Thursday, September 3, 2015

3000 Miles of Waves and Sky -- Indian Ocean Crossing 2015

Just before leaving Malaysia, I was put in touch with an artist working on a painting project in which he was trying to capture a sense of the ocean's waves. He was looking for offshore photos of the deep blue. I told him our own attempts at photographing the ocean -- many years of it -- are never very successful, as it's nearly impossible to capture the depth and breadth in a camera lens. We have no perspective other than our sea-level view, and there is no comparative element. We also can never capture the movement of the waves: how they come at you with great speed at times, lift you, push and pull you. The movement of the boat is what defines our existence at sea -- up and over waves, one moment after another. Patterns of holding on and letting go, of balancing on one foot or the other, become second nature to an offshore sailor. But those can't be captured either. The kinetic energy of life afloat is wholly elusive when it comes to a digital capture. I'm sure professional photographers do a much better job of it, with better equipment and a better sense of the how to of it.

But I liked thinking of this artist with his white and blue and grey canvas. Indeed, I thought of him all the way across the Indian Ocean, wishing I could contribute something of the variety of the ocean for his 'research'. So we tried with our own modest Nikon to capture the sea state, taking hundreds of photos of blue and more blue. We experienced real variety, too: at first a very calm sea, then building with increasing wind and then very steep seas as we made our way further south and got into the heavy tradewinds. But we don't venture outside with the camera when the seas are especially nasty; you'll not find any photos of those days when waves the size of two-storey houses were breaking over Momo.

Below are some samples from our 25 days between Sumatra and Madagascar -- some 3000+ miles (you can see our track here). Even if you can't get a sense of the height or depth or frequency of the waves from these views, you can at least see the infinite blue.

Departure day, August 1

Sailing into the sunset, first days out

August 8, wind increasing and waves building 

August 8 -- the day the first wave swamped Bernie and me in our cockpit. No capture of that wave.

More from August 8. Wind was 25 knots the night prior, but lessened at dawn. The seas were still quite boisterous, however. 

More from August  8

View along the starboard side -- we were on a port tack most of the way to Madagascar.

August 10-11 we had waves breaking over us fairly regularly. They don't have to be monstrous to be dangerous. 

August 11 -- wave coming up the stern

More from August 11

Frothy seas, August 11

Hard to capture the constancy of the breaking seas -- and the size.

My birthday, August 16, and a rainbow ever so briefly  

August 18 -- rollicking seas, still under grey skies

August 17 -- and then, it was suddenly sunny

...and warm enough to try to dry some of our sopping sarongs and towels that we used to mop up saltwater that found its way through our ports and hatches during the preceding week of wet

August 23 -- approaching Madagascar and the day we spotted land for the first time. But this is looking aft at the frothy seas behind us. 

August 23, 25 miles from Cape D'Ambre, and the seas are still kicking up under bright skies

August 23, view over the port side

More of the same bright blue

August 23, frothy seas all around Momo

August 23 -- the foam of a crashing wave just to port

August 23 -- sometimes even the smaller seas race right at you with force

August 23 -- view out over the water

August 23 -- seas up our stern

Riding a wave, then another wave

Welcome committee just off Madagascar

Frothy greetings from the seas as they get shallower, approaching the coast

More froth and foam

And more, with Momo racing down some of the waves

Dancing waves to port

Yeah, we have hundreds of photos like this

Riding a wave, view to starboard

August 23, late afternoon view of Cape D'Ambre -- we did not capture the whales who breached on our bow and wandered on down our port side. But what an amazing thing to see just off the coast! 

August 23, late afternoon, coming into more protected waters

August 23, Choppy seas off of Cape D'Ambre, with the lighthouse now to the south of us

August 23, Cape D'Ambre rounding: swells are down but chop is up

August 23, one more view of the lighthouse at Cape D'Ambre, Madagascar. You can't hear us dancing, but we are. 

Looking back at the lighthouse. View from astern is pretty nice!
August 23, sailing into the sunset at the top of Madagascar. Protected waters and smooth sailing all the way to midnight -- when we lost our breeze and drifted till dawn; we then picked up the breeze at daybreak and landed three fish on Aug 24, Jana's 11th birthday. A grand arrival. 


  1. Beautiful and stunning pics!!!

  2. Awesome. You are so much braver than I...

  3. It's too bad wave size does not register well in photographs. I am always struck by the irony of how pretty open water looks until it rises up and tries to knock you off the boat, or you are staring eye to eye with a great white less than five feet away, or you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when a whale decides ti come up for some air. But all in all, a lot safer than the LA Freeway or the East Village on a Saturday night.

  4. Whoa, I can feel the movement of that water. I have so much respect and admiration for your life ( and for the ocean)!

  5. Thanks, all. And yes, Derek -- so true. They come when you are not even expecting them. The first wave that broke over us on this passage came while Bernie and I were both in the cockpit adjusting Jerome, our self-steering gear. It was early afternoon, perfectly clear and sunny, with big but fairly regular seas. We were sitting together, him on the port side, me to starboard. I only saw it coming at the last minute -- it rose up suddenly behind Bernie and I had time -- just barely -- to holler 'BIG WAVE' as a warning to anyone listening (I did not even know what I hollered, actually; my kids told me afterward that they heard that and got scrambling inside). It broke and we held tight -- to the binnacle and to each other. A world of white for a few seconds, then eyes open to see the cockpit filled, the remaining water rushing all over the cabintop. And also: water gushing inside, where we had not slid in the Lexan companionway slider door (we had had the foresight to slide the hood closed). Our daughters spent the next few minutes discovering where all the water had crashed our interior: coming with force into dorades, soaking our galley and also back cabin (which means our bunk as well as our younger daughter's). Books and bedding sopping and well salted. We spent all day and the next few days trying to dry things out. Then, the bigger waves starting coming. But we were at least prepared in that we'd turned the dorades and remembered to keep that Lexan door in. And I slept one night with a mini-tent made of sarongs over my head in our bunk -- got doused four times that night as the water found its way in our back hatch. That was a wet week in the middle of the crossing.

    1. But, to add: Nothing major broken (only a few bowls and my pottery garlic tub over the whole of the three weeks), no one injured. Nothing to complain about! The waves are dramatic sometimes, and a challenge to describe, but Momo held her course steady. And Jerome, our trusty windvane, drove us purposefully all the way, as it has done for tens of thousands of ocean miles. :)