DISCLAIMER: the remark is tongue in cheek, though there may be some truth to it, as the text below will attempt to show.
Same boat, same table, same passage-making state of mind and same ‘dog watch’, which for the moment is 23.00 to 03.00. The only reason the following watch, Bryant’s, isn’t the dog watch, is that he gets a sunrise out of it, as he’s on watch from 03.00 to 07.00. Any-hoo, both he and Lara are snugged away in their bunks, sleeping while the blue lady shakes a leg in boisterous seas and good ENE trades of 20 knot average. We’ve simplified life to the fullest, with the main double-reefed from the outset (experience is the best teacher) and flying only the full staysail for a headsail. Yes, we sail out boat conservatively, but what the hey, we’re still doing 6.5 on the midnight watch AND the crew gets to sleep in decent comfort. Can’t say that about all boats.
Anyway, we’re somewhere just north of 25N,and just sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiightly west of 160W. In other words, though our goal is obviously NE of us, the winds demand we make an almost north way for the moment, and so we’re doing pretty well maintaining 340 to 345 degrees true. We’ll be doing this for at least 3 or 4 more days. I know, it looks on Spot like we’re going the wrong way, as if we wanted to go to the Aleutians or something, but this is the way it is for the moment, and it’s completely normal. Ask anyone who’s done this passage during June/July, or ask Greg and Camila on Willow, about 350 nautical miles in front of us – they are in the same boat, or at least on the same course heading. By the way, we spoke with them by Sat phone at noon and then again on the SSB at 20.00 and they are well. They are closer to the famous high than we are and so are experiencing lighter winds and calmer seas.
But back to the title of the post
At about 14.30 today I was on watch, and I noticed that the Coast Guard C-130 was circling the area again, not us, but the area. Pretty soon they hail us on the radio and ask for our position, course and speed. Once they’ve relayed that to someone else that we can’t hear (but we know it’s the Navy), the get back to us a few minutes later with the following question: ‘The Navy would like to know when you plan to make your next tack to the East’. Now, I was a bit flabbergasted by this question – first, because our earlier ‘tack’ to the east was only because they asked us to do so. We don’t plan to tack for quite some time yet also because the Navy person(nel) behind the question might have been looking at a chart or something and assumed that we’d be sailing the most direct route to San Francisco (which we’re not, of course), and that would mean tacking over and over and over to windward in order to make way to the NE, i.e. in the direction of San Francisco, as we’d already communicated as our final destination. My response was calm but firm: ‘Negative Coast Guard, we have no intention of tacking to the East, at least not for 4 to 7 more days. Our inention is to remain on current course until about 37 or 38 degrees North’ (that’s at least 420 nautical miles from here). They replied that they’d pass the message along and more or less flew away. In the meantime I was steering the boat to the west through an afternoon squall that brought some pretty good rain.
About ten minutes later they came on the radio again and relayed the message that the Navy had asked if we could hold our current position, i.e. NOT MOVE, until 18.00, and then continue on with our desired course. That was another two and a half hours, give or take. Flabbergasted again, but smiling anyway, I replied to the Coast Guard that even if I hove to and did absolutely nothing to make way, I would still naturally drift to the West with both wind and current. Boats don’t sit absolutely still when a current is running and 20 trades are blowing, as I assume they know too.
It was getting to be about 15.00 and I guess they thought the day was getting late or something. The Coast Guard plan came back on the radio once more to report: ‘Yes, vessel Walk On, please continue your current course and speed. The Navy has decided to cancel the second launch (missles, I assume) for the afternoon and will be standing down. Have a safe journey to San Francisco’.
And that was that. Some Navy Commander, god bless him, was likely saying to someone else ‘Damn Civvies, sailing their boat through our exercise’, or ‘Thank goodness, a perfectly good reason to head back to port for a cold one and some R&R’. I’ll never know, of course, but we were pleased and relieved. Pleased that we could continue when and where we wanted to go (the wind rules the route of a sailor), and relieved that we didn’t have to do make a move to the east, against wind and current and using valuable diesel fuel.
It was an experience none of us will soon forget. The Navy had stood down for us!
Hat’s off to the Navy, and the very polite Coast Guard personnel in the C-130! More soon.