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February 18, 2005

Morning watch. Friday, February 18th 2005

BY: Sandy Mason



We left Golfito last night around 7 and have been traveling southwest toward Cocos ever since. The ocean has been perfectly calm. Those among the new crew who have never spent more than an afternoon sailing (myself included) are learning what it means to live on a boat from the seasoned sailing veterans of the Ranger crew.

There is one very big thing to learn: a boat is a self contained world. Detached from land, you realize how completely your day to day life is enmeshed in the infrastructure of civilization — sewage system, water pipes, power grid. Here there is no handle to turn to bring an endless rush of fresh water, no button to push to whisk away your waste. The only resources available are what we brought with us; and what we produce is also ours to manage, at least until we get back to land. There is limited water, limited power, limited food. So we wash dishes with salt water and rinse them, only when necessary, with a little spurt of fresh water pumped from the reservoir tanks. When the sun goes down the boat is dark; if you need a light, you use the smallest light possible, and for as short a time as you can. Trash is separated: anything that can be recycled is kept on board to eventually be brought back to land, organic waste is offered to the fish once we are very far from shore.

Everything on this boat is attended to – every rope, every screw, every piece of detritus – everything has its role, and there is a sense of empowerment and independence in taking this precise universe to sea. Maybe it’s the juxtaposition – absolute control over a limited system in the midst of endless water and wind, irrevocably beyond any control – that is so exhilarating.

If details aboard the Ranger are important, I’m learning, details around us are even more so. We keep a 24 hour watch to scan the horizon for storm clouds, other ships, light or smoke signals – anything. The day is divided into eight 3 hour periods. Everyone watches for 3 hours in the morning and 3 at night. My watch, today, was 6 to 9 AM. Marcela, a journalist from MarViva, woke me and 2 other watchmates when her team had valiantly completed the 3 to 6 AM shift, and we climbed on deck to a rising sun. Early in the morning we pass a massive Cosco container ship — after open ocean in every direction, sharing the water with another boat makes things feel crowded — and just a few minutes ago a booby flew by, but otherwise the day has been completely calm and the ocean all ours.