January 31, 2001
At Sea in the Colombian Basin
11 Degrees North, 73 Degrees, 49’ West

Can Computers and Ships Talk?   

I finally got around to reading the January 8th issue of TIME, purchased back someplace in the Grenadines.    The cover drew me in, “How to Survive the U.S. Slump.” The Nasdaq having fallen further at every port since we left San Diego last September, I had given up checking on stocks at the internet cafes and on reading articles about stocks, and I only made it halfway through this article.  The best way to “survive” the slump is just what we are doing. Go cruising. Forget about the stock market for now. If one did not sell and convert to cash or bonds back last spring when they were high, one might as well wait until they are high again. But the TIME CAPSULE about soothing and sinister computer voices, now here is a pertinent subject.

Apparently across the U.S. the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey is playing to packed houses. The novel written by Arthur Clarke more than 30 years ago is selling briskly.  As we enter 2001, it is true that some 35,000 km above the equator, communications satellites are relaying TV pictures and telephone calls between the continents.  And these same satellites are communicating with Ray (short for Raytheon) our ship’s autopilot, which is connected to our B&G LCD system.  I cannot imagine navigating the seas without GPS. We rely on the ship’s GPS, as well as a hand-held unit, and plan on purchasing a back-up hand-held unit, just in case.  And Ray, well, he is our very competent and dependable fifth crew member on this leg of Voyage 1.  We would not want to hand steer in these boisterous, rolling Colombian seas! Ray does just fine, swerving around the big waves, steadily and surely moving us back on course, controlling the rudder.

Ray talks to Pacific Bliss, who talks to us.   Plants talked to us back in the ‘70s. Would we expect anything less from a highly technical yacht, on whom we depend for our very survival?

Last night during my 0300 to 0600 watch, the wind whipped against the port beam of Pacific Bliss.  An occasional giant wave crashed into the port side of the cockpit, spewing salt water over the teak table and white cushions.  This was not a very pleasant place to be.   The new cradle moon had feathered its way down to the horizon, leaving the dark sky flickering with stars.   The sea was not only dark; it was menacing. Grey spumes frothed over the foam crests.  A few waves were breaking.  “The beginning of spindrift” I thought anxiously, as I completed fastening my life vest in the salon and did the “Cat-Walk” into the cockpit, center of gravity low. We must be gusting to a Force 7 or even Force 8.” 

Initially, I clipped in my harness to the cockpit areas, looked quickly for freighters stern, port and starboard, then stood on the cockpit cushion to peer through the hardtop bimini for freighters forward. The crew often stayed here in the cockpit during rough weather. I never did, unless it was raining…but perhaps tonight…

Just then, Pacific Bliss beckoned me over to my usual watch station on the starboard helm. It was where I always communicated with her, under the 360-degree night canopy. I clipped in at the stern and climbed up on to the helm station, feet dangling.

“You always feel more in control here,” she said, calming me down. I checked all the feedback we have located there:

Wind: Force 7
Wind Speed: 29 knots
Wind Directions: E
Auto: 227
Heading: 216

I glanced at the apparent wind indicator.  We were on a beam reach, wind shifting with gusts to a broad reach. That is why it was uncomfortable.  We had been sailing west, west, west for most of the 6000 nautical miles that Ray had recorded.  Crossing the Atlantic and most of the Caribbean, we had experienced following seas.  Now, we were heading southwest, toward the coast of Colombia. I had done my research; I knew that the seas could be turbulent here and the winds strong. But the main was double-reefed: good through Force 7.   If we had a steady Force 8, we would triple reef.  We always sailed conservatively, especially at night. There was nothing to do but ride it out.

I thought of the Latts & Atts T-shirt that I chose to wear this morning underneath my lightweight foul weather gear: The difference between adventure and ordeal is attitude. I relaxed, settled into the comfortable seat, and prepared myself for a wild ride. “Let the fun begin!” I cried out to Pacific Bliss.

She responded by surfing a few of the rollers, just like she had done through the Atlantic.  We were in sync again.   Pacific Bliss was in her element and she and I and the rolling, crashing seas became one. I rolled with her, feeling the motion in my seat and hips, bouncing and swaying from side to side as she rode the waves.  
Ray guided her; he chose a weaving, twisting path through the waves, sometimes veering to 20-30 degrees off course, trying to take it easy on the rudder, yet maintain the heading. 

A few gusts took us to Force 8, when her riggings began to hum.  “Not to worry,” she assured me, “just a little singing in the wind.  A little treat for my gallant lady.”

Please refer to the story, Pacific Bliss, Do You Read Me?.  It tells about our communication when crossing the Atlantic.

Only one other cruiser to date has shared with me her “talking ship” story.  I’d love to hear more.

This one is from Brenda Cole of Enduring Echoes.   Please forgive me, Brenda, if I’m not telling it correctly:

The autopilot had conked out about 400 miles from the Canaries, early into their Atlantic crossing.  This meant hand steering, with a crew of five.  The others had taken their turns at the helm, and now the guys were teaching Brenda how to steer through the long rollers. The advice was conflicting, and Brenda “just didn’t get it.”

Finally, at the helm alone with Enduring Echoes, trying desperately to incorporate all their advice, her ship spoke to her frankly.

“Come dance with me. If you will just learn to dance my dance, I promise you that I will never embarrass you again.”

Brenda surfed the waves to and fro with Enduring Echoes, taking her shifts at the helm all the way across the Atlantic to St. Lucia, never missing a beat.







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