May 18, 2012
I was sound asleep and I think I was dreaming, but I don’t exactly remember. I do remember that it was a very good sleep and a fitting reward for how hard I’d worked at falling to sleep. It was about 11AM and I’d gotten off watch at 10. “Rich, Rich, there’s a helicopter, wake up!” A what? I sat up and looked out the companion way door, and there really was a helicopter – about 50 feet behind our boat and about 30 feet above the water. What the heck? I grabbed some shorts and the hand-held VHF radio and ran out into the cockpit.
I tried calling him while he circled our boat about three times. I was so busy looking at the radio and calling I didn’t really see the pilot. Cyndi did, and apparently he’d circled her once before I got out there, pausing behind the boat and waving. We weren’t able to make radio contact and after the circles, he sped off to the south.
I tried calling on the boat’s VHF… “this is the sailing vessel Legacy at position da, da de da, to the ship that launched the helicopter. Come in please.” No reply. I tried about three times, still no reply. What was it? A James Bond super yacht, a secret military settlement out at sea, a huge toy company sparing no expense to get me back to the states to design the next future recycle bin offering? Or maybe a fishing boat with a scout helicopter. Yea, that’s probably it. There are tuna boats in San Diego with helicopters on the back decks. Maybe it was one of those. About 20 minutes later, we heard a radio call but it was weak and we were never able to establish radio communications. (Aviation buffs: it looked like it might have been an R44, but somehow it looked sleeker and more bullet-shaped. It had great big things attached to the skids that I assume inflate in a water landing.)
But how strange. We’re so far from anywhere. It’s well over 2000 miles to Central America, Mexico or even Hawaii. I guess the closest place to us at this point is the Marquesas at only about 865 miles away.
We’re almost across the ITCZ tonight. We’ve only been in it about 24 hours and I expect we’ll come out of it later tonight. It hasn’t been too bad. It was rainy all day today and last night we had dozens of rain squalls. The squalls didn’t have a lot of wind. In fact, they mostly stole what little wind we had. Cyndi thought she saw one lightning flash. I didn’t see any. Sometimes there can be a lot of thunder and lightning in the ITCZ so we count ourselves lucky. Lightning? What could go wrong there with nothing sticking up in the air, save for our 65 foot tall metal mast (and oh yea, an occasional helicopter).
We have about 240 miles to the equator where by the tradition, our current status as polliwogs will change to that of shell-backs. We have an appropriate celebration planned. We’ll tell you about it in a couple of days. Cyndi reads these and I don’t wont to spoil the surprise. -Rich
Cyndi’s Version: I was comfortably settled into the watch chair, the boat motoring along in these rather surreal, gray and humid ITCZ conditions. I had been on watch about an hour and was deep into my book when I heard what sounded like a gas-powered lawn mower come to life in the cockpit. To say I was alarmed would be an understatement, as I rushed to the companionway, fearing that our transmission or engine was in a state of complete self-destruction, a pieces-flying-everywhere sort of catastrophe. I came pretty much face to face with a helicopter, which had come down to what looked like 50 feet behind our boat and about 20 or 30 feet above the water, hovering and looking almost like he might be going for a water landing. To say I was surprised would be another understatement; I don’t think I would have been any more surprised to see a Kraken. I was dumbfounded, probably standing there with my mouth open. Possible reasons for his being here flashed through my mind: does he think we’re a boat in distress and is coming in for a rescue? Is he checking to see if we might be drug runners? Is he coming to warn us of some impending doom up ahead, a freak weather condition or natural disaster? I could see the pilot clearly now as he hovered behind us, and he waved at me. I waved back, still stunned, but realizing if he’s giving me a wave that there’s probably no emergency. I had stayed in the companionway, not wanting to run out in the cockpit as I was only in underwear and a tank top (it’s warm here and we’re not wearing a lot). I decided the next thing to do was to get Rich up, and I was surprised when he sprang out of bed, believing me about the helicopter right away. I was relieved he was up fast enough to see it for himself as I’m not sure he would have believed this otherwise, thinking I’d been at sea too long and was starting to hallucinate. As he tried to radio the helicopter or the ship it came from, I recovered from the shock and thought about the moral of this story: don’t assume people can’t drop in on you out here. Also, when taking showers in the cockpit, keep your ears perked for approaching aircraft and a towel close at hand.
One final note: I’m not very happy to hear about a surprise for the equator crossing. Those kinds of surprises are along the lines of the surprises involved in fraternity hazing rituals. I was hoping to enjoy my rum in peace, without being subjected to an involuntary King Neptune shaving cream beard application or some other indignity. Sigh. -Cyndi