With winds and weather favouring his journey, our ocean bound hero, Laval St Germain, is weeks ahead of schedule. This week he hit the half way mark and sent his fourth update from the cabin of True Blue, his trusty ocean row boat.
We wanted to help Laval reach his fundraising goal of $20,000, so for each sale made at INK while he is on the water, we are making a donation to the Confront Cancer Ocean Row. Live in INK and help fight cancer. Confront Cancer Ocean Row donations will help fund clinical trials through the Alberta Cancer Foundation.
Catch up on Laval’s exploits in his blog post below and follow along with his live updates on Twitter at @lavalstgermain!
July 24, 2016
Only ten days since my last update, but with one milestone made – geographic half way point. This was located at 034 11′ .670W, crossed that point at about midnight my time (UTC-2 or Calgary time +4, I am now +5) on the morning of the 19th. No fan fare, no celebration, just a realization that the North Atlantic has allowed me to get this far, now just need to sneak across the same distance.
Much like topping out on some of the more difficult peaks – no elation, no sense of completion, just the sober realization that you are only half way and the tough stuff is now starting. I have a deep respect for mountains and my own insignificance amongst them. Since I have not crossed an ocean before, I assume, and maybe more so, that the same holds true for the sea. I do know that me, the boat, electronics, etc., now have the accumulated wear and tear of the first 2500 kms of wind and waves.
Have had favourable winds for days and days, really such incredible good fortune. As I type this, I am still in a west wind pushing me at over 4 kts. Had quite a gale back on the 19th into the 20th, big waves and super rough. The waves looked like row after row of dark grey bungalows careening at me from behind (I always face backward) and had many near knockdowns and some big hits from breaking waves, but my little boat True Blue kept me safe. We would surf obliquely down a wave at high speed, then yaw violently in the trough, the gunwales on the low side digging into the wave, white water floods the entire deck, the boat groans and shudders under a roar of spray, I would fling myself to the high side of the cockpit to try to prevent a capsize, but she would then somehow shake off the waves, and just stand up out of the roiling white surf and off we’d go again, over and over thru the day and night. Sometimes the only parts of the boat above water were the stern and cockpit. Very impressed with this boat, but no sleep on ‘gale nights’. I have been fortunate to have had the weather at the beginning of the crossing start rather gently and then gradually get more and more challenging. This way I could get a real feel for or acclimatized to the sea and the boat, and what our capabilities were.
The worst storm started July 12 and lasted a few days. The bungalows in that one were mixed with the odd two story houses..some with attached garages, not recommended. In retrospect, that gale was powerful enough that I should have just deployed the sea anchor and let it pass me vs running with it. Those were a few days where I was right at the limits, with many knockdowns, near capsizes and little sleep. That added fatigue makes for poor decisions and slow reaction times, but True Blue and I made it thru, and with astonishing distances covered: I believe we did one 24-28 hr run of close to 155 nm, and a few 24 hr runs of 120 nm or more. I see one journal entry from the 13th: “….I’m writing this in a gale doing 5.7 kts pitching and rolling like mad…” I would regularly see 6 kts on those days, not rowing. That big gale and the gale that followed made up hundreds of miles of bonus distance covered, I wish I could say it was all my rowing! I can see now that the sport of ocean rowing, is dictated by whether you are prepared, the boat is tough enough and most critically whether the winds are favourable. If you have those three and some luck, you can get a speedy crossing.
Oh, finally bathed after waiting only 38 days. Thinking I’ll now see more marine life without the ocean rowing bouquet emanating from me.
Have had a few controlled passes with ship traffic, but made radio contact with them all, so no excitement, no white pyrotechnic flares in hand, no drama. On the subject of being acclimatized to life at sea; I was sitting in what I considered relatively rough seas, but not nearly the worst I’d been in, when I asked a passing ship for his wind direction and wind speed, his reply: “WNW at 37 knots (70k/h)” That is classified by Admiral Francis Beaufort (Royal Navy in 1805), as a “Force 8 Gale with 18-25 ft (5.5 – 7.5 m) waves…” That explained the ride and my speed…not to mention the hot Fratello coffee burns on my legs from spills. (Prefontaines, call your lawyers)
Very little marine life last 10 days, just a few porpoises, and a pod of whales yesterday, thrashing about in the waves about 150m behind True Blue, really made a racket and churned up the sea. I do hear porpoises on quite a few nights thru the cockpit floor. Have been seeing a lot of what I think are Portuguese Man (Men?) of War, jelly fish. Curiously these really became numerous as I passed 1000km north of the Portuguese islands of the Azores. One so close that it passed between my hand and the boat as I as I was rinsing out my coffee cup two days ago, happy it missed stinging me (or it woulda been another: Prefontaines, call your lawyers). I will need to confirm that this is the correct species when I return, but they have a distinct violet and pink translucent inflated ‘sail’ that protrudes above the waves. Brian Keating, if you are reading this, let us know please.
Birdlife has decreased, which seems logical since I am so far from any land. The only birds this far out are terns, fulmars and petrels. Petrels have this peculiar habit of soaring very low over the waves with a one or both legs hanging limply below their bodies skimming the waves. They only do this when gliding mere centimetres above the top of the water, any higher and their landing gear is completed retracted, safely ‘up and locked’. They apparently get their name from St. Peter and walking on water, although flying above the water seems like the more noteworthy miracle to me.
Had a very funny run-in with a bird on the night of the 19th in a gale. Lying awake in the cockpit I suddenly hear and feel a tremendous BOINGGGGG as if a giant guitar string had been plucked right above my head, this was followed almost simultaneously by an even more tremendous SQUAWK?!? (yes, question marks were audible and if I had feather emoticons, the word SQUAWK would be surrounded in feathers). Obviously something had run beak-on into my antenna array above the cockpit. The sound of this was cartoon-like, and reminded me of sound effects from Bugs Bunny or the Roadrunner. I am obviously suffering from some type of isolation psychosis, because I am still chuckling about it! Simple pleasures after 40 days alone, but still better than conversations with a volleyball.
Beautiful little terns are using or trying to use True Blue as an aircraft carrier, usually aiming for the flat surface of the aft solar panels. Amusing to watch them line-up like a Navy jet on the pitching and rolling stern of True Blue and the at the last second execute a go-around/missed approach, join downwind and then make sometimes several attempts before landing. Once they land they seem genuinely surprised and have this startled look of “Holy s**t I made it!? What the…why is this mostly naked skinny bearded guy staring at me with that stupid grin??”
At my going away fundraiser, people purchased food, and Janet has written on the bags of freeze dried food, the names of the people donating the meal. Always fun to see who bought me dinner. So far I think Delaney is trying to get me fat with the number of meals I’ve eaten with her name on it. I’m blaming this on her being pregnant and wanting me to have the bigger belly when I get back. My Mother In-law, Adrienne and a fellow pilot, Bill Rodgers, are also guilty, and super generous, of supplying a lot of meals (who says pilots are cheap?) Giant thanks to all who bought me a meal…or four, very kind of you.
Apple Music on my iPhone suddenly dropped about 90% of my downloaded music, just suddenly happened five days ago, first world problems I figured. My surviving playlist consisted of The Dudes, DoJo Workhorse, Matthew Good, Bon Iver, Ben Howard, Elle King, Heartless Bastards, Reuben and the Dark, Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses, that’s all I had left, but still great music. ‘Had’ being the operative term. I realized after 38 days that I had my Mac laptop safely stowed deep in a waterproof locker (I thought Janet had taken it back home), found it, fired it up and recovered my music and better yet, had dozens of unplayed podcasts on my Mac: Houston, we do not have a problem. Finished all of my remaining CBC Ideas podcasts, what a great program, never tire of that show. Now I’m on to french language pods, need to try to get my french back. Embarrassed by how weak it is now. Was even writing out my verbs one day during a gale.
Janet has been emailing me the ‘messages in a bottle ‘ from the fundraiser at Fratello. Some very funny…and some unprintable stuff, but have had me laughing as I read them.
Had one good buddy tell me I am like a space monkey from the early days of the US space program, out here in my ‘capsule’. I think that’s better than the dogs the Soviets used, so I’ll take it as a compliment, and until day 38 the smell was decidedly monkey.
Jim in Mission Control, tells me solid west winds for several more days, if these continue it will surely be an extremely fast crossing. Having said that, a long way to go and I’m sure the North Atlantic has a few more trials and tests for me before it lets me sneak across. I found a great poem on this very topic, with an even more auspicious spelling of the word breast:
When the wind is from the west
All the waves that cannot rest
To the east must thunder on
Where the bright tree of the sun is rooted in ocean’s brest.
~Rumann son of Colman
(a translation from 8th Century Gaelic)
I’m still in that very cautious ‘descent from the summit’ mode, taking nothing for granted until all objective hazards are behind me and True Blue is tied securely to that dock in Brest. Jim has all the info on Twitter @JamesRedeker and even has the odd meteorology lesson there.
Special hello again to my buddy Korey, and who I blame for me doing this trip. Korey is finally commencing radiation treatment in two days. I was getting so frustrated by the delays, that I threatened to have Korey tied to the radome (the nose) of a 737 and have the weather radar turned up. This threat worked, he is starting soon, and won’t need our AMEs/Mechanics (Aircraft Maintenance Engineers) at the airline to administer treatment, plus they would then insist on being called doctor. All kidding aside, I really have Korey, Erin and their kids, in my thoughts out here and we are in near constant email contact.
Peyton Supergirl Best, I see the drawing of you everyday as I exit and enter the cockpit and think about you. When I start to feel sorry for myself, I just think of the stories about how tough you are, that stops my complaints cold. I really hope you are having a nice summer with your family. I’ll come visit you with Staff Sergeant Perka when I get back to Alberta. Keep fighting hard!
If you took a few minutes to read this blog, can I please ask that you consider spending two minutes more by clicking on DONATE at www.lavalstgermain.com or www.confrontcanceroceanrow.com? You will be helping those people out there on their far more important difficult journeys, people with cancer.
Thanks for following and once again, thank you to my family, all my supporters and sponsors for helping me get this far!
Sent from my Rannoch R10 solo ocean row boat from the North Atlantic
Erin @ Battistella