February 7, 2010 – At Sea, 45º 25’S, 074º 41’W
By Herb McCormick
Tom Hoymer is a great, funny, hardworking guy; an excellent sailor; a father and grandfather. A longtime best friend of skipper Mark Schrader, Tom joined the crew of Ocean Watch in South Carolina last fall, and was an invaluable mate – and the source of endless laughter – right through the voyage to San Juan. Tom knows his ropes, but what made him so valued was his sense of humor, his constant smile, his dry wit and his irrepressible spirit; in, short, his love of life. Aboard Ocean Watch, Tom was living his dream of offshore, blue-water sailing, and his sheer joy at the wonder of it all rubbed off on all of us.
We’ve been thinking about Tom a lot these past days, for right now, this instant, Tom Hoymer is in a hospital in Norway, in a coma and on a respirator, battling a vicious infection for his very existence.
He was just up there, in the cockpit, sipping a beer and sharing a sea story.
That, of course, is life. It can happen, to any and all of us, in a moment’s flash. The only consolation we on Ocean Watch have about this, is that not so long ago, Tom was right here with us, having seized the day and the opportunity to chase his passion.
Chasing your passions, of course, is not always simple, as the crew aboard Ocean Watch also learned in the last 24-hours. This afternoon, the boat was in the open Pacific Ocean but aimed at the Canal Darwin off the coast of Southern Chile. The problem with these waters, and it’s a considerable one, is their geographical location and make-up. The westerly winds here in the Roaring Forties are tenacious and endless, but the Andes Mountain range extending up the coast is what really makes them fierce and lethal, for once they stack up against the long line of peaks they have nowhere to go, no release for their powerful energy. Instead, they funnel and blow, stacking up tight stripes of isobars that parallel the continent. The end effect is exponential.
Last night, crossing the miserable Golfo de Penas, we learned what those weather maps look like in reality.
People who’ve sailed across oceans with me know I have a fairly strong stomach and constitution. This wasn’t always the case, it’s something I’ve gotten used to and learned to overcome after many, many miles. Until last evening, that is, when I was wracked with the most vicious spasms of seasickness I’ve experienced in over two decades. Mal tiempo equaled mal de mer. I can say this only because Tom Hoymer would appreciate the sentiment, and at least a small attempt at humor, but for a while there, a coma sounded pretty good.
The skipper, of course, was right in the fray, and he’s addressed last night’s events, and summarized the current situation, in the latest entry of his ongoing log:
“On some passages we’ve compared the motion on board Ocean Watch to what being inside your home washing machine on the wash cycle might be like. I think it’s an apt comparison, only last night we were in the industrial variety, known for its long cycles and vigorous turbulent action. If I were a pair of dirty coveralls, I’d be spotless now, ditto the whole crew. The spin and rinse parts were less fun than the wash cycle. It wasn’t comfortable but we’re fine.
“Since leaving the relative calm of Schroder Island (I’m sure they misspelled it, that “o” was certainly meant to be an “a”) and starting across the Gulfo de Penas, we’ve covered 160 open ocean nautical miles and are now headed into the recommended Canal Darwin. Darwin connects with about a dozen other named inside canals that should eventually lead us to Puerto Montt, 310 miles north of our current position. Most of the canals are charted and marked (lighted) so we can safely navigate at night. That’s good because we have a pretty narrow window of weather for a timely arrival (I know, we’re already late) in Puerto Montt.
“Besides being ace photographer and humorist, David Thoreson finds, downloads and summarizes our daily weather forecasts. His latest from Buoyweather.com looks like we have a 36-hour period of moderate westerly winds before a strong gale arrives and brings with it very strong northerly winds along the coast and in the channels. For us, strong northerlies means finding a place to hide and letting it blow over. We know in these channels we can’t sail or motor against steep chop and strong wind. All of us would like to be in Puerto Montt before this gale makes its way to the coast, but it will be close, odds on the gale arriving before we’re tied to the dock.
“When I mentioned to a local sailor the disparity between the wind speed we’ve recorded with our masthead instruments and the instruments the Chilean Lighthouse keepers report (when we were next to one yesterday they were reporting 10 kts, when we had 27 kts) he said they routinely mount their instruments inside the lighthouses so they don’t get blown away. Apparently, since he repeated the story a couple of times, he takes this as fact. I have no other explanation. If I were stationed on one of these coastal lighthouses I wouldn’t go outside either – step out of one on a windy day without your tether and you may end up somewhere in the Andes.
“Okay, trivia time. I’ve just followed our longitude (75°13’W) north to see our relative position in North America. The ‘line’ touches the eastern tip of Cuba, runs just a hair west of New York City, and just east of our last stop in the Arctic, Pond Inlet. Do the same thing with our latitude and the only thing you hit is the city of Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand. I don’t know if any of this is of general interest but for some reason I like knowing where we are relative to other places on the planet, and I like entering a channel called Darwin.
“From right here, I’m happy to report all are well aboard Ocean Watch.”
To second Mark’s thoughts, yes we are (a little lighter, too!), and we’re very grateful for it.
Here on Ocean Watch, thanks to many, many individuals, we are living our dream of sailing Around the Americas. It’s not necessarily easy, but anything truly worthwhile rarely is. If you have a moment today, we’d ask you to take a second or two to join us in saying a prayer or thinking positive thoughts for our friend and shipmate, Tom Hoymer, a very good man dealt an exceedingly bad hand.
Tom didn’t take anything for granted, and neither do we. So on behalf of our mate, Tom, we’ll leave you today with two questions.
First, what’s your dream?
And much more importantly, what are you going to do about it?
-Herb McCormick and Mark Schrader with photographs by David Thoreson
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