CHAPTER 17: APRIL 2nd- APRIL 27th, 2003: “We’ve Had Good Days and Bad Days and Going-Half-Mad-Days” (Line from Jimmy Buffet song)
Pacific Crossing Notes: Michele’s diary
See where our journey took us day by day ... click here
Wednesday, April 2nd, 2003 (20º 42’ N / 105º 17’ W)
11:45 AM: We finally pulled away from our slip at Paradise Village Marina–our boat’s “home” for over 7 months of the last 10 months. Our send off party consisted of Kim (a dock neighbor and friend from my exercise classes), One couple (Bill and Gayle from Dragon’s Lair) who are leaving in our footsteps, also for the South Pacific, tomorrow… another couple (Heather and Mike from Orion) who was supposed to leave on this route, but will be delayed by a year as Mike is recovering from a recent un-planned for appendectomy and cannot be ready physically for this crossing in time for “this season” of Puddle Jumpers. They were sort of depressed to be saying goodbye to us, as they had so much been looking forward to leaving with the group this year. Another couple (Sydney and Jack from Tambourine) came by earlier and us with a bottle of champagne.
We played our “break-away” song as we exited the marina out the breakwater and sang along with: “Follow in my wake ...You've not that much at stake... For I have plowed the seas... And smoothed the troubled waters. Come along let's have some fun! The hard work has been done. We'll barrel roll into the sun... Just for starters.”
We exited the breakwater out of the cloudy skies that had been hovering over our area for the last 4-5 days and, as our song above, entered almost immediately into blue skies and sunshine. Although anxious to immediately set sail (as use of fuel will be conserved as much as possible for this voyage, lest we end up needing it in the doldrums and having none!), we ended up having very light winds initially and “on the nose”, so we motored for our first hour. Then all of a sudden–bingo-- we had a lot of wind. For the next 4 hours it seemed we were constantly making sail changes, adding reefs, releasing reefs, un-furling jib, furling jib, etc. Finally by around 6 PM things seemed to be settling down into a comfortable ride, with enough wind to move us at a good speed, but not so much as to be uncomfortable.
As sunset approached us, and as we have cleared out finally of Banderas Bay with the high mountains in the background now at our stern, Joe reminded me that after sunset we would not be seeing land again for 3-4 weeks. Hard to imagine.
We’ve worked hard and long hours in the last few weeks getting prepared to go. The boat in reality has been “ready” for quite a while, but we kept finding “one more thing” to add to the list of things we wanted to do prior to leaving. Although we “finished” the must-do-list just last night, I think if we had stayed a few days more, somehow we still would have had more work as we would have thought of more things that “needed” to be done.
The stress in the last week or two has been pretty high and tempers have been short. But we’ve seemed to “sort things out” by nightfall as we fell into an exhausted sleep, and started fresh again each morning, knowing that we needed to work together to be able to make this trip a success. A good deal of the stress was because we were relying on other people/systems to supply us with what we needed to be able to leave. Parts that we ordered that were supposed to be to us in 1 week, took 2 ½ weeks (arriving only 2 days before we left) and took several stateside phone calls and e-mails to get them when we did… Our French Visas that we needed that were supposed to take 10 days to get to us, arrived in 22 days, 1 day before we left (and that was with 25 long distance phone calls to the Guadalajara French Consulate and using several “overnight” DHL to make deliveries)… and the Insurance Carrier that insures our boat did not get our policy to us until the afternoon prior to our departure (and that also required many phone calls, e-mails and faxes.) On all 3 of these “required” services, WE had started the process in 2-3 times as much time that should have been required to get them accomplished… but it was a great example of how our priorities did not match the priorities of those providing the service to us. So yes, it all came together in the end, making us leave only one — two days later than we had originally planned… but not without a lot of frustration, expense (phone calls, faxes, DHL delivery services), and, of course, worry.
But that is now behind us… we did actually leave (a feat that few ever do), and for at least now, we ARE sailing.
About an hour after we left the marina, another “Puddle Jumper” boat who is to be our “buddy boat” for the crossing, Wind Spirit with Barry and Sue aboard followed us out. We are sort of buddying in that we are leaving at the same time and are heading to the same Island group… but shortly we will be out of sight of each other. While we were fooling around putting reefs in our sails, they bypassed us and have taken the lead. We have spoken several times on the VHF radio, and once to try out our Ham radios we spoke.
I forgot to mention that 2 days ago at the marina, a young Canadian guy came knocking at our boat and said he was looking for a passage to the South Pacific, and would we be willing to take him? Actually he was pretty much begging to go. At this late date, I knew we could never do it… I had already provisioned for the 2 of us and since Jake (our previously planned on crew) didn’t work out and flew back to the states, we have re-filled the entire forward “guest” berth with “stuff” (spare parts, solar panels, food I can’t stuff anywhere else, etc); plus above all, he was an unknown. He was young, certainly enthusiastic and motivated, but so was Jake when we took a chance with him. AND to top it off, we had both just re-watched for the umpteenth time the movie “Dead Calm” on TV (where a couple at sea on a sailboat helps out a guy on another sailboat that is supposedly sinking; they rescue him and take the guy aboard their boat…and then the guy turns out to be a psychic killer!) Anyway, maybe it would have been different if we had met him a month ago and had some chance to get to know him, get references, and assess his seaworthiness. Bad timing though.
8:30 PM: It is a moonless night and all the stars are out. I can see the glow of the city of Puerto Vallarta in our wake and I can see the tiny mast light of Sue and Barry’s boat ahead of us. This glow of lights will be the last I’ll see for some time. All is now quiet and peaceful.
1130PM: A large ship continues to head right for us on a collision course. Despite our right of way status, he does not seem to acknowledge our presence, or at least is ignoring his responsibility to change courses, so I will have to change directions. I hated to wake Joe as he had still another 30 minutes to sleep on his “sleep time”, but the ship is really close and I want to confirm my actions are correct and significant enough to avoid collision.
I continued to change courses until finally he passed in front of me — less than a quarter of a mile away, way too close! So with adrenalin flowing, it is now my turn to sleep which will be a real challenge as we are really rocking.
Thursday, April 3rd: (19º 40’ N/ 107º 19’ W)
What a day… actually it started with what a night. I placed all the pillows we had on the boat around me trying to keep me from rolling, but I felt like I was in the back of a roller coaster, and sometimes as the boat thrashed up and down in the waves, I swear I was airborne! I was so tired of tossing and turning and feeling like I was bracing myself all night so as not to move, that I was exhausted by morning. I guess I got a few winks of sleep, but it sure was not very peaceful or relaxing. I knew the first few nights would be the worse.
We are going really fast, especially for us. We have all the sails reefed (that means we have tied them down to make them smaller so less sail area), but we are still going over 7 knots and are heeling over (tipping on our sides) quite a bit. To make things even more uncomfortable, the constant 20-25 knot wind and the 8-10 ft swells are hitting us right on the beam. We were expecting this trip to be a nice down wind sail, which is usually a comfortable ride. This is anything BUT comfortable. To walk around anywhere downstairs you need to hold on with both hands, which means if you want to do anything with your hands, such as type on computer, or cook, etc. you have to find other means of bracing yourselves. Even do something simple, like get a glass of water in the galley, that requires 2 hands, which means you have to hold on and brace yourselves with your feet, your butt, and pray that a giant wave doesn’t slap against the boat at the same moment. I was afraid I wouldn’t get any exercise on this trip, however, my body seems to be in a constant state of muscle tenseness… like doing calisthenics and isometrics all day long (even when sleeping!) I was looking forward to being able to do a lot of reading on this trip, but we are bouncing so much, I can’t even hold my book still enough to focus my eyes on the words. It is a good thing I pre-cooked some meals before we left and also that we both like peanut butter sandwiches, as there is no way to cook much in the galley as again I have to try and brace myself as well as somehow release a hand to hold on to the pot and another to stir or serve… very difficult.
Besides the challenge of holding on INSIDE, outside is even a bigger one, as our biggest fear would be if one of us were to fall overboard. Whenever we go outside in the cockpit or anywhere on deck, we put on a harness with a built in life jacket, that has a strong tether with a climber’s type hook at the end and we have to hook ourselves on the boat. We have a long line that is attached from the bow of the boat to the stern on both sides (called a jack line) that we hook onto so we can walk from front to back of boat with our tether. But we still use hand holds to hold on to dear life as the decks are sloppy wet from waves washing over the sides, and of course the wind is howling, and the boat is tipped on an angle and bouncing up and down.
Our goal is to go a minimum of 100 miles a day. On our first day we went 125. This 2nd day we are on now (unless we slow down more tonight) will probably even beat that. Personally, I’d rather go slower had have a smoother ride, but the choice unfortunately is not ours.
We have our first malfunction already, and it’s a big one. Joe went to turn on the water maker (this is a pump/filter mechanism that converts salt water into fresh water for our water supply), and it wouldn't start. We just gave it a start last week (we did a day at sea to make sure everything was working) and at that time it was fine. He said he was too tired (and sea conditions too rough) to try and fix it today, but he will tear it apart tomorrow. Joe also said we could consider the possiblility of "turning around" and going back to Puerto Vallarta -- and I said “no way,” as we'd probably never leave again... so we will proceed. We carry 200 gallons of fresh water in our storage tanks, which would be more than fine for a month's passage, but there is no where to get water in the Marquesas or the Tuomotos, (other than to carry a 5 gallon jerry jug to shore and get water out of a well) and we're not due into Tahiti for 3 months, so that would be a stretch to make the 200 gallons last that long. Of course if we were still in Mexico, it would have been easy to have the motor rebuilt even. Oh well, I said before starting, what I was most worried about prior to starting this trip was the unknown of what would break and how we would handle it, but I didn't expect something to happen in our first 30 hours out to sea!
This afternoon a boobie bird landed on our bowsprit pulpit. We were surprised to see any birds flying out this far away from land (over 150 miles) but I guess he’s tired of flying in this wind also. By sunset there were 3 of them in tandem all holding on with their webbed feet for dear life to the stainless steel stanchions. It’s too dark outside to see whether they’re still there, so will be anxious to see in AM if they are still there, or if we have a whole flock by then. (These are the stupid birds that I have “caught” twice now on my fishing lines in attempts to fish off the back of the boat… they dive for my lures!)
Friday, April 4th (18º 20’ N/ 109º 38’ W)
Not much different today. The Boobie birds stayed on all night and into the morning until we decided to let some of jib (forward sail) out which meant that sail was flopping right where they were, so they flew off. They circled a few times in efforts to land again, but we continued to fool around with sails for quite some time, so they must have gotten tired and flew off.
This morning, Joe found 2 squid on deck and joked about me frying them up for breakfast… unfortunately the thought of cooking fish below decks with the rolling that we are doing is very unappetizing. But who knows, it may be the only “fish” we catch on this trip… I have my poles out w/ lures rigged and ready to go, originally excited about the prospect of a whole ocean of fish waiting out there for me. But we have not cast them out yet for 2 reasons. #1, we are rolling and jolting so much that in order to get to the pole once it starts buzzing out with a fish on the end, would require us to get into a life vest/ harness with a tether on, clip on and crawl out of the cockpit, so by the time we got to the pole at the rear of the boat, the fish would have surely taken off with all the line. Then we would have to somehow brace ourselves in these rolling seas in a way that we wouldn’t need our hands to hold on, as we would need them to reel in the fish. Get the picture — almost impossible, and for sure, not safe. And the #2 reason, is at least now (at the beginning of this voyage), I have our freezer and refrigerator packed all the way to the top with food goodies, so there is absolutely no room for any additions. We are hopeful that somewhere along the lines of this trip, things will calm down somewhat and by that time, my freezer will have some more room.
Sometimes these waves feel like we are on top of a 2 story building looking down in the troughs — with these big Daddy waves, which usually come every few minutes, 3 or 4 in a row... and then it smoothes out a bit (i.e. only 15-20 degree rolls every 3 seconds versus the 40 degree rolls with the "big daddy" ones.) The constant rolling motion is also really exhausting. My body continues to be in a constant isometric state, tensed up always holding onto something or bracing myself so as not to bang around too much… even when sleeping my feet are bracing a bulkhead (wall) so I don’t slide out of bed. It is hard to cook or we’re in a constant tilt to port (with the winds and seas coming on the beam to starboard). I have found one place I can lie down athawartships (across beam instead of lengthwise) where I don’t get thrown up and down too bad.
I don’t usually get seasick (I would say “never,” but that would be a sure omen of bad luck), but I felt today like I have a hangover, slightly dizzy, slightly headachy, no appetite, and just not energetic. Joe also has a headache that won’t seem to go away. I told him it is because his brain has been banging against his skull now for 3 days and is “bruised.”
What I was looking forward to the most on this trip (and believe me I was not looking forward to it at all except as the only means to get to the South Pacific islands) was to doing a lot of reading. I picked out a big book to tackle first (James Clavell, “Gai-Jin”… author of Shogun) but the print is small and with us jerking around and rolling constantly, it is hard to focus on the print. In 3 days, I’ve probably only managed to read 10-15 pages, instead of my goal of a book a day!
Joe took apart the water maker today and found out we had a burned our capacitor, whatever the heck that is. (Hurray for having an electrical engineer plus super mechanic on board!) Anyway, of all things, we had a spare for our refrigerator that will work until we can get one the right size for our water maker. Joe will never let me hear the end of this though, as he is always saving pieces of “junk”… saying “maybe I’ll have a use for this someday.” And this old capacitor is one of those things. Last fall when we had a new compressor unit put in for our broken refrigerator system, this piece came off the old unit, and although very old and “junky looking” he decided to keep it “just in case.” So for the first time in history, his saving things, saved our butts… (actually will be responsible for us having “clean butts!”) So tonight we can take showers. Yippee — to get all the salt spray off of us.
Update, we made an all time record of traveling 154 miles in our 2nd day out… at least if we’re going to suffer with the uncomfortable-ness of the trip, the reward is forward progress! If we continued at this speed we would make the trip in less than 3 weeks versus our anticipated 25-28 days. But once we reach the doldrums and the squalls of the equator, we know we may have a week of slowness.
Saturday, April 5th: (17º 15’ N/ 111º 29’ W)
All is about the same today as yesterday — i.e. still same wind and waves and rock and rolling. I think I’ve gotten better though sleeping at night. I still use the pillows and my bean bag chair to wrap all around me to keep me from rolling, but I do feel like I’m at least getting more sleep… maybe still not comfortable and peaceful, but better than the first 2 nights.
I still haven’t been able to read during the day, but tonight for my watch, for the first time I am listening to an audio book. We were told these were great for night passages and although it is very different from reading a book (where you can always go back to refresh who did what, or check on which name goes with which character), it seems like a good way to pass a few hours. I am listening to a James Patterson book and Joe is listening to a Clancy book. Unfortunately though, we only have 3 of these. We will probably wish we had more within a few more nights when we are done with these.
Sunday, April 6th: (15º 58’ N/ 113º 33’ W)
I think writing my notes in this journal is the only way I know what day it is. It's daylight savings now…somewhere. We have 3 different clocks set on the boat: one to Zulu (Greenwich Mean Time) upon which most "events" at sea are based, one to Puerto Vallarta time BEFORE daylight savings (which WAS central time, but now w/ the clocks forward an hour, I think it's Mountain time), one set for some other time... based on the sun coming up at about 6:30AM and setting about 6:30PM. Talk about confusing!!! Oh well, we have to have one clock we use for our watches and that is the one for the latter, sunrise/sunset time. ... Don't ask me why, but one of Joe's insistence. All I care is that these days go by quickly!!!
Joe said I shouldn't complain to people I’m writing about the rolling seas so much… as it is something we cannot do anything about. He's right, but this is MY journal and it expresses how I feel… and I for sure don't "sugar coat" it. I tried to not have any expectations as to what this trip would be like… but that is hard, as I have read so many journals and articles, etc. from so many others who have made this and other similar trips. And I can say that this is NOT what I though it was going to be like. I expected from what I had read (and of course from what Joe, my Captain, assured me!) we would have SOME days with big waves and winds, but mostly we would have a smooth downwind sail with swells, but nice "rolling" seas spaced far apart so you sort of slide or gently slide down the surface of them. Instead, we've had the seas and wind on our beam, i.e. coming from 90 degrees, which is why we are rolling so badly, and we are having jerking almost jolting movement (along with the 20-40 degree rolls) from the waves hitting us from one direction every 3-4 seconds and then from a different direction every 3-4 seconds... so more often than not the seas are colliding w/ each other as well as us... plus when they hit at the same time, that's when we have the humongous Big Daddy ones. (I heard someone cutely describe it as being like “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”!) I also in my "expectation" pictured sunny days, where we could sail barely clothed, perhaps even lie out on the forward deck, relaxing, enjoying and reading a book or enjoying the sunsets. Other than the first day and a half, it has been cloudy with the last 2 days almost no sun peeking through. So anyway... I guess I'm sounding like I'm complaining, but I'm just trying to share with you and others an un-sugarcoated version of what we are experiencing day by day through my eyes. But other than black and blue bruises from being tossed around (despite being careful), we are un-injured, and making forward progress… and I keep telling myself, this is what I wanted to do!
As I wrote earlier, Joe did get the water maker working -- But now we have another system that is not working… our wind steering device. It was to be our main "auto pilot"... versus the electric one we usually use for coastal cruising. A wind steering device is too complicated to explain how it works exactly, but essentially it is like a wind vane that sits on the back of the boat and steers the boat hydraulically by adjusting the rudder according to the wind direction versus by compass or GPS like our other electronic auto pilot works. The advantage of it is if you have steady (non variable) winds it works better on long passages (especially one with high winds and seas like now) and does not take up electricity/battery power like the electronic one does. Plus as you may remember from our last few trips south, our main auto pilot broke twice, and even though Joe "fixed" it both times, it is old and we didn't want to put as much stress on it as this trip requires (working 24 hours a day for 25-30 days). But anyway, Joe has been working on the wind steering auto pilot off and on for 2 days now and has not found the problem. Not to mention that part of it is located out on deck on the stern of the boat and the other part in a dark area behind our bed under floorboards... So both places in our rock and roll boat are difficult locations to work. So for now we are saying Hail Mary prayers that our main electronic autopilot will work for the rest of this trip.
Since we have little else to do, we are participating in several Ham Radio "nets" that have been set up to assist Pacific passage makers (us Puddle Jumpers). We have 2 that give us weather specific to our area, plus 2 different ones that do a "roll call" with us (writing down and plotting our positions, wind direction, speed, etc). Partly this is so we can track other boats near us and assist if necessary, but also if we were to miss roll call for some emergency reason, they will know our location twice a day and can report our last known location it if necessary. There are also several "chat" nets daily set up on specific channels so that we can talk to other boats in our Puddle Jump fleet. We specifically speak to Barry and Sue on Wind Spirit (our buddy boat) 2-3 times a day to assess how each other is doing and to plot our locations in relationship to each other. They are about 45 miles behind us as of now, but still on relatively the same course as us. In addition to the above tracking, we also submit daily a report of our position via e-mail to a service that tracks us on a website.
Oh yes one other thing we can get on the radio at night time is the Armed Forces and Fox News radio stations, so at least we can listen to that on our watches and have some idea on what is going on in the world. Sounds like we're kicking Baghdad butts!
Monday, April 7th: (15º 05’ N/ 115º 26’ W)
Well we've finally slowed down. We are in the North East Trades now, and should be rolling along in our downwind passage, but all of a sudden the winds have cut in half (8-10 knots), which is barely enough for our heavy boat to sail... so we are now bobbing (versus bouncing) along at around 4 knots. We tried various changes last night (which means neither of us had much sleep) to try and increase our speed, but no luck.
With the winds down, the seas are also down. We are still under totally gray skies. Not cold, but not hot either... just comfortable in a t-shirt and shorts. It looks like rain, and we could sure use it. Our boat looks (and feels) like someone emptied several pounds of salt all over every space. That, plus we've still had these damn boobie birds following us the last few days-- and you think with the whole ocean they would leave us alone, but nooooooooo, they've been playing target practice pooping all over our boat! So anyway, a little rain would be good. Note I said a "little" rain, as reports we've been getting on boats West of us-- they've been having several days’ worth of squalls, which I'm not looking forward to.
Wednesday, April 9th: (13º 23’ N/ 117º 38 W)
Today we completed our first week at sea... so we're almost mileage wise 1/3 of the way there. However in the last 2 days (we're in the trades now), we have really slowed down (as have the winds -- down to below 12 knots, and our 23 ton boat has a hard time propelling itself in light winds). We were on such a mental high with our 2nd day out going 156 miles... but these high hopes of a quick trip were burst in the last few slow days. Yesterday was the real downer, with us traveling only 77 miles in 24 hours! We actually went further, but that is the miles we went in the right direction (i.e. along our intended Rhumb line course). With the wind now out of the North East and us trying to go South West... and having a boat that does not do well down wind, we have not been doing well as far as going very fast in the RIGHT direction. Unfortunately the saying “Fair Winds and Following Seas” — is not a good wish for Mi Gitana, at lease if we want to make fast forward progress. With the ketch rig (2 masts versus the regular 1), we cannot put the main sail out very far, nor do we have a spinnaker pole to hold out the jib for a down wind run (i.e., following seas and light winds). We have been going almost due west for half the day, then at night shifting to due south for the other half... to get our intended course of South West…doing a lot more miles to go a shorter distance. But whatever we need to do to make it work. Last night we didn't go more than 2.5 knots the entire night! So as Jimmy Buffet sings, we are really "On a Slow Boat to China"! We put up an extra sail today (now have 4 flying) and maybe will put up even a bigger light air one tomorrow (a cruising spinnaker). As of a few hours ago, the wind picked up, and we are again going fast and somewhat in the right direction. KNOCK ON WOOD.
Maybe we are adjusting more to the rhythm of the seas as well as our life at sea as we both feel better than we did a few days ago. Sleep is still fitful, with lots of tossing and turning on our own and trying not to be tossed around too much by the boat and the seas. With the rolling seas, the creaking noises of the rigging, and the flogging of the sails that sometimes sound like the rig is snapping along with the sounds of the occasional Big Daddy wave that pounds into the side of the boat sounding from inside as if the boat has been hit by a Mack Truck, a “good” night’s sleep in most cases is impossible. But we are learning to get by on what sleep we are getting when we can get it at our "designated" times (while other one is at watch) and also taking turns for several cat naps during the day.
Although we are going more down wind (which means the seas are also more behind us), life aboard is still bouncy. Despite being super careful and always trying to hold on to something when moving about, we are both black and blue from bruises. No real injuries, but it is hard NOT to bang into something with some of the big waves. Even going to the bathroom is a real challenge. I have to place at least one leg against the side wall while holding onto a towel rack to "steady" myself, and while the boat is rolling, the pee water is sloshing up on my butt! Needless to say being constipated also doesn't help as I have to sit in this position for a long time! We take showers (quick rinse down ones) every other day (now that the watermaker is working again), and I'm always frightened we will slip getting in or out.
But the good news is, I have finally been able to read my books again in the last few days (we're not bouncing quite so much), and the sun even came out today (prior to that, we'd had 5 days straight of gray 100% cloud covered skies). So life is getting better.
Once while reading outside and enjoying the wonderful sunshine today, I had a great surprise and sea life show. First of all, for the first time this trip, I saw a bottlenose dolphin swimming along side of us and then up popped another and another. Then a dolphin jumped his entire body out of the air, did a 180 turn and flopped longwise his entire body length onto his back. He repeated this 3 more times and by the 4th time, his body flip was to a 360 flip belly flop. I’ve never seen anything like that except in Sea World Shows.
The flying fish also several times a day put on quite a show. At first both Joe and I thought there were these small flocks of birds flying low over the ocean, but then they would disappear… We finally realized they were flying fish. They can stay out of the water at least 30 seconds and really look like they are flying. I am guessing they are flying out of the water when being chased by hungry bigger fish pursuing them… but ironically, when they are out of the water “flying,” they are then delectable treats for the boobie birds flying right above them! It’s also still unbelievable that these boobie birds are out here almost 1000 miles away from any land!
I’ve been daily plotting the other boats in the “Puddle Jump” out here with us as I listen and record their positions. Yesterday there were 3 other boats within about 20-25 miles from us… but never the day or night were we able to see any of them. One discouraging thing though is 2 of the boats that left Puerto Vallarta a day after us, have already passed us! Oh well, we’ll get there eventually.
Thursday, April 10th- morning (12º 42’ N/ 119º 24’ W)
What a great high… we are really going fast again — over 7 knots–which for us is flying! Plus for the first time we have the winds in a sailable direction WITH the seas in a different direction but right on our rear so that we are surfing down 10-12 ft. seas. As I mentioned earlier, usually “following seas” means you also have “following winds” from the same direction, which for all boats is the most difficult point of sail, and for our boat, an “impossible” point of sail. But this is great… except for one tiny thing: we are still not going in the right direction. Last night we were headed due West, and now we are turned 90 degrees and heading south (instead of our desired South West). [So if you remember your Pythagorean Theory from basic high school algebra: A squared + B squared = C squared…. We are now trying to make our diagonal C squared course the hard way by going the A and B squared. (Or put another way, for every 100 miles we are actually traveling, we are only going about 70 miles of that in the direction we need to go!)] But it is a lot more fun (and comfortable) to go fast (even if in the not right direction) than it is to go slow, bobbing and being thrown about in the waves!
Someone wrote in and asked what our “typical” day is like, routine wise at sea, so although no day is ever alike, I will answer here in “general” terms:
12 AM —7 AM Michele sleeps while Joe is on watch; Main duties include: checking radar, looking out for ships, plotting progress along our coarse, and making minor adjustments to course direction and sails (only things that can be done without leaving the cockpit and can safely be done by one person). Also Joe runs the generator to charge batteries, run watermaker and refrigerator systems.
7AM-8AM: Both of us make sail adjustments and/or changes (winds usually are light at night and pick up at sunrise, so usually some changes need to be made).
8AM-12PM Michele is on Watch while Joe sleeps. During that time, I get things out of the refrigerator/freezer for lunch and dinner and do as much pre-preparing as I can for the meals for the day. (It is very necessary to minimize the number of times the refrigerator and freezer are opened each day to keep the cold air in and the frozen foods frozen.) I also usually send out e-mails and check for incoming personal messages as well as weather faxes. Also during this time I check in with our “buddy boat”, Wind Spirit as to how they are doing and their position in relationship to us. I also normally write something in these “crossing” journal notes.
12PM-1PM: Puddle Jump Network where we report in our positions and I record and plot positions of all other boats and note the weather they are having (especially the boats ahead of us).
1PM-6PM: Both of us are usually “up” during this time; we re-evaluate our progress along our course, the weather, our speed, etc., and again if any sail changes need to be done, do it now. Joe runs the generator for a 2nd time (we run it twice daily for 1-3 hours each time.) Also if there is anything that needs fixing, repairs, etc. Joe uses this time to do so. Otherwise this is our “free” time during the day for reading and frequently ½ of this time is used up for more catnapping to make up for not-so-good sleep during our scheduled sleep time.
6PM-7PM: Dinner and then more sail changes — usually decrease (reef) sail for the evening; check things on deck one more time before night fall; and talk again to our “buddy boat”, Wind Spirit as to their progress;
7PM-12AM: Joe to sleep; Michele on watch; Main duties as above, include: checking radar, looking out for ships, plotting progress along our coarse, and making minor adjustments to course direction and sails (only things that can be done without leaving the cockpit and can safely be done by one person). Also I check in (roll call) and give our position reports again to the Pacific Seafarer’s Net on the Ham radio, listen to the Armed Forces or Fox world news on the Ham radio, and write and receive e-mails.
That schedule of course is if ALL goes well, i.e. no problems, nothing that is broken or needs repairs etc. Yesterday, for example, to add another sail and to get everything adjusted, it took us almost 3 hours. 3 times in the last 2 days either Joe or I have had to be woken from our night sleep time to help the other person on watch with sail adjustments and changes; so things like that throw off our “schedule.” That gives you an idea and you can see, there is very little non-sleep, non-work time and about our only form of entertainment is reading (and for me writing and receiving e-mails).
Friday, April 11th: (11º 24’ N/ 120º 35’ W)
Last night I had quite a scare… At midnight between our sleep shifts, with me getting ready to go to bed and Joe just waking up for his watch, we decided we needed to change course, which involved us both in the cockpit and on deck. I entered the cockpit first, and although mostly pitch black, I know where things are by Braille. I thought I’d get the main line ready to center and when reaching over for it, something big MOVED a few inches from my hand. I screamed bloody murder. Joe thinking I’ve either washed over board or have hurt myself, came running out. “What Happened???” he screamed over my screaming. After a few seconds of screaming, my eyes finally adjusted (although it was 10 minutes later before my heart rate adjusted to normal)… and I could see what intruder we had in our cockpit. There sitting right in the middle of our cockpit on top of the line I was reaching for was a huge wet, soggy brown boobie bird. He seemed totally unphased by neither my arrival nor my shrieks and made no attempt to move at all. He must have been really tired. Joe eventually went below and got a boat hook and pushed him with it and he finally flew away. Of course he also left us a stinky white pile of liquid crap where he had been sitting on our beautiful teak! YUCK! After cleaning that up, we sat down and as tired as we both were, paused for a little laugh about the whole thing. We then went about our sail/course change and a few minutes later, that damned boobie flew back and landed again a few feet from where we were, holding on again inside our cap rail. This time I picked up the end of the line I was holding and swatted him a good one, and he flew away–this time for good.
Today has not been a good day for either of us, mood-wise. I was in a really cranky mood, (I'm sure the lack of good sleep is the main contributor), and so was Joe-- not a good thing for both of us at the same time. We couldn't seem to talk to each other except in yelling (#@*!@@#) voices. But it won't last long and tomorrow I'm sure will be a better day. He gets frustrated when I can't do what he wants me to do the way he wants it and as fast as he wants it. He is out on deck lots of the time when we are doing sail adjustments (with waves splashing on him, and holding on for dear life) and yells at me to pull a line. I pull with the entire weight of my body (which is a lot, unfortunately!), but still can't make the line budge... so then he has to come back to where I am and do it himself. We knew before starting this trip that I can't "pull my weight" (literally) on the physical strength aspect of this trip... but still it's frustrating to him to have to do so much of the work, and frustrating to me to be "blamed" for everything that goes wrong and for things I can’t help him with.
On the brighter side, it was a really pretty day up until sunset with bright sunshine. I got to sit outside for a couple of hours this morning getting a little sun and a nice breeze on my body and read my book in peace while Joe was sleeping. Inside the boat was another story though, heat-wise... We are finally starting to feel the effects of getting further south, as it was quite sweltering inside the boat. Of course while underway all the portholes and hatches are battened down tight, except the main passage way in and out of the boat, so there is no air circulating other than if we put a fan on, which we did today for the first time. I laid down to take my afternoon nap with 2 fans blowing on high on my body and awoke with sweat dripping down my face and neck.
We are still continuing in our zig-zag pattern going due west for 12 hours then due south for 12 hours… in our attempts to head to our un-sailable downwind South West destination. It is discouraging to have great boat speeds of 5-7 knots and still at the end of 24 hours barely passing 100 miles in our course direction. We are praying either the wind will shift more East and that the winds to not die down causing us to decrease our at least good speed.
Saturday morning, April 12th: (10º46’ N/ 122º 11’ W)
Well, no boobies in the cockpit last night! And we were on a course heading that we could both sleep pretty peacefully for a change. How much more wonderful to start the day well rested. We’re even getting our sail course changes done more quickly (now that we’ve got the routine down better, and of course being rested and not yelling helps a lot!) Our decks are still filled with scattered flying fish every morning, that meet their fate by sailing off of a wave and landing on us instead of back in the sea. They are about the size of a large sardine but with wings. I should have started a collection of them by throwing them in the freezer one by one as we found them along this trip. Then at the end of the trip I could have removed them from the freezer and deep-fried them in olive oil for a feast of boquerones (one of my Dads and my favorite treats we enjoyed along Spanish and Portuguese seaside towns.) Not sure what I would do with the wings though… Dad, do you have any suggestions?
Just before Joe was to return to his 2nd half of his sleep shift at around 7 this morning, we saw in the horizon ahead of us very black clouds with what appeared to be rain coming down to the horizon. Excited about the prospect of getting the boat washed, (as well as removing flying fish scales and squid scum from the decks), we both sat in the cockpit waiting for us to reach the rainsquall. Well just before we reached it, there was an opening of clear sky in the middle of the wall of the ahead blackened area… right where we were heading. It was like it made a clear passage right for us to pass through. In most cases we would have been counting our blessings, but this time we were really looking forward to the cleansing. I had radioed our buddy boat, Wind Spirit, (as they were on the same track as us) about the squall’s approach and since their watermaker also broke (and no success in repairing), they have been taking salt water showers… so they were ready with their towels and bars of soap in excitement of being able to rinse their bodies with fresh water. Unfortunately, the rain also missed them.
Monday, April 14th; (07º 20’N/ 124º 30’ W)
I’ve skipped a few days writing… mostly because it seems like most every day is a repeat of the day before. We have had a definite change of weather in the last few days, as we’ve been in and out of squalls so our boat is now salt free! These squalls can be seen in the distance as huge dark clouds with sheets of rain reaching from the cloud to the ocean’s surface. At nighttime, we can see them on radar, as out of nowhere on the usually blank radar screen, suddenly an “island” appears … that mass, being a squall. Joe says the squalls are supposed to be mostly at night, but these squalls, it appear, do not know that as we’ve gone through about 5 so far today and that does not count the dozen or so that we’ve either steered around or were not directly in our path. Just before and during the squall the wind goes up to usually 30 or so knots and our boat speed goes from 4-5 knots to usually around 8 knots (ride-um-cowboy!). They don’t last very long… usually no more than about 5 minutes. Then right after it, it is like we are in a vacuum as the wind almost completely dies and the seas become glassy. So anyway it has added a little excitement to our tedious boring days. We’ve both gotten drenched a few times so now we have a yellow slicker out in the cockpit. It’s a toss up though what is worse, getting soaked with rain or getting soaked with sweat (as wearing the rubber slicker in the hot and humid days is like being in a sauna!)
The sky’s cloud formations in the last few days have been spectacular. No more 100% overcast… more like a range between 30-60% clouds with the remainder blue sky. We have seen every cloud known to man (including some skies that looked like the Kansas skies before the tornado in the Wizard of Oz!), and sometimes ALL at once in the same sky. One thing we have not had yet in these squalls is lightning and thunder… which as you can imagine with our tall masts and all our electronics on board, is something we pray we do NOT see, especially anywhere close to us.
During the day, we get really happy with our boat speed and think we’re going to have a great day mileage-wise, but then at night time, we may only creep along at 3-4 knots, so that brings down those hopes. For the last few days we’ve been doing just a bit over our hoped for MINIMUM of 100 miles per day in the right direction (i.e. the intended course, versus the total mileage we go on our zig-zag course). So for sure we will not break any speed records getting there.
One more thing has broken on the boat… nothing absolutely essential, but something we depend on for comfort, and something we cannot fix. Our chair to our navigation station (which sits on a stainless steel swivel so the chair can roll out or roll back in out of the way and under the nav station desktop), dropped to the floor the other night while I was on watch sitting there working on the computer. (No jokes about my fat butt… please!) Anyway, where the chair was welded onto the swivel just cracked and broke off. This may not sound like a big deal but we spend at least half of our waking hours sitting on this chair at the nav. Station to do all our chart plotting, log entries, talk on the radio, read the radar, plus me with my e-mail writing all while sitting on this chair. Imagine trying to type while standing up, leaning over a table on a boat that is tilting 20 degrees and jolting up and down every 3-4 seconds with each wave! I.e. there is almost no way to do any logging or typing of any type at that location. And of course, the computer cannot be moved as it is hooked up to the GPS and all the other electronics located at the Nav. Station. No way we can jury rig a repair or even something else to sit on… so we will be hunting for a welder/machine shop once we reach the Marquesas, although we are pessimistic in the possibility of finding one!
Although I escaped injury from the falling chair, we both injured ourselves today. Joe was climbing out into the cockpit right after a squall, slipped and landed on his shoulder. He has since been grunting and groaning and chewing down Motrin 800’s. (I already have a chronic rotator cuff shoulder injury… we don’t need his right arm debilitated also!) As for me, well I was baking something in the oven and halfway through, I accidentally hit the Propane switch to the “off” position, which then turned off the gas for the oven. I then attempted to relight the burner, which involves sticking my hand with a lighter into a 4-inch depth space in the bottom of the 450-degree oven. Not a good idea on a rocking boat. The result was a 2nd degree burn on just one finger–so I’ll live!
Tuesday, April 15th: (06º 04’ N/126º 28’ W)
I’ve set up our spare laptop computer on our “dining room” table so I can still do some writing. However I have to hold pressure onto it w/ my hands as I type so it doesn’t slide off the table. It is the only alternative I have right now, due to the impossibility of typing while standing on the Nav. Station computer. I need to find some way though to secure this one, as if I have to get up in a hurry to tend a sail or for other reasons, I can’t leave this computer on the table, or it will end up sliding to a quick death onto the floor!
We had to start the engine last night for the first time since leaving Puerto Vallarta to make any forward motion as we were in a lull of almost no wind for a few hours. We thought perhaps we had gotten to the doldrums but since the wind picked up again, we realized, we still have that experience ahead of us. We have given up jibing back and forth trying to stay on a course line that we set a month ago as an “ideal” course, and instead are mostly on a southerly course. When the winds speed up (as they do on and off all day long), we then are able to track a little more westerly. At least for now, it seems to be working okay for us. There are many opinions on where is the best place to cross the equator, mostly based on how to avoid an area called the ITCZ, which stands for Intertropical Convergence Zone. This zone is where the North East trades winds meet the South East trades and the weather in it is squirrelly and unpredictable: doldrums, mixed with calms or very light winds alternating with squalls, heavy rain and thunderstorms. Unfortunately this “zone” snakes around (usually a little north of) the equator and changes in width and location from day to day. Sometimes it is hundreds of miles wide, and other times there is a “hole” in it where it is very narrow. The attempted strategy is to go across it where it is narrow and in a beeline to the other side out of it, as fast as you can. The other unfortunate thing about it is because of it’s constant movement, there are no real weather charts that can predict where it is going to be, it’s shape, etc, say 12 —24 hours ahead of time, so you can plan.
For now, projecting ahead, it looks like we will be crossing the equator this Saturday, on the day of Joe’s and my 5th wedding anniversary… a double cause for celebration.
Wednesday, April 16th–2 weeks down…Probably another 2 to go (03º 21’ N/ 127º 20 W)
“Be Careful What You Wish For”
Having had a few hot days with sweltering stale air down in our latched up interior cabin… and not much wind and few clouds, I started wishing we were back to our cloudy days again for some relief from the heat. And Joe, last night, said it would be nice to have a few more squalls so we could get some wind. Well we both got what we asked for and are now regretting these thoughts… Today because we got what we wished for, we are not having a very good day today and are both exhausted.
It started last evening. Having had a hot sunny day with no squalls yesterday, almost no wind, and a clear sky with a full moon rising at sunset, and even with an appearance of dusk of spinning bottlenose at dolphins…we decided we were probably out of the squall area. And since the reefing process usually takes us about an hour each evening, we decided NOT to reef down all of the sails all the way (that means to make the sails smaller). We did reef the main, but left the Mizzen and Jib at full size. Shortly after sunset, Joe went to bed leaving me on my watch. Within an hour, the winds died down to almost nothing and our speed dropped down to 1.5 knots (that’s turn-on-the-engine-slow!)… So I turned on the engine and we motored (at a still slow speed of around 4 knots) for the rest of my watch. Then just before I woke up Joe, I took one last look at the radar and saw which looked to be a squall that filled almost the whole radar screen only minutes away from our path… (We do not leave the radar on all the time because it eats up a lot of power, so it is in the standby mode unless we are checking things.) I had looked previously at the radar about 10-15 minutes earlier and saw nothing significant. At about the same time as I was wondering if I was seeing things on the radar, our boat speed gauge started quickly going up and up and the boat started suddenly heeling (tilting) over twice as much as it usually is. I yelled to Joe (who was asleep in the back cabin), raced outside to the cockpit, hit our “panic” (alarm that is initiated in the cockpit and goes off next to the bed) button to be sure Joe knew I needed him ASAP, and took over from the auto pilot steering the boat downwind to try to prevent any more heeling. The squall was immediately upon us with no time to lower or pull in sails, with winds gusting up near 40 knots, tilting us about 40-45 degrees on our side, and simultaneously drenching and blinding us with a huge down pour. I held onto the wheel trying to steer us in a safe course for dear life, with white knuckles and all the strength I could muster out of my arms and shoulders for about 30 minutes until finally the squall had passed. A couple of times it was so hard to turn the wheel that it took both of us to turn and hold it. Drenched and prune-like, we changed clothes, dried off and then decided, regardless of how tired we were, how wet and slippery the decks were, and how dark it was outside, we needed to now (better late than never) reef all the sails — something we should have done earlier.
Finally with the job done, I got to go off watch, and collapsed into sleep while Joe took his turn. And what a night he had… squall after squall, the last one which he categorized as a storm versus a squall as it lasted for 1 ½ hours and again had winds that also reached up to 40 mph. In-between each squall, there was rain, but no wind… so he had to leave the engine running all night. I relieved him this morning–a tired wet “puppy”. We continued to have no wind and lots of rain until about an hour ago (about 2 in the afternoon) — so we again have been using up our precious fuel. The sky throughout the day has continued to be Wizard-of-Oz-like. Finally the wind has picked up and we have all 4 sails out again and the engine is off. That does not mean we are comfortable as we have 2 sets of 10-12ft. swells hitting us from 2 different directions (one from the East and one set from the South East), so we are constantly rolling and jerking. Occasionally, as described previously, the 2 swells meet in the middle forming one giant Big Daddy one, and we are then rolled at least 30 degrees over. We are in a very heavy boat with an full keel… makes me wonder how bad it must be inside one of the more common lighter boats.
We now both have 3-4 sets of wet clothing hanging everywhere, as every time we changed into dry clothes, another squall would come along. We did take turns wearing our yellow slicker rain jacket which helped, but didn’t cover our butts so every time we’d sit down, we’d get soaked through shorts. (Yes we DO have more foul weather gear that includes pants too, but it is for more colder weather, and we decided we’d rather be wet and cool than dry and sweltering inside the rubberized gear!) So now with the wet clothes, and miscellaneous wet items inside, it smells like a wet dog in a men’s’ gym locker room. I had this great idea for an invention. Someone should invent a spray on Tide detergent… then when a squall comes along, you could spray the clothes you’re wearing and go out in it and come back in with clean clothes.
Thursday, April 17th: (03º 21’ N/ 127º 20 W)
What a change a day makes. Only small barely sprinkley type rain squalls last night, and almost no wind again. Then this morning, we have blue skies (yes the sweltering heat and humidity is back again), and lots and lots of wind, which has shifted to the South instead of our hoped for and expected South East. (Don’t these winds know what they are “supposed” to do according to the literature and weather reports???) Unfortunately it is propelling us not quite in the right direction, but we are going fast again… over 6 knots and hopefully the wind will shift slightly to get us back to the direction we want to go which is, almost due South now so we can cross the equator and get out of this squally, squirrelly weather as soon as possible.
I was thinking I should be taking pictures so I can add some for this chapter in the journal on the website… but first of all even if there was something to take pictures of besides water, water, everywhere, I would have to let go with both hands to shoot the picture, and more than likely would fall. Plus with the constant bouncing we are doing, even w/ great auto focus, I think the results would be quite blurry.
We haven’t seen any of my brown boobie buddies in a few days. They have been replaced by some low flying (i.e. not soaring like the boobies do) smaller white sea birds. I still can’t believe it that there are birds this far out from land!
Friday, April 18th: (02º 20’ N/ 129º 00’W)
We are progressing (2 degree north 129 West) but for the last 2 days we have been trying to head due South, and we've been unable to do so as the winds are now from the SSE-- If we don't head south soon, we will miss the Marquesas all together, enroute to China (actually Christmas Island is due west...)!!!We even tried turning on the motor and removing headsails today to sail into wind and waves, but after an hour of going 1.2 knots we decided that wouldn't work either for the several hundred miles we need to go south. Oh well, if we wait long enough, things will change again.
We were SUPPOSED to be at the equator tomorrow (Saturday) for our anniversary, but now we'll be lucky to be at the equator by Monday! It's depressing as we were so hopeful to not be the slowest boat to make this crossing, but we may break the record for LENGTH of travel time! We are struggling just to try and make 100 miles a day, so this is more that likely going to turn into a 28-30 day trip for us, instead of our hoped for 23-24 days. Several people have written that they couldn't find our vessel in the YoTreps report (on our website, there is a link to another website that is tracking and plotting on a map all of us Puddle Jumpers plus other boats that are transiting the Pacific) as there was such a cluster at the same area. One person mentioned he would keep checking the site and wait for us to break out of the pack... BUT As far as us breaking out of the pack... it's more likely on our slow boat, that the pack will leave us and we'll be the only ones out here!!!
The course we are on now is a very uncomfortable one again. We are pounding into the seas and wind and we are heeled over quite a bit so the boat is on a constant 15-degree tilt. Add to that the rolls from the waves that take us to even greater tilt. Sometimes to walk sideways across our boat it is like walking up a steep hill. Last night we were heeled over so badly, that even with 5 pillows and a bean bag chair to act as “sandbags” to keep me in bed, myself, the sheets under me and all the “sandbags” kept sliding to the beds edge, and one time over the edge, which is when I finally gave up on sleeping there. We have something called a “lee cloth” for such occasions. It is a canvas cloth that is bolted down to our settee (like our living room “couch”) on the bottom and then is attached with lines to other cleats to the ceiling. The cloth then prevents you from falling out of/ off the settee in rolling seas. But it is far from ideal as it is out where the person not on watch (in this case, Joe) is working, so there are lights and noise while you are trying to sleep. But besides that, even though it holds you snugly from rolling around, it also is like sleeping in a confined sleeping bag, i.e. for a person like me who sleeps with arms extended, knees out on my side… there is no room for this… plus it is very hot confined like that. So although I stayed secured for the night. I was very cramped and uncomfortable awaking with knots in my shoulders, back, neck, and a very stiff back.
We are both tired (Joe is physically exhausted with all the sail changes trying to make this tub go faster in the right direction) and ready to be there already! We have our moments when things break through our individual frustration levels (especially when overly tired and things are going far from how we’d like them to go) and we are screaming at each other… and today there were several of those breakthroughs. But they usually blow over within a few minutes. Hopefully tomorrow for our anniversary we can at least be nice to each other for the whole day!!!
On a brighter note, just before sunset we were passed by school of either very, very large black (not gray) dolphins or else possibly some small whales. Their fins were very different than those we have observed in our travels, very large and hooked backwards and they were spouting water out their topsides like whales do. Whatever they are, they were magnificently graceful and gave us a few moments of pleasure. Unfortunately we could not get close enough to get any good photos. (Plus as I’ve said above, taking pictures while underway is a dangerous proposition for our camera — as we’ve already killed one digital camera onboard… so are a little more cautious with our new one.)
The birds have now disappeared… and the only thing flying are the flying fish, which are still plentiful and fun to watch as 30-40 of their silvery bodies leap off the tops of waves and glide for yards and yards before they dive back in the water.
Saturday, April 19th: Happy Anniversary to us! (00º 57’N/ 129º 41’ W)
I am baking brownies and have a fillet mignion and baked potato dinner planned. We for sure will never spend an anniversary in this location again! AND… it IS still remotely possible that we will cross the equator today, or rather tonight, so it will be a double cause to celebrate.
Last night just after sunset, the winds finally shifted around to the east so we are finally able to head in the right direction, i.e. south. Unfortunately, though at a very slow pace. We were up to 5 knots last night, but this morning with all 4 sails up and un-reefed (i.e. at full size), we are only moseying along at 3 knots. If the wind picks up as it usually does during the day, (and hopefully remaining from the current direction), we may still make it to the equator in the next 12 hours.
One great thing about the slow speed though, is that our course is a lot more comfortable so we both got good periods of fairly peaceful sleep.
Update… It now looks like we will not cross the equator until about 2 in the morning. That will be during my sleep time, but Joe, the traditional Navy Shellback that he is, is determined to help me through my rites of passage from Pollywog to Shellback status -- he plans to wake me up and we will both pay homage to Neptune. I suggested we pay homage to Neptune earlier (so I didn't have to wake up…with my logical reasoning that if we pleased Neptune earlier than our crossing time, he might give us some wind... and hopefully wind from the right direction.), but Joe didn't go along with that logic, so I guess I'll be up at 2 AM for a toast of champagne to us and to Neptune. (We are a "dry" boat and do not drink alcohol while underway, but this by maritime tradition is an exception, and the quantity we consume, unfortunately, will be small-- plus we will toss some to the sea to please Neptune!)
Our speed has gotten even slower in the last few hours so we have the motor on. Joe said regardless of the wind situation, the motor is going to be turned off tomorrow AM early and we will just have to bob if need be for days until the wind picks up as we have to conserve our precious fuel and by morning we will have had the engine running for 24 hours straight. We also burn a lot of fuel each day running the generator (which gives us electricity for our refrigerator/freezer and water maker and charges the boat's batteries) for usually 3-4 hours... and that we will need to continue regardless of wind or no wind.
Running the engine is keeping the interior temperature of the boat over 90 degrees all day and night also...and even higher when both engine and generator are running together. Not to mention the noise level. So anyway, we’ve asked a bunch of people to say a wind prayer for us tonight... but while you're praying, we need the wind to be between 15-20 knots and from the East! (As I've learned to be specific on what I wish for... should we just ask for Wind, we'll get 30 knots on the nose!)? Supposedly we have passed the ITCZ (the area we had all the squalls) and that is where the doldrums (actually, DULLdroms) are supposed to be, so not sure why we are having this area of no wind.
Speaking of engines… we really lucked out (or possibly did something right). Prior to us leaving Puerto Vallarta, our generator was having problems. Joe found the problem to be the generator starter motor, something we had no spare for. He removed the part and sent it out to be rebuilt and at the same time debated whether to order a new one. A new one would have to come from San Diego and at a big buck $$ cost, especially including import duty and shipping. Well he decided to go ahead and order it. So waiting for that to arrive (along with our French Visas) was the reason for our delay in departure. When we departed PV, we had the “new” rebuilt starter in place and the new, new one stored aboard. Well today, the rebuilt starter broke again, rendering our generator (which we rely on for our watermaker, our refrigerator/freezer, and to charge our batteries) useless. Although disappointed that the rebuilt one had failed, it was wonderful knowing we had bit the bullet on the cost and ordered the spare new one. Joe changed it out today and we are in business again.
Every day’s a new adventure... a new set of challenges.
Sunday, April 20th–Equator Crossing--Easter Morning (00º 30’ SOUTH!!/ 130º 09’ W)
We crossed the equator at 1:20 AM last night, and true to his word, Joe woke me up. We took a photo of the GPS reading of 00 degrees 00 minutes, and poured a half glass of champagne (too tired for anymore), both took a sip, and flung the rest in a toast to Neptune... and asked him for wind. We also tossed a tribute of coins from our last country (5 pesos each).
BUT this morning we have nada, nunca, zip, zilch wind, and I mean NO wind, no wind waves, and for the first time, really GLASSY seas. We have motored now for over 24 hours and have no idea what is in store for us ahead. Our weather charts say we are supposed to have wind, but as usual all the weather reports are wrong. Tradition also says at the equator we are supposed to throw overboard a bottle with a message for Neptune's mail box with our location at the equator crossing, our boat name, message etc. corked up so it will float. Well Joe was so mad (we at least got to finish off the champagne --by the way, our first alcohol since leaving PV-- this morning), that he just threw the bottle overboard (without note or cork) and said he hoped he hit Neptune in the head!!! Needless to say we are not turning off the engine as we originally said we would. Joe is recalculating our fuel consumption and we will continue to run until we get lower than we had originally planned. We have to get out of this area!
On the bright side, with the flat seas, we for the first time in 2 ½ weeks can sit, lie, and walk without the boat on a tilt! It would be a great day for baking so I didn’t end up with Right Tilt Cake … but it is also beastly hot with the cloudless sky, sun beating down, AND the engine heating up the cabin… so baking in the oven is out of the question.
We saw again some whales this afternoon and again this evening. These for sure were whales (about 3-5 in each group sighting) as they were on the surface for a few minutes when we saw them, then they dove down and we did not see them again. Unfortunately we did not get close enough to them to identify what kind or to get pictures. (Or maybe FORTUNATELY, as there have been many a ship/sailboat over the years sunk by whale bashings!)
Monday, April 21st: (02º 03’ S/ 131º 15W)
Halleluiah!!!!! We've got wind. It started up again last night on Joe’s watch. (I was peacefully asleep in for a change a FLAT, non-rolly, non-tilting bed… when all of a sudden I was rolling out of bed again!) Anyway from out of nowhere, we got the right amount of wind from the RIGHT direction! Although a day late, Thank you Neptune (and Joe’s sorry about what he said about hoping he hit you on the head with the champagne bottle!) We’re not sure how long our good luck will last, but we hope from now until we get to the Marquesas as we still have almost 800 miles to go, and right now we’re on a bee-line course for there. I don’t even mind the tilting boat again, if it gets us there FAST!!
Tuesday, April 22nd --my night watch (04º 00’S/ 132º 47’W)
We are still moving along rapidly. Yesterday, we actually reefed all the sails in again in the afternoon and have kept them that way since then and we still have been going between 6.5 and 8 knots… VERY fast for this ol’ Taiwanese Tub. We’ve only been having between 14-18 knots of wind… but plenty enough to move us when it is (finally) from the “right” direction. Today was the first time that I can remember since we started that we didn’t adjust or do anything with the sails all day long. We had a lazy, book reading and napping day.
There are shooting stars out tonight and the Southern Cross is displayed prominently in the sky, along with my favorites, the Big Dipper, and of course, Orion.
Wednesday, April 23rd: 3 weeks down…??? To go??? (05º 50 S/ 134º 22’ W)
We have made 150 miles each day now for the last 2 days… quite an improvement so our spirits are soaring, and it looks as if an end is in sight, i.e. we should reach landfall by Friday night or Saturday morning. We are finally getting excited. Getting excited about the prospect of reaching land, we got out again all of our charts, cruising guides, and everything we have in print about the upcoming islands we intend to visit — re-reading everything for the umpteenth time. We intend to make landfall on the southern-most island in the Marquesan Island group called Fatu Hiva. Then after anchoring, we will probably do nothing for a day but sleep and relax, saving sightseeing ashore (which involves a lot of work of getting the dinghy deployed) for another day. Most of the other boats in our “puddle jump” group, including our buddy boat, Wind Spirit, are making landfall on a different island (Hiva Oa) further northeast, but we have chosen to do it differently. Fatu Hiva is supposed to be one of the most beautiful of all of the group but difficult (against the wind) to get to if not gone to first; therefore, most boats skip this destination.
Thursday, April 24th: (07º 27’ S/ 135º 52’ W)
I guess I spoke too soon yesterday. We slowed down yesterday by a knot and again some more slowing occurred throughout the night. For sure making landfall on Friday is out of the picture, and if we slow down any more, we may not even make it by Saturday. Of course, we also have to time our arrival around daylight hours, so even if we could make it on Saturday, but it is after sunset, well then we need to find a way to slow down the boat or do circles around outside the harbor area until dawn. I know… we get there when we get there and no use worrying about it. It’s just disappointing.
Friday, April 25th : (08º 42’ S/ 137º 21’ W)
Depression hit us both hard today. We slowed down even more throughout the night. With so little wind, the sails started flogging and our power (speed) sail, the Jib had to be taken down, slowing us to less than 3 knots all night. At this speed there is no way we will make landfall tomorrow. It is hard to describe the emotional down that reality caused. I got tearful, and Joe just got pissy cussing at the boat, the winds, and when all else failed, at me. The idea of spending one more day out here, with land so close just seemed like one more unfairness of life. We tried all different things with the sails and even turned on the motor again, but nothing seems to help. We know “logically” that we can’t do anything about it — and so what? What’s one more day out here… but emotions and logic don’t always agree. Well, we’ll get there when we get there and Fatu Hiva will still be waiting for our arrival.
Saturday, April 26th–morning (10º 19’ S/ 138º 41’W).............LAND HO!!
A miracle happened last night. Shortly after midnight the wind picked up, and I mean really picked up… and from the right direction. We were zipping along again at over 7 knots. At one time, while I was sleeping, the boat suddenly heeled over about 40 degrees and I literally slid out of bed. I ran up on deck to see what was happening and Joe was in the middle of a rainless windstorm trying to control the boat. We had steady winds over 30 knots. (I should mention that this was the 2nd time we ended up leaving all our sails up without reefing… as mentioned above, yesterday, we had almost no wind! So that’s why we heeled over again so much). As soon as the windstorm passed, we again reefed the sails (in case another one came along) and continued a very fast passage to Fatu Hiva.
Joe is now asleep and I am on my morning watch. At 1045, I spotted land about 17 miles away. First it was a shadow, and then in a few minutes it was clearer. I have to say, I have never seen anything more beautiful, except perhaps my son on the day he was born. Jutting over the horizon, appeared a tall lushness of green velvet with it’s volcanic mountain tops hidden by a cover of clouds. The unbelievable excitement and emotion was so strong that I welled up with tears. That is our destination! Land Ho! Although I had a book I was reading at the time of sighting land, I was afraid to look down at the words any longer — afraid that the site of land would be gone if I stopped staring at it! We ARE going to make landfall today — something yesterday that seemed impossible.
Sunday, April 27th — Day 1 in “Paradise”
24 days and 4 hours after our departure (and over 2,800 miles) from Puerto Vallarta, we reached land. For those of you who do not have a map or do not know where the Marquesas are (we sure as hell didn’t know where it was until we started planning this trip!), here’s a brief bit about the islands (as I’ll be writing a whole bunch more in the next month in the next “Chapter” as we explore these islands). First of all, there are 5 island groups that belong to French Polynesia: The Society Islands (the most well-known by tourists…that most people just call, Tahiti), the Austral Islands, Gambier Islands, the Tuomotus, and the Marquesas. They are all protectorates of France and although they all have their own and very distinct Polynesian type of language, French is the “official” language. The Marquesas are the farthest north of these groups and consist of a total of 15 islands, of which only 6 are inhabited. Due to their remoteness (as well as the fact that the early explorers knocked out most of their population with diseases that they brought with them), the total population of the entire Marquesan island group is only about 8,000. All of the islands are volcanic with high peaks and deep valleys covered with luxuriant tropical vegetation.
Fatu Hiva, where we arrived, is the most southernmost island and also the wettest, hence the vegetation is even lusher, we hear, than the others. It is also seldom visited by tourists (other than by cruisers as there is the only inhabited island without an airstrip. Because of that, it is one of the friendliest, unspoiled, and considered by most, the most beautiful.. When you think of a South Seas Island, this is what you think of: huge tall jagged, black lava rocks, some shaped as nature-carved tikis, ascending into lush green, cloud-capped mountains. There are only 2 villages on the island and a total population of only about 650 inhabitants. We are in the village of Hanavave in what is called the Baie des Vierges (Bay of Virgins.) Supposedly the bay was originally named Baie des Verges (Bay of the Phalli) by the early explorers because of the shape of the rocky pillars, but the missionaries disapproved and inserted and “i” making it Baie des Vierges–Virgins, I guess being more appropriate than Penises in those days!
Well enough history and background… let me finish telling you about our arrival, which, unfortunately, was far from what we had looked forward to!!
As above, I was mentioning that we had been “flying” throughout the night at 7+ knots… we continued to do so, even under reefed sails, in the afternoon (Saturday) as we approached Fatu Hiva. Finally we got behind the lee of the island, and the waves and wind decreased… and we prepared to enter the harbor, which involved pulling in our towing water generator (which has been propelling behind us now for the whole passage making “power” for our batteries), taking down all the sails, getting out anchoring equipment, etc. As we approached the anchorage in the Bay of Virgins, we could see approximately 8 other boats lined up in the anchorage. Our cruising guide said to anchor in about 30-35 feet of water, so we picked out a spot parallel to a 2nd (back) row of boats that looked like it would give us a safe distance from others. With me at the helm and Joe up on deck ready to drop the anchor, my job is to call out the depth to him (on our walkie talkies), so he can drop the hook at just the right depth. Our depth reader only shows numbers when the depth is less than 120 feet. Otherwise, it indicates only “0.0.” As we were at the spot where we were going to drop the anchor, the depth reader continued to read “0.0” So I slowly moved up further and further closer to the other boats in the anchorage… it continues to read the same. Joe, of course thinking I must have been blind or something wasn’t working, returned to the cockpit to verify my reading. So after moving up past the last boat closer to shore when it still did not register a number, we concluded that it must be one more thing that now has broke enroute (this is the first time we have needed it since leaving Puerto Vallarta), and we went ahead and dropped the anchor. Suddenly the anchor and all 400 lbs of chain and then rode, just whirred out of the chain locker and didn’t stop (as it usually does in a second or two when it hits bottom.) And within minutes, we realized that we were drifting back out to sea. Oh yes, and I should mention just as we started to drop anchor, we were attacked by very high winds of over 25 knots! We soon came to the conclusion that we must be in over 300 feet (versus 30 feet) of water and the anchor plus the 400 pounds of chain/rode was dangling straight down, and still , not touching the bottom. Without getting too technical, we have something called an anchor windlass which is a motorized wench that brings up anchor chain… but it is designed to bring up the weight little by little from 20-60 ft. down (where the anchor is usually lying) not from 300 feet down (which of course, is a lot heavier!). Joe struggled for over 2 hours pulling it up as I struggled in what was now a rain storm with 30 knot wind gusts to hold the boat steady into the wind and still within the bay without us being dragged out to sea again. Finally he got the anchor up. We then decided to go all the way to the front of the other boats into shallow water (around 20 feet) and make our second attempt. This one went fine, except after about 5 minutes we had dragged back and were getting dangerously close to the boats behind us. (Note, still 2 hours later during this attempt, we were still having the high winds and bucket of rain, and our frustration levels were quite high. The walkie-talkies had been discarded and replaced by high voltage yelling at each other!) Well, third time’s a charm. We pulled the anchor again and re-set it and finally 3 hours after our initial arrival into the bay, we were at anchor. It was not quite the arrival we had expected and although we were dying to touch our feet on ground–we clocked winds at our gorgeous Pacific Paradise anchorage at over 40 knots that evening. That plus sheer exhaustion, made us do the prudent thing — to stay aboard and try and get some rest.
It was far from a restful night though. With now 9 boats close to each other in anchor, all boats kept their radios tuned to the same channels in case of an emergency, and most everyone was up most of the night worrying about their anchors dragging or cutting loose with a possible bowling ball effect… i.e. ramming into all the other boats in it’s path, or worse yet, the lava rock cliffs that lined the bay. Joe sat up watching as long as he possibly could, and then we turned on our GPS anchor alarm, which would alert us if we moved from our position. The alarm went off at least 3 times throughout the night — all false alarms, but each requiring him to go up on deck to ascertain our location. It also continued raining in sheets (that kind of rain that is blowing so hard in the wind that it comes down sideways!) so instead of our much anticipated balmy anchorage, we had to keep all the portholes and hatches closed up tight to prevent us getting drenched, making for a steamy hot and humid night (and NOT the romantic kind!).
So now it is Sunday, late in the day… day 2 here–and day 25 without having touched foot on ground. We have been working all day on cleaning up the boat and getting the dinghy deployed so we can go to shore. One of the other boats that was part of our Puddle Jump group (we knew by name only and their voices on the check-in nets) came over with some fresh out-of-the-oven Marquesan (French) bread. They tell us that this rainy high winds weather is NOT the norm — it only started as we began our entrance into the bay. It continues to be rainy and windy today, so we have been trying to time our outside chores in-between rain downfalls. It looks like we will not get to shore again today. But that is okay, we both need to go to bed again early and re-energize ourselves for starting our new adventures tomorrow.
For now, I will end this part of our “crossing” notes and leave you in suspense as to how our explorations go of these islands for another story.
I somehow also wanted to find a way to summarize the above passage notes. Several people have written and asked me what is it really like to cross the ocean? — Is it exciting? –Is it a great time? — Is it boring? — And what do we do all day with nothing to do but look at each other and the water? I am hoping my above crossing notes has displayed some of the day-by-day moods and feelings, highs and excitements, dismays and frustrations that I/we have felt and experienced. I can say honestly that, now having made the biggest “crossing” of open ocean in the world, that passage-making is not my favorite part of cruising. That said, I can admit that it DID become less stressful and less dreaded as we made our way across the Pacific. There were a few moments here and there where the winds and seas were perfect, or we’d see spinning dolphins, or we’d have a beautiful starry night and those moments would seem perfect. And although for the norm, we had “boisterous” (love that description) sailing, at no time did I fear for my life or Joe’s. Although uncomfortable, we knew we were SAFE aboard Mi Gitana. The mood swings and the fragile emotions of the highs and lows and the occasional meltdowns (and almost mutinies), were to be expected, and I think attributed most of the time to being tired, hot, and many things at the same time not going the way we wanted… but those moments quickly passed. We knew we had to work together and we needed each other to make it.
Out here you really become a part of the immediate surroundings. It is amazing how attuned you become to every noise on the boat… is that creak or clang normal, or is it a sign of trouble? A slight shift in the wind, and you are instantly alerted to a change.
Sometimes I found myself just staring at the sails or at the waves for minutes, before I realized I was daydreaming. Cruising seems to be a state of mind in which your thoughts intermingle with dreams. I learned to take naps when I could and to fall asleep fast regardless of the tilt and rocks of the boat. At times when being called for my watch out of a deep sleep, I couldn’t remember if it was daytime or nighttime. It’s as if you are in a state of limbo. Reality and fantasy seem to blend into whatever book you were reading at the time… and time just trickled by. The only significance time seemed to have was whether it was “time” to change a sail, or “time” for the radio check in net, or “time” to eat.
When not doing one of those “time”-dependent activities, you grabbed a book, found yourself a comfortable (sometimes a real challenge) nook where you were not bounced around too much, and dove into worlds far away from your current experiences. It was not unusual for me to read 4-5 books a week. Then all of a sudden, when you finally felt in a relaxed state, the weather started to change, and things started to happen very quickly… your escape into the fantasy of the book is halted abruptly…and the daydreaming quickly turned into a nightmare. Weather that we would never have gone out sailing in back home, we no longer had a choice and the “excitement” begun. When the waves were crashing onto your decks, soaking everything on board including ourselves, we found ourselves cursing the wind, the seas and the weather gods…and quite frequently, each other. But even then, we knew we would come out of it okay. We have a sturdy boat and a sound captain (most of the time!)… and the end result is a feeling of accomplishment achieved by overcoming adversity.
Then there is the other type of “excitement” — when something goes wrong or when something breaks. No longer can we head for the dock where repairs are easily done and parts needed for the repairs are readily available. Can it be fixed or can we do without it? You know you are truly alone when there is no fuel station or hose with fresh water, or someone to fix a broken pump or starter within 2,000 miles.
So is it luck or skill and good planning and determination that got us safely to our desired destination? Obviously it was a whole lot of all of the above… but above all, a desire to make a dream come true. Would we make the passage again if we had it all to do over? Yes, I think the reward of reaching our goal, the feeling of a grand accomplishment, mixed with the initial breath-taking view of Fatu Hiva, smelling the fertile fragrant tropical air, and the smiling faces of the welcoming South Pacific islanders made it all worth the trip.