Thanksgiving at Sea

After his miscalculations cause a nighttime knockdown, Alvah redeems himself to Diana by preparing a Thanksgiving SPAM. "The Roger Henry File for December 19, 2007"

October 28, 2008

Alvah headshot 368

Billy Black

I’m not sure if I was better organized or just luckier in years past, for again this week we found ourselves punching into unusual headwinds while pushing north away from tropical tantrums.

Our little Roger Henry is but a speck out here on a big ocean. It makes one feel insignificant in one way, and yet somehow the center of the universe in another.

However, as Einstein predicted, our universe is tending towards disorder. The solar panel was flipped upwards in a violent line squall. The wind generator blades made contact, with shattering effect. The headsail furler is jumping out of its lower casing (a dangerous situation). The SSB is intermittently turning itself off. The Marine Sanitation Device (I love that phrase) has failed completely. Di is a tough girl, and she doesn’t ask for much. But she has made it clear that a toilet is a non-negotiable item.


I told you she was getting spoiled.

This shake-up is good for us, in a way. Five months out and I still do not feel completely in tune with the boat and our surroundings. That’s a euphemism for being a bonehead. On night watch I saw a menacing black line squall approaching. I confidently calculated that we could outrun it if I kept all sail set. The ensuing jibe and knockdown was like a train wreck.

When Diana scrambled up to help me she was walking on the cockpit walls instead of the floor. The rain was driven with such stinging furry that I was forced to don a foul-weather jacket before I could try to bring the boat back up. In the mean time the solar showers, deck brushes, and odds and ends from the cockpit cubbyholes floated away in our foaming wake.


Releasing the preventer so that I could blow the mainsail proved tricky, as it lay vertically downhill. I managed to throw the boat into another violent jibe and then scrambled up-hill to let it and the main fly. Still pressed down hard, we turned our attention to the headsail. The flailing sounded like a machine gun, and the sheets had whipped themselves into such a Gordian knot that I thought only a knife would free them. So we furled the entire mess, to be dealt with later. With the wind tearing our words away, we managed to get the main reefed and the staysail trimmed.

Finally, drenched, exhausted, and even though approaching the equator, shivering, we crawled below. What can you say to your partner who has just been blown out of her berth by your miscalculation?

“Happy Thanksgiving, Di.” She never has understood my humor.


I hoped to make it up with a nice feast that afternoon. Di has always thought that I drive the boat too hard. I think she took a silent delight in watching me try to prepare my epicurean delight in a bucking galley.

To commemorate the core concepts of this fine holiday, I always try to cook with historically authentic ingredients. But at sea you have to make do sometimes. The closest I could get to a golden-brown turkey was a cube of fried turkey Spam. Nevertheless, I presented it in whole on a platter for the obligatory oohs and aahhs, and then ceremoniously carved it, asking Di if she preferred breast or thigh.

That night, as the full moon reflected on the Central Pacific, I reflected on my many blessings: a brave and beautiful wife, a loving family, loyal friends, and the glorious freedom to wander this world.


Just saying “Thank You” out loud seemed to tip the cosmic scale in our favor. The next day, the winds backed to the Northeast and moderated. We lay our rumb line directly for Kosrae, Micronesia.

We passed out of the equatorial belt of intense convection and were treated to two days of fine close-hauled sailing.

I usually avoid regular radio schedules because, frankly, I enjoy the sense of isolation when on passage. We made an exception however by logging on to the roll-call of “The Rag of the Air Net,” run by Jim Bandy from the little island a Fijian chief GAVE him.

Jim is an Oklahoma boy, an ex-professional racecar driver, and a real old-fashioned gentleman. He is doing a fine job of collating and relaying vital weather information to the many yachts passing through the Central and South Pacific. Also, he follows up on a yacht’s passage to ensure it has reached its destination. He is not your typical panic merchant. If a boat is not ticked off his list he makes numerous unofficial queries before ringing any official alarm bells.

Unlike some of the high profile net controllers, who positively dictate passage strategies, you can hardly cajole a bit of advice out of Jim. He tells you where the big winds and bad seas are; you figure out the rest. I like his style, and his wife, Kyoko, was clearly put on this planet with the sole mission of catching fish. Years ago she peeked into my rusty tackle-box with disgust. She presented me with a couple of high quality fishing lures that are still the scourge of the South Pacific. “With Help From Jack, A Sailor Bests a Beast and Atones for a Blunder.”

Jim’s relief anchor, Ted from Sequester, asked me if I had any information on the welfare and whereabouts of Captain Fatty Goodlander and his lovely wife, Carolyn, on Wild Card. I told him I had not seen nor heard from Fatty since New Zealand eight months prior. By one of those quirky coincidences Fatty had just turned on his radio and tuned into “The Rag” without announcing his presence. Jim calls this “lurking” and you risk a public ribbing if caught.

Fatty took his chances and broke in. As to his welfare, he is, as the Kiwis say, “Happy as Larry.” As to his whereabouts, he said, “We are in the remote little port of Lelu, in Kosrae, Micronesia. Where are you, Roger Henry?”

“One day out from a remote little port named Lelu in Kosrae, Micronesia.”

Fatty is a popular and prolific contributor to Cruising World. I am trying to be. I joked that just as the President and Vice President never fly on the same aircraft, perhaps we aren’t supposed to be in the same anchorage together.

Fatty was very enthusiastic about Kosrae and can’t wait to share what he assures us is a special place. This is shaping up to be a fun landfall.

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