hands. We pull them down. Jimmy makes a new tie-down line. The whole operation would take maybe 2 min in calm weather. It takes about 15 minutes tonight. Waves just crashing all over us, water sluicing up the boots and into everything. Thoroughly soaked. Very cold. But the crisis is averted.

I go off watch and sleep in my favorite quarter berth. Funny how easy it is to sleep down there. But cold! I could have tripled my supply of long undies. But this will pass I keep saying. The water gets warm very quickly as one sails west and south from these cold upwelled seas.
After waking up, I notice a new rattle on the port side. In my usual optimistic “la-la-la” way, I think, oh its nothing. Jimmy comes up for the second part of my watch and says, I wonder what in the heck is making that noise? I say, quite predictably, I heard it too; its probably nothing. Jimmy works his way forward in the pitching darkness. The shrouds are really loose! What is going on here? He comes down and checks the backstay. Its fine. He runs his flash-light up mast, perhaps a spreader is bent or broken. Nope. Then he shines it on the base of the mast.

All hands on deck!  We’re losing the mast!

Cal-40 masts have their bottom end on top of the keel. The mast rises from the keel through the deck, where it is supported by myriad wires, shrouds on the sides, stays fore and after.  Somehow, our mast is torn at the deck.  It is a mystery why the mast has not toppled.  Several inches of the mast above the tear collapsed onto the cabin top next to the part below the tear. This could very well turn from bad to worse, hence Jimmys call.

So, we have a serious emergency on our hands.  It takes FOREVER for the crew to get their foul weather gear and flotation devices and head-lamps together and on, but finally everyone is on deck in the pitching stormy darkness working to get the jib and mainsail down. I am steering, and head the boat down wind to lighten the load on mast. The sails are so wet and heavy, this is a monumental task.


Note in the photo above (taken from forward of the mast) that the upper part of the mast has torn itself free of the lower part of the mast, and is resting on the cabin-top’s platform to the right). We’ve lashed with line (white with red dashes) the the sheared off part, trying to prevent it from sliding off, thus toppling the mast.  A second critical point is that the downward force of all the shrouds and stays and halyards in this wind is huge.  Instead of this force being applied to the keel on the bottom of the boat, it all pushing against the cabin top.  It is most remarkable that the cabin didn’t collapse under the weight.  Steve had the cabin reinforced prior to the race, probably explaining this puzzle.

One of the most sickening things in my sailing experience is a sailboat at sea with no sails up. I previously described one of the circumstances, a hurricane in survival conditions. Much more mundanely, is on the old Siwash, after she has sailed up to Howland’s Cove on Catalina, smartly into the wind, drop the sails. Now there are no sails on the mast; the boat rolls sickeningly. I always get a little sea sick at that moment, when a sailboat is nearly at a standstill rolling in a sea-way back and forth, much more gut-wrenchingly than if even a small sail is up, steadying the roll.

Here is another bare-pole circumstance. A dismasting. Psyche is dismasted now. Her mast is standing, but it is just a ghost, never to hold a sail again. We are very, very, lucky that mast didn’t just topple over, creating a tangled mess of blunt weapons that can beat holes into hull and human heads, indiscriminately. That is the fire drill that was averted by Jimmy’s alert listening, and functional curiosity.  Now the mast is wobbling in the 6 ft breaking seas, as we sail straight downwind under bare poles.  Psyche is rolling horribly, so unnatural and scary. It is very hard to keep footing in this shit.  After more than an hour of securing and stowing and trying to get the situation under control, we start the engine, and head toward Monterey. We call the coast-guard. “Pan-Pan ” is the call, kind of a Mellow May-Day. This is what you are supposed to say when you are in trouble, but not at risk to life or limb.

We set the motor to “slow” to reduce gasoline consumption, and started the rolly-poley bare-poles trip to Monterey.

So it is now nearly 9 AM a day later, and we are motoring into Monterey. Happy to be safe, but really sad we couldn’t continue in the race, for it most assuredly will be a record breaker, with a tropical depression climax. We will have to wait till another time.

St. Francis Build Up

This particular transpacific yacht race has had a chaotic slow, but inexorable build-up. Particularly for me personally.

I made a list of all the things I had neglected to bring this morning. It was much longer than I would like to admit (my shipmates have had their show together for months).  Running around with my kind shipmate Don Burdge, tracking things down north of San Francisco Bay. Here’s two of them.


Everyone has their own strategy for fighting mal-de-mar. The top item is fresh Dramamine. This is my strategy for the upcoming stormy close reach. I take it just as I’m about to come off watch. It makes me drowsy and quells my sickness. I sleep. It is slightly worn off when I wake up before my next watch. Then I repeat. I don’t like the scopolamine patch, nor do I like Dramamine with the extra caffeine or whatever they use to keep you awake. I’ve been using this strategy for a while in coastal cruising. The next few days will put this fairly mild strategy to a good test.

The next item is a man overboard locator device. If it works as advertised, falling into the ocean should activate the radio signal when the personal flotation device (life jacket) automatically inflates. This should work even if I’m unconscious. Here’s the thing about this device.   I hate paying $200 plus for something that I will never use. The chances of falling overboard are so very small that it seems like OCD behavior to spend so much money and time getting this device and programming it to send position information back to Psyche should I fall overboard.

But, I’m picturing myself. Nightime squall. We take a knockdown, I fall over. My tether breaks. There I am. Sure I’ve got a strobe light, but the waves are big, and by the time Psyche gets her sails under control and returns to find me, it has become a big ocean. They can’t see me.

So I’m floating there with my cheap strobe, knowing Psyche will never find me. Then I think, “Gosh, if I’d paid the extra money, it would be a pretty straight-forward rescue. Now it’s next to impossible.” That regret filling my brain during my last moments on this planet is not a pretty vision. So buy the goddamn thing.

Steve and a significant bevy of women (All friends of Robin, his daughter, and Amanda, his wife) motored Psyche two hours from Richmond to the St Francis Yacht Club, right next to the starting area (see below).  I spend the night onboard Psyche again tonight (slept like a log last night on an old familiar bunk).

This St. Francis Yacht Club is quite a place. Very exclusive. Very dignified. Lots of wood. Lots of heavily framed paintings and photos of sailboats. Sitting here in a back cubby using their internet. My sun hat is off. That’s the rules.

Another thing that is cool about St. Francis Yacht Club in the context of the Pacific Cup is that it sits RIGHT on the starting line. Below are two sailboats shortly after a start.  It took them 5 minutes to sail to the starting line from the dock. That’s the bar in the background! That is where Jimmy’s wife Andrea, Scott’s girlfriend Kathy, and Steve’s wife Amanda, will all be watching when we start.  I kind of wish I could watch the start and then get a chase boat to run me out to the boat as it passes under the Golden Gate Bridge!


By contrast, the original “transpac race” starts off of Point Fermin in southern California.  It is a hour + motor from the harbor to the starting line.  You can barely see the boats from shore. Here at St Francis Yacht Club, spectators will have a clear image of their favorite boat to last them the two weeks till we arrive in Kaneohe.

Pretty cool. This start will be a fitting climax to a long build-up.

I will be sending emails from sea after this, but you can follow our daily progress with a cool web site.  You can step the boats back and forth through their history.  It is really pretty fun.  If you go back and forth between that site and windyty, you can do some anticipating.  That’s what makes sailboat racing fun; watching how boats put different navigational strategies into play, and second guessing which boats do it right, then following them over the next day or so.

Richmond Sails

So, here I am at the Richmond Yacht club at 5 in the afternoon. The pre-race party is starting to build momentum. Very nice Hawaiianesk music up above, mixing reggae with hawaiian. Very smooth. May have to go up and drink a Mai Tai before dinner.

Sat with Scott, our gribs and bytes guy. Stepping through the likely path of Psyche starting this Monday and continuing for a week of predicted speeds into the predicted winds. My dire forecast captured the attention of many of our loved ones. I think I’ve exaggerated pretty much everything (my apologies; let’s call it poetic license). Windyty’s gusts setting looks to be a significantly over-estimated, leading me down that “what-if” path. But you know, we won’t know till we get out there. Suffice to say there should be plenty of wind, perhaps a bit too much for the first three days, then a pleasant, perhaps bordering on slow, sail. Then some unknown weirdness from Celia and the as yet unnamed storm a brewing off of Mexico. Stay tuned. You never know about the ocean, that much is for sure.

But Richmond Yacht club is amazing! Nothing but masts. I don’t think I’ve seen a single powerboat! Do they outlaw them here? What a contrast to most every harbor I’ve been to in the last decade. People are friendly and jovial, and everyone is excited about sailing out of the Golden Gate into an gripping sail-boat race to Hawaii. We’ve met some of the crew of “Redhead” our main competition in our class. They are very cool folks. We have also met a couple who are sailing another Cal 40 in the “double handed” class. All are pleasant, knowledgeable people. All are happy to be alive.

So am I.

Global climate change intersects Psyche?

It is way too early to tell, but if you go on windyty, you will see a hurricane converging on our path! Really? Gulp, yes. It even has a name, Blas. Set your windyty to wind gusts, and step forward 2 days from now to the start.   Blas “breaks up” pretty much right in our path, on the day we start, day after tomorrow. Furthermore, there is another hurricane (Celia) heading across from Mexico, and at least two more that will likely be born in the coming week.

Now I’ve been at sea in 30+ knots of wind numerous times, so I know to some extent what to expect. I’ve been in safe havens in 50+ knots of wind. That is when the droplets start to dance off the water, flying down wind, and visibility begins to drop.

But I have never been to sea in anything remotely resembling a hurricane. I don’t think the next two weeks will change that.

But it might. You can see the discussion of the best guess of what these hurricanes will do at the national hurricane center.

In the last few years, a really good climate biologist named Kerry Emmanuel has been examining a very interesting hypothesis: that global warming is increasing the frequency and, more profoundly, the intensity of tropical hurricanes. I’ve seen his talk, and examined his data. It seems to me that he is quite likely right. Last summer, I tracked the hurricanes in the eastern tropical pacific on windyty every week. New hurricanes popped up like flowers after a rain. All summer and into the fall, these storms emerge off the coast of mainland Mexico, and usually head west, or northwest. This summer is already setting up to be a repeat, with perhaps even more named hurricanes, of last summer.

Celia looks like it will brush the northern edge of Hawaii before it finally breaks up. If the race had started 5 July, we would be forced into an experience unlike any that anyone on the crew of Psyche has ever contemplated. I think we would survive.  Worst case scenario, we would drop the mainsail entirely, and sail either under bare poles, or with a tiny storm jib. We would strap ourselves in and ride it out. From what I understand, the biggest danger is that of being rolled (sideways), or pitched (stern over bow), 360 degrees. I don’t really have much else to write about this possibility, for I only know what I’ve read. If a third hurricane takes shape in the next few days and converges with us, and we survive, you can be sure I will then have something more to write about hurricanes.

If we don’t survive, you can count that as a personal consequence of global warning, and honor it by trading in your gas guzzler for a lifelong pass on the Metro.


Addendum on Waves

Some of my friends who read the last blog, suggested that I might be exaggerating the conditions just a little bit. But luckily, Willie and Howard are still around. I think at least one of them might be reading this blog. Perhaps they will verify my tall tail for the doubters. In any case, there is one sober fact that may be at least partly relevant. The same day we left from San Francisco to San Diego in July, 1983, another “midget ocean race” (the boats are small, not the ocean) was being sailed from Half-moon bay (south of San Francisco) to Moss Landing, a small port north of Monterrey. One of the boats in the race, a “Wiley Wabbit”, was lost with all hands very close to the same time we were repeatedly broaching. This was a crushing blow to a bunch of sailors, especially in the Monterey Bay area, from where the three lost crewmembers hailed.

The ocean is a dangerous place. No doubt about it.


Here’s the thing about the ocean; it has this amazing capacity to transform. Take a normal summer’s day in Southern California. At dawn, there is usually just a faint offshore breeze, and the sea is just as smooth and tranquil as you could possibly imagine. An hour or two later, the offshore dies and the magic of a perfectly glassy sea just slays you. If you are just a few miles offshore, the water is deep blue and clear, and you can see deep into its depths. On Siwash we used to love sitting on the bowsprit


looking down into the blue deeps during such glassy times while motoring to Catalina.

Then the westerly wind comes up and you start to see small ripples. Formed by the interaction of the wind with the unique physical chemistry of water (a sea of methane would never have ripples because there is no surface tension).

Over the next half hour, as the westerly freshens, the ripples turn to wavelets, then small waves that “lap” the bow. If it gets up to the usual 15-20 knots, these waves become 2 feet or so, and the bow starts to go up and down. We used to delight when this motion would put the dolphin striker into the water.


White caps (small breaking waves caused by the wind) would hit the bow splashing up onto the foredeck. Very exhilarating.

Sometimes, if the westerly was pretty strong, the waves would build so that sitting on the bowsprit with your feet dangling, you might get those feet wet.

By late afternoon, if your dad would let you stay standing on the bowsprit, you might even get your feet wet as the hobby-horsing action of the old Siwash would resonate with the 3 foot waves.

Rewind to 1983. My big brother Howard had bought a Moore 24, named it Presto (he’s a musician, look it up!), sort of the honey badger of sailboats. It can blow as hard as you like; that Moore 24 just doesn’t give a shit. It just goes faster and faster. We were set to sail Presto in the MORA San Francisco to San Diego race in July, the same month we set sail on Psyche to Hawaii. We start this Monday!

Back in 1983, we started in San Francisco Bay, and sailed out through the gate in a freshening 15-knot breeze. We turned south, set the spinnaker and began to fly in front of the northwest winds. Presto is incredibly light, 2000 lbs. It scoots down wind. It planes like a surfboard in any wind over 15 knots. Riding 3-4 foot waves, and just flying along. We were having a blast. The wind increased to 20 knots as night fell. I was off watch and slept fitfully as my brother and one of the best blue-water sailors I’ve ever known, Willie Bell, enjoyed the freshening breeze in the overcast darkness that is the trademark of that coastline. When I awoke, Willie was sailing the boat in “active mode”. I had seen Willie steer a much bigger boat, a Lapworth 50, Sumatra, in 35 knots of tail wind in the Mazatlan race a few years earlier. His quick motions on the wheel were so precise and smooth that Sumatra just sliced through those phosphorescent seas. No one else dared steer that charging bull till the wind abated a little. Tonight it was just dark. The wind was pushing 30, and Willie was again in active mode, concentrating ever so hard to keep the 24-foot Presto in the groove. In these conditions, as long as you are going fast, all is fine. You have good control, and can steer the boat around chunks of chop. But as soon as you are off the wave, the boat is down to 7 or 8 knots, it wallows. The wind pushes on the spinnaker and mainsails, but there is a wave in front of you and the boat wants to turn away, either upwind, thereby “broaching”, or downwind, thereby performing a “death roll”, an unintentional jibe that wreaks havoc on crew and rig, sometimes dismasting the boat.

Death Roll


Both roundups are dire. Willie was fully focused on avoiding that.

My crew-mate and I were scheduled to relieve Howard and Willie at midnight. I was psyching myself up. In the darkness I looked across at my watch-mate and breathed a little micro-gasp to see that he was snorting a line of cocaine. He was a really good sailor; I just figured this was what he did, and that was his business. We came up on deck and he was the first one to steer. When it is so very dark as that, you cannot see the horizon, and it is very difficult to feel the boat. All you have are the crazy gyrations of the compass, and that isn’t much. Willie handed him the tiller and went straight below to bed. My crew-mate strained to see and comprehend what was happening. About 1 min later, Presto broached, turning 90 degrees from our course, its flogging spinnaker pulling the little fiberglass hull 90 degrees from upright, the deck very close to perpendicular to the water, nasty white-caps of unknown size crashing into the upturned bottom, pushing us down the wave sideways. It was enough to make you puke with fear. But no time for that. Let out the afterguy to give the wind less spinnaker to manhandle. Zero steerage way now, the useless tiller pushed all the way to windward to make the boat turn downwind. Presto won’t go there till you let out the spinnaker. Because Presto is tipped all the way sideways, the mainsail floats on the water, still converting the wind into the 90 degree tip. As I let out a little more spinnaker after-guy, almost like the flip of a coin, Presto is up, with steerage way, heading down wind with the spinnaker still flogging. Now I pull in the sheet and after-guy till the flogging spinnaker fills with a big “pop”, and we accelerate up to 15-30 knots of speed, racing down the next wave. My crew mate still can’t see, or more properly, is seeing things that aren’t there, and we round up again a scant minute later. Howard shouts out from down below, “What the fuck are you guys doing up there?” “You want me to spell you?” I ask my crew-mate. “Yes”. I get on the helm, adrenaline fully pumping, concentrate as hard as I can on the light illuminated wind-gauge on the top of the mast, and the gyrating compass in the front of the cockpit. The boat is bouncing down every swell like a surfboard. The speedo only rarely drops below 10 knots, making the boat wallow, I struggle to counter her every move and keep her headed downwind. I sail for 15 minutes without a broach. Then it hits, I don’t even know why, and we are into the 3rd broach in 30 min. Howard and Willie come up, we take the big ole bucking ballooning spinnaker down, put up a much smaller triangular jib and use the pole to keep it “wing-and-wing” opposite the mainsail, and off we go. A tad bit slower, but with no more broaches through the night. We sail till 3AM, and then Howard and Willie take over the dawn watch.

But my purpose in this narrative is to reveal what happens when the dawn finally comes. The last time I had seen the ocean, it was a freshening 15-20 knots. It looked like the Catalina channel, friendly and fun. Now, at dawn after a night of 30-40 knots, I emerge on deck, and really understand what people mean by “lump in the throat.” It is a very dark, very ominous feeling. The waves are just huge. You stand up straight on deck just to see, perhaps 10 feet above the water, but the waves, every one of them, still obliterate the horizon, filling your eyes with 3 feet of foam on top of 15-20 feet of wave. These kinds of statistics are misleadingly analytical. When you are actually in these conditions, you just feel dread. It feels like, “Oh my, this is a giant mistake. We aren’t supposed to be here. This is just not right.” The wind had actually dropped to the 20-25 knot range, but the waves. They just fill you with dread. But we change to the spinnaker again, and have an amazing sail the rest of the day, probably the best I’ve ever had. Now you can see the water, and maneuver Presto into surfing grooves that just go on for days. We broached maybe 2 times all day. By night-fall the wind had dropped to 15-20 knots and we had an event-free day approaching Point Conception and the lighter winds of the Southern California bight.

This was a really scary night of handling a little boat in 30+ knots of sea out in the ocean off of San Francisco. In July. This is exactly where Psyche is heading in a few days. I looked at my mystical wind-prediction program called “Windyty” last night, and it predicts the same.  (Place the little hand on the red spot outside San Francisco Bay to see the predicted wind.)

Only this time we don’t get to turn downwind and get a ride. Instead we keep Psyche headed  right into it and get breaking waves, each one bringing many gallons of water into the cockpit. The water is 57 degrees. Gosh. It is sounding pretty grim.

But, this is Cal-40 weather. We have a fantastic bullet-proof # 3 jib. Just a knife blade in that blasting wind. We double reef the mainsail. Steve Calhoun, the loving owner has checked and rechecked every fitting every shroud.  Not tested, mind you, but checked.  Then it is just how well do we, the crew, maintain our stomach for the race. Don’t get me started on the stomach thing.

More on waves, next blog!



Adapting revisited. The limits of adaptation.
Droning on about how much humans “adapt” in my last blog reminded me that sometimes the adaptation suddenly, virtually without warning, ends.
Back on Bokonon in 1973, we had this very primitive diesel engine. I think it was 800 pounds and about 12 horsepower. On top of it was a “generator”, a little belt-driven machine that is supposed to charge your batteries. Most boats have an “alternator”, but ours was the most primitive of systems. We were even able to crank the engine by hand to start it. But if we wanted to have electric lights, including the “running lights” at night that tell other boats that we are there, we needed to generate some electrical energy for the batteries.
But this generator kept failing. My brother Howard would take it off, fuss with it. Take it apart, rewire the inside of it put it back together and it would work for a couple of weeks, and then just die. He’d take it apart, fuss with it again and again. and by doing this, he kept it trickling power into our batteries.
In 1974, we were crossing the Atlantic in a seasicky combination of swells that made everyone grumpy and semi-nauseous. Of course the generator died. Howard fixed it. Got really grumpy but didn’t throw up. 3 days later waves were even more choppy, it died again. By now we were so far from land and we hadn’t seen any boat for 2 weeks. Who wants to see our running lights anyway? Howard took the damn thing apart, fiddled with some wires, and put it back on the engine. It worked for about 10 seconds, and died.
I was on deck steering at the time. Finally I hear “Fuck this fucking thing!” and I see, as if in slow motion, the generator flying through the air and splashing into the water. We sailed Bokonon for more than a year after that, and never had (or really needed) electricity again.
When my dad was getting on in age, he had had a wide variety of ailments, but he, like all of us, was muddling through them, adapting. But each ailment was slowing him down a little more and a little more. More pain less life. While on the 2007 Transpac from Southern California to Hawaii, I heard from my daughter that his kidneys were failing. He was about to undergo dialysis. Ok, fine, says he, consenting to bend his life even more to continue it. But then they tell him when we do this dialysis, you can never drink alcohol again.
You know what he said? Fuck it, bring me a martini! He died a few days later, happy in his choices.


4:35 AM 13 June. Noticed that the “recommend use by 12 June” on my milk bottle was yesterday. Drinking the coffee with that milk in it right now. That’s what we do. We use things past their recommended use date. All (but one, Scott the bowman, age ??) of us on the Psyche are trying to keep our bodies together past their recommended use date. Adapting to every injury and ailment. That’s what we do. Adapt. The ringing in my ears really gets worse if I don’t keep my hoodie on. So I keep my hoodie on. The cancer spot on Jimmy’s ear needs to be bandaged every day. Everyone adapts. It’s what we do.

Well, on a sail boat, one adapts all the time. On Bokonon, we once bought a “fisherman’s anchor”, to use for anchoring in rocky bays. It has the classical Popeye look, with sharp flukes going out in two directions.
We found this anchor particularly difficult to get into and out of the hatch where we keep our other anchors, the more compact “CQR” style. So, we adapted to this difficulty and tied the fisherman anchor smartly to the rail back in the stern, with one of its flukes tight against the deck and the other fluke out over the water. Easy to get to, easy to put away. Adaptation.


One of my favorite examples of adaptation is a story a revered math professor, David Lange, back in the 80s once told me. As a young toddler, he refused to drink his milk out of a glass. He only drank it out of baby bottle, complete with its rubber nipple. Freud would probably have something to say about this, but David didn’t care. He wanted his nipple bottle. His parents conceded time and again for months upon months, I guess figuring that they would be able to use reason with him when he could talk. Well, as he became more cognizant with age, they finally told him, ok, you can keep drinking out of the nipple, but we aren’t buying you a new one. Ok, fine, says David, and happily sucked his milk down for weeks and month. As this last nipple aged, it developed more and more holes in it. Young David didn’t mind. He just put his index finger over one hole, his middle finger over another, pinky finger over another, etc. Weeks went by. David became more and more adept at using all his fingers to cover the increasing number of holes so he could effectively suck on the nipple. Finally, the number of holes in the nipple exceeded David’s number of fingers, and after a couple of weeks of making a mess and getting no milk, David finally gave up adapting and drank his milk out of glass. There are always limits to adaptation, of course.

We did a similar sort of adapting as David did on Bokonon.  We used to have an old inflatable raft, we tied to the stern of the boat. This raft kept springing leaks. We fixed each leak, but there were constantly new ones. But you have time on a boat, so we just kept fixing the leaks.


I think we would have done that for another year, but one night while anchored in sand using the CQR anchor (sandy bottom) the wind was blowing really hard offshore, you could feel it hitting one side of the boat with 40 knots, then quiet, then the other side of the boat. Pretty exciting, not much sleeping going on. Then in the morning we got up, and there was the “deflatable”, impaled on the outboard fluke of the fisherman’s anchor, and limp as a rag. That ended that adaptation story.

A wonderful woman in my yoga class started a couple of weeks ago. I don’t notice things that much, but I did notice on that first day that she limped pretty bad when she walked. Class starts. Downward dog.


This is the worst. It always feels like hell, and this body of mine just hates to stretch and jeeze I really started feeling sorry for myself, but adapted and made do, just the same.  This day, I noticed a very measured deep breathing coming from the direction of the new student in the class. I looked back toward her under my legs (see above), and figured out why she limped. She had an artificial foot. Jeeze, really, Bill, you are feeling sorry for yourself in down dog? I didn’t know it till later, but she has an artificial leg too. Actually her own leg doesn’t start until half-way up her thigh. Everything south of that is artificial. And there she is under there, just adapting. She later told us that she loves to experiment with whatever prosthetic anyone wants to let her try. She has been adapting like this since she was 12, when aggressive bone cancer almost took her life. Makes me realize that I haven’t even begun to adapt yet.

Winches, ratchets, and memory


Ratchets are the key to modern sailboats. Winches. Stoppers. Tube blocks. These are critical components of modern-day sailing, and indeed the modern world. The ability to let something happen, or promote its happening, and then to …boom…, stop it from slipping back. This concept of ratcheting something is familiar to most anyone who has had to budge something that is large; a “come-along” to move a tree-stump, for example. The concept is particularly relevant to sailboats at sea: pulling in a sail with a sheet (a kind of rope or line). Pulling up a sail with a halyard (another kind of line). Every modern sailboat has multiple versions of this mechanical one-way street. Ratchets. We use them for virtually every move we make. The five crewmembers of the Yacht Psyche will be onboard Psyche on San Francisco Bay, 11 July, applying our muscle toward racheting in lines of all kinds.

Non-sailors don’t really get winches and tube-blocks and stoppers and such. By contrast, most sailors get them so well that they take them for granted, and hardly ever really think about them. Each of these different ratchet devices is a cool little discovery that made some bright mechanic a little money. The most ubiquitous, and on the old side, is the winch.


The man above is grinding in a sail using a winch. He is putting his strong left arm into turning that winch counter-clockwise. Every ootch of cranking he performs is captured by a ratchet, and saved. The ratchet is inside the winch!


As we crank the above winch counter-clockwise, its “gear” (1) moves past the pall (2), which uses an internal spring to constantly snug itself up to the gear as it travels past the next tooth, and clunks down, thereby saving that increment of work.   Both the gear and pall are firmly attached to the base (3), making this a capstan with a ratchet. What’s a capstan? Rewind back to the sailor/whaler days. Put your strongest crew to work on this, pushing one of the spokes of this capstan, and soon the massive anchor and chain will be off the bottom and on the deck!


These sailors sang sea-chanteys as they pushed. Yo Heave Ho. But other than the anchor, most pulling in those days not so long ago was done with a block and tackle. This is another way to gain mechanical advantage, and we still use it today, albeit not as much as the old guys did!


Easy to pull things together because the back & forth of the pulleys gives you marvelous “mechanical advantage”. But if you don’t tie it off after you’ve pulled it in, it will slip right back, abruptly stealing all the progress you’ve made, and potentially endangering your life! Block and tackle is fine and dandy, but it does NOT ratchet.

We need ratchets in life. I just pushed the “save” button on this blog. It is my computer’s ratchet.

Time is a ratchet. I’ve been on 4 transpacific yacht races. They are in the books. They can’t be lost. They happened. No way to undo them. My first was as a snotty-nosed, sea-sick love-sick paid hand on the Bonnehomme Richard in 1969 (we weren’t actually racing, but instead were the radio/escort vessel that relayed the daily messages to the mainland via HAM radio). The 20-foot seas for the first three days. The cheap mustard, spilled within the first few hours on the shag carpet. The endless puking and consequent dehydration. The surprise of a Dramamine suppository. The joy of my first food in three days, a peanut butter wonder-bread sandwich. None of these events can be undone.

But how about the memory of that time? Is it a rachet? Memory is a dynamic self-renewing, self-distorting, self-transforming process. Rachet is not a good metaphor, unless you imbue those palls and gears with psychedelically wobbly, decidedly unpredictable qualities. We remember things in a way that will improve our chances of surviving and leaving offspring, and this will only correlate with what really happened now and then! If mothers remembered the pain of childbirth as it actually happened, we would have gone extinct long ago. The memory of that kind of pain is normally stored as a “definitely do NOT go there again” category for everything except childbirth. But moms all over the world selectively forget that pain, and oftentimes do it again and again!  Memory. Such a distortion of the concept of a ratchet, that it seems almost silly to make the comparison.

But here is a cool example of how memory is a kind of ratchet.  My Aunt Louisa celebrated her 90th birthday last weekend. I was there. She and her oldest daughter “Petie” (also named Louisa, but her cousins still call her Petie) hosted a beautiful small celebration. Bird (my wife and longest ever love) and I had the honor of being invited. Petie asked us in her invitation to bring either a paper hat, or a poem, or something. I immediately knew what I was going to do. I would bring a ukulele and sing “Eddystone Light.”

Why? Because when my Aunt Louisa was young, early twenties even, she and my now-dead mom, Jane Wright, who attended Westridge School for Girls, used to double-date. Louisa with my mom’s now-dead oldest brother (Uncle Bobby), my mom with Howard Walter Wright Jr. (my now-dead dad). My dad knew some chords on his guitar, and loved to play this song. I’ve seen photos of the four of them on Siwash, an old (very old, but not dead!) yawl, about which you will read much more as we go along.

So, I figured this song would be ok for Louisa. A kind of a ratchet’s pall (see photo above), that would snap her back to that time, for which there are fewer and fewer reminders as she outlives virtually everyone in her generation. But Louisa’s response to my song (especially to the part, “Not the kind of buoy what’s a juvenile male.”) was much more than a reminder. This didn’t just make her think of her past. It made her think of the present and the future. I could tell, in talking to her afterward, that she realized that this meme, this social memory, was not being carried or maintained as she experienced it, but rather was was alive. It was part of a different memory, my memory, and was being carried forward by me, and my kids and my brothers and their kids, and my friends and their friends. It has been transmitted to these “offspring” in its altered form. This realization of the vibrant aliveness of social memory just thrilled her to her bones.  I felt it.  She, is the most amazing Auntie. She loved the idea of this song going forward in time and changing and adapting as it went. The idea of a social memory, a meme, has a looser, more dynamic rachet than does a winch.

Eddystone Light