Day 8, Passage to Noumea: The Challenges of Uphill Birthdays

26 Aug

cooking in a heeled kitchen 1

I set my feet on the steep hill and try to hold on to six things at once. This is all a matter of timing. In goes the butter the sugar the chocolate four eggs mind the shells grab the post and keep the bowl from sliding away. Pause and rock. The salt the vanilla the flour stop the bowl from sliding the other way heaven help me when I need to open the oven.

When last I left you, we were becalmed in the middle of nowhere. After a day or so of bobbing around, the winds came back. And increased. And increased. The day it was blowing 16 knots was great – no seas, Papillon zipping along at 7-8 knots. Then the winds increased some more, and we spent more than 24 hours with sustained winds in the mid-to-high-twenties. All of which would have been fine, except for two things. One: it was all upwind. Two: it was Indy’s birthday.

I have lost my faith in trade winds. I don’t think they really exist. I suspect they were created by some long-along meteorologist who wanted to get home at the end of a long day and was tired of accounting for the ever-changing windy goings-on in every corner of the globe. So he drew some sweeping arrows over the oceans and said, “There. Trade winds. Time to catch the train.” And when travelers complained they hadn’t experienced the trades? “Localized fronts” to the rescue. Who are you going to complain to, sailor? The weather bureau?

So there we were, blistering along in our bumpy uphill non-trade winds, easily going 9 knots. We were heeled 20 degrees. Erik took down more and more sail area. The seas were building. And I had a newly-minted five-year-old at my side, a child who has grown two inches in the past half year, a person who sometimes out-eats her father at mealtimes as her bones grow longer and longer. And what does this excited little person want on her big day? Pancakes, bacon, and a birthday cake with frosting.

If I had any sense in my head, I would have made the cake the day before – a day when we were fast, but barely heeled. If I had even more sense, I would have bought a cake mix and a tin of frosting in New Zealand. But I didn’t, and now I had the job of cooking from scratch in a funhouse kitchen. We were heeled away from the gimballed stove, and so I was perpetually climbing to do anything on the unnaturally-high stovetop, and constantly in danger of stumbling back from my work. I comforted myself with the thought that this was, at least, safer than stumbling into it. And a little spilled flour and some minor cursing later, the job was done.

Eating was a similarly dicey proposition. But the family, seasoned troops as they are, gamely donned princess party hats, clutched their plates and bowls, and paused politely when we buried the gunwales. Indy, filled to the brim with presents and cake, pronounced it a good day.

The seas are calm now and the wind has dropped. Indy tells me it is 4:23 (a digital watch was one of her best-beloved gifts, and I have heard the time told more frequently today than I have checked it in the last month. I think it is time to eat another piece of birthday cake.

birthday cake


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