Weather Helmed

an adventure in renewing the spirit and living the dream…on a sailboat

Weather Helmed

Our Pacific Crossing: April 14 – May 8, 2010

For those of you who actually take the time to read through this, I am so sorry it’s so boring.  But, this is an honest account of what happened on our crossing, which is – for better or for worse – nothing.  The only thing really interesting about our passage is how UN-interesting it was.  I will try to include some videos and pictures once we get reliable, faster internet in an to attempt to make it more exciting.   🙂  If it seems a bit randomly put together, it’s because I’ve cut and pasted some things from my, um, more private notes into the general notes I was keeping, but hopefully it all makes some sense.  I think Matt is going to post his daily journal too, which has all the technical stuff like how many miles we sailed each day, our coordinates, when we ran the engine, etc.  So, watch his blog for that!

Day 5

“There will be no wind! Anywhere! For the next 48 hours!”

That’s the news we got from Don Anderson over the SSB today.  Don is a famous non-professional weatherman and former cruiser who sits at his desk in Oxnard, CA and dispenses weather information and advice to cruisers in Mexico and crossing the Pacific.  He sounds more like a sports newscaster than a weatherman and in his enthusiastic voice, he tells the Amigo Net this morning, “No wind! Maybe you can find it,” he says jovially, “but i can’t find it!”  He laughs, feeling no pity for those of us who are out here bobbing around on a glassy ocean.  So glassy in fact that i can see a clear reflection of myself and the sails in the water.  So glassy that i can see little white BUGS skating around on the surface… yes – those little spider-like insects you see on still fresh-water ponds also exist in the Pacific. The water is so glassy that the sun rays penetrating the surface look instead like feathery blue flames reaching out of the depths for the sky.

The water out here is amazing.  I thought i had seen fairly clear blue waters before, but nothing like this.  The color is indescribable.  And what’s equally spectacular is how CLEAR it is.  I dropped some potato pieces overboard and watched them sink down for probably twenty feet.  I kept hoping I would also see a huge fish come up and snag them, but so far all the fish have stayed hidden.
We’ve seen some sea turtles and happy dolphins, but that’s it.  Still no whales.

Early Morning – Day 6

“Race for the West”

Still dead in the water.  While on night watch, I am sitting up in the cockpit reading my book.  We are not going anywhere.  With no wind and no waves, we’re barely even rocking.  it’s a near-perfect anchorage we’ve got.  As i’m reading, I hear what i can only describe as a loud, ominous, throaty sigh.  My first thought after what the heck was THAT? Was that it came from the boobie, an infuriating seabird who managed to annoy us into letting him hang out on the solar panels for a while, after we spent an hour constantly defending the boat.  A few minutes later, i hear the sound again. This time, i stand up and tilt my ear up towards the boobies’ perch.  There it was one more time and it was definitely NOT coming from the boobie.  This time, I heard bubbling.  I immediately search the calm waters around us, looking for signs in the phosphorescence.  What will i see? i wonder.  an enormous 200-lb tuna like the one that followed IO’s boat? a whale??  with all the thousands of species wandering beneath us, the possibilities are endless!

The breathy sign returns.  Whatever it is, it’s close.  I turn on my headlamp and track down a glowing blob about 10 feet behind our boat.  I grab the flashlight to see if I can see more detail.  The blob moves, it’s head surfaces, I hear that guttural noise and it’s a sea turtle.

Hugely disappointed, i put the flashlight down and return to my book.  Five minutes go by and I hear the sigh again, right behind me.  I look over the side and there is the turtle, eyeballing me as he takes another breath before passing by us.

Yes, people, we were passed by a sea turtle.  and so begins another day without wind.

Days 7-9

Day 7 was a great day of sailing.  we finally got some wind and were flying along. Threw up the spinnaker and it was glorious.
Days 8&9 have proved more challenging.  good thing i was in a good mood because otherwise they would have really really sucked.  we tried to take the lesser of two evils – slatting sails or rolly boat motion.  inevitably, we were stuck with both no matter what we did.  have not seen any ships or wildlife (other than birds and random flying fish) for days now.  it’s very empty out here.

overview Days 1-10  (April 14-April 23)

It was exciting to leave and a relief, and also a little bit terrifying.  My stomach started to hurt the morning we left and continued to bother me for the first three days.  Although we had just about the most calm seas you could ask for during that time, I guess it was probably nerves combined with minor seasickness?  I took some dramamine, but only time resolved it.

The first 3-5 days, we pretty much had no wind.  I can’t tell you how many times we debated – do we set the drifter or the flopper-stopper?  (That’s a sailing joke – the flopper stopper is a device you toss overboard to prevent the boat from rocking when at anchor.  Clearly we weren’t at anchor in the middle of the ocean, but the seas were so calm we might as well have been!)  We always chose to throw the drifter up and just barely eked out 2-3 kts. We didn’t want to run our engine more than we really *needed* to so we could preserve diesel for the doldrums, but we eventually ended up motoring for 20hrs just to try and find some wind.

The seas during this time were so flat.  And the water that far out from shore was UNBELIEVABLE.  I wish I could describe how blue it was or that I could bottle it up and take it home and it would maintain its color because it was simply that spectacular and SO clear – you could drop something in the water and watch it fall maybe 20, 30 feet.  Gorgeous.   One of those things that you struggle to hold in your mind because you know tomorrow you will remember that the ocean was really blue, but your memory will be incapable of recalling the exact image.

For these first ten days, we saw no wildlife other than lots and lots of boobie birds some random flying fish, a few sea turtles and some dolphins. I was desperate for interaction with the sea, dragging three fishing lines behind us most of the time and maintaining a constant look-out over the sides of the boat and all around us.  We did have a few dolphins come play at our bow and some annoying boobies try to take over the boat, but that was it. I’ve been hugely disappointed by how seemingly EMPTY the Pacific is.  Also, we haven’t seen another boat or anyone on AIS in probably six days.

Around the evening of Day 5, we started to pick up some wind and then had 4 glorious days where we made almost 150 miles each day.  At times we had the spinnaker up, the spinnaker and the main, the main and the jib, wing on wing, etc.  We were averaging around 7 knots.  It was pretty awesome. Then we started getting into a low pressure system as we neared 10N/120W and got some overcast weather.  We still had wind, but it was misty and grey out and we spent most of the day inside the too-warm, muggy cabin.

Days 9 & 10, we entered what we’re thinking might be the high edge of the ITCZ.  There was a distinct line of dark clouds ahead and we began running into squalls.  Nothing too bad.  Most of the time, we would head straight for a nasty black sky only to have it dissipate as we approached.  Got spit on a few times and encountered some 30kt wind, but so far it’s been a fairly mild experience even though the stormy horizon can look quite scary.

Our original plan, after talking to numerous other boats, was to aim for a crossing point around 05N/127W.  A lot of boats who crossed later (around 130W) were having to beat upwind for several days in order to maintain their heading for Hiva Oa.  So, we were hoping to pick up the SE winds sooner by crossing the doldrums slightly earlier.  However, due to our current situation and with the ITCZ bouncing all over the place between 4N and 10N, we’re heading due south now, hoping we can get lucky and pick up the SE tradewinds ASAP, with this crazy weather being our only doldrums experience.

Overall, beginning on the 4th day out, I felt like a rock star.  I was happy, feeling good, excited to be out, loving the warm weather and the beautiful seas… I am glad that we were becalmed for those first few days because it really made us relax and relinquish our “hurry up and get there” attitude.  I think I was the most relaxed I’ve been on our entire trip, including our time in Tenacatita.  It was so peaceful and flat, and there was nothing to do and nowhere to be.  I was also glad when the wind picked up, though, and we made some progress towards our destination. I find that I am not “bored” – I’m frustrated. The rolly motion of the boat is almost unbearable sometimes and try as we might to fix it, we can’t do anything about confused seas and chaotic swell.  So, these last couple of days have been trying mentally and emotionally.  I want to appreciate this for all that it is and enjoy my time out here and find purpose in it, but sometimes, I can’t think about anything else except how awesome it would be if the boat simply.stopped.rocking.   We are keeping in touch with several other boats ahead of us and behind us and so far the only ones who are experiencing any “true” great tradewind sailing are the ones a couple degrees south of the equator.  Everyone else is having a heck of a time with crazy seas, fluky wind direction, etc.  Glad to know it’s not just us, but hello!?!?  we thought this “coconut milk run” was supposed to be a cruiser’s dream, easy sailing, fair winds and following seas… Once again, this is not turning out to be what it was promised.  But, I am trying to make the best of it!

Days 11, 12

So much for the famed tradewinds.  After a couple days of relatively nice sailing, but not the comfortable coconut milk run we were promised by all the cruising books, we are in the ITCZ.  We’ve been in the doldrums for 2 days now.  At times it is quite beautiful – the sky is enormous and there are numerous rain showers surrounding us, you can see them miles away.  The sky is dramatic – huge, ominous thunderclouds tower over the sea, squalls circling us like Neptune’s sentries.  At times, there has been nothing but blue sky ahead of us and black, nasty clouds behind.  Even the ocean is a contrast.  Under sunshine, the water sparkles and dances, but on the horizon, you see whitecaps under a misty fog, the waves murky and gray.

True to form, there is no wind here.  The only wind we’ve managed to find so far came when the edge of a large squall we had been trying to outrun caught up with us.  We threw up the jib and within seconds, we were sailing at 5knots.  Shoot! We thought, if we had known it would be like this, we would have steered straight for the center of the storm!  So, we tried to ride it out as long as we could, but the wind only lasted about half an hour.  We haven’t encountered any squalls since.  Back to the engine.

One boat reported motoring for 60-70 hours before they were out of the ITCZ.  Another boat only motored for 19.  We are somewhere in the middle now, I think.  But we definitely do not have enough fuel to go for a whole lot longer, so we’re hoping to get some wind relief soon.

Everyone asks for advice as to the ITCZ, including us. But from what we can tell, you’re dealt the hand you’re dealt.  We clipped the corner of 10N/120W at a fairly narrow angle, which just so happened to be where the top of the ITCZ was at the time.  As per all the advice, we hit the doldrums and immediately turned south.  Most of the other boats we know have all gone or are planning to go further west, aiming to cross the doldrums between 125-130W.  We are at 122W.  However, those ahead of us that crossed earlier all had to beat upwind into a westerly current and had a horrible time making southerly progress. So, pick your poison.  From the weather faxes we’ve been getting, it seems that the ITCZ can move quickly, changing shape and size within 24 hours.  So what everyone else experiences and what the forecast shows are not necessarily what you’re going to get.  Just like so much else we’ve experienced on this trip so far, cruising is not as predictable as the books say.  Maybe it’s just this crazy el nino year, but most of the boats on the 2010 puddle jump haven’t got the northeast tradewinds and only hit “the most beautiful sailing ever” once they got below 5 degrees south.  We have a long way to go.

I have to say that I don’t mind being out here, so far.  We are technically on Day 11 of being out in the Pacific.  I don’t feel as much like a rock star as I did around the 4th and 5th days, but I don’t feel bored or awful either.  Mostly, I feel frustrated and annoyed with the boat motion and, now, the weather.  I would really like to take a shower, but the boat is rocking and rolling so much, I would fall all over the place!  And without sun, being wet is no fun.  Everything in the boat is damp and muggy right now as a result of the squalls we’ve been experiencing and the increasing humidity as we go south.   Funny, it’s uncomfortable and you have the sensation of being hot, but as soon as you go up on deck, it’s cool and not the right temperature for showering.  The boat motion also makes it hard to want to do anything like play the guitar, sit at the nav table and do the rosetta stone, knit, etc.  It’s hard enough trying to concentrate on a book or the computer while the boat shifts crazily and my eyes struggle for a stable element to focus on.  So, these last two days (well, 3 days?) have been rough mentally and emotionally.  When the boat motion is so chaotic and the wind gets light, causing the sails to slat around, it’s hard to sleep and it’s easy to get moody and grumpy and more or less lazy.

We are still motoring through the doldrums and, so far, there is no relief in sight.  We’ve put about 50 hours on the engine so far since we fueled up and only have about 50 hours left.  We were really hoping to not have to fill up the entire tank when we go to the Marquesas, but we might not have any choice.  I wish that Matt felt more optimistic about the drifter.  We put it up at every little breath of wind before, why not have it ready to go now?  But, sigh, he is the captain and he’s probably right when he says there wouldn’t be enough wind to fill it.  I just worry about being out here, not able to use up any more of our diesel and having to sit around for who knows how long waiting for some wind.  I’m trying to remember that God knows exactly where we are and what the conditions are now and what’s coming up.   I have to trust that everything will be ok, even if we do bob around out here for another week or two, we’ll be ok. I might go insane, but we would be alive.  I would just have to focus on writing and knitting and learning to play the guitar and practicing my French.  Sure, doesn’t sound so bad, does it?  Oy.

I can’t believe we’re out here.  It’s funny because it doesn’t feel that far away until you look at us on the map and see that we’re a thousand miles from nothing.  And these 13 days have actually gone by relatively fast.  The day seems to go by more quickly than the night, but I think that’s because it feels so much safer during the daytime when you can see everything.

The thing I worry about the most out here, other than Matt falling overboard or getting hurt, is hitting a cargo container.  Apparently, they like to linger just beneath the surface of the water so that you can’t see them and they are big enough and hard enough that if you hit one, you’re probably going down.  Even though you still wouldn’t be able to see them during the daytime, I don’t worry about them as much then as I do at night.  Matt and I were talking about similar things yesterday and how the one thing you learn out here is that you’re really not in control of anything.  I laughed and said, “Yes, it’s done wonders for my prayer life!”  Because I  certainly have spent a lot more time praying these last few weeks than I have in the past five, maybe even ten years.  At home, it’s so easy to fall into familiarity with risks and dangers.  You begin to take safety and health for granted. In the middle of the ocean, a stomachache could be just that or it could be a burst appendix and then what do you do?  A glint of silver on the horizon could be the crest of a wave, a bird, or a cargo container, but you won’t know until you’re right on top of it.  At home, the risks and dangers of life all seem hidden somehow, behind years and years of habit.  After you’ve been driving for ten years, you no longer get nervous every time a car passes you, even though at that very moment their tire could blow out, causing them to lose control and crash into you.  After flying all over the world, you no longer board an airplane worried about whether it is capable of getting you to your destination.  But, out here, the dangers and risks seem to be right in front of you all the time.  We are barely five feet above the water, which, if we fell into it, we would probably never be rescued.  We depend on wind and fuel to get us through storms but we have little control over when and how they pop up and how violent they will be.  All the risks just feel much more real here because I’m not used to them and because they are present all the time.

Early morning Day 12

I took over the night watch from Matt earlier tonight and we both agreed that tonight’s sailing has been by far the best sailing we had experienced this whole trip.  fairly calm seas, nice consistent wind… beautiful starry sky, near full moon, dramatic thunderheads on the horizon, it was glorious!  for about another hour and then the wind died and we turned on the engine and we’ve been motoring ever since.  we are just about to enter 08N at 122W. I can’t believe we are in single digits!! 🙂

Days 13, 14

We are still in the doldrums.  According to the weather faxes, the ITCZ has been moving south along with us.  So nice to have such a loyal companion.

It sucks.

We’ve had sporadic wind when a squall comes around and then it’s almost like we had forgotten what it was like to sail.  Suddenly everything is so quiet.

We are almost in 04N but have been fighting a 2-3kt easterly current for the last 24 hours which is pushing us east.  So, we’re not making any headway to the west.  In fact, right now, we are heading back east with the current simply so we can try to get further south and out of it.  There are only about 150 miles to the equator and hopefully, after that, we’ll get the westerly current and strong SE winds so we can make up for all this lost time.

The last couple of days, I’ve been little miss pollyanna sunshine for the most part.  For some reason, I’ve been in a great mood and have been enjoying myself despite the doldrums and the sense of going nowhere.  Yesterday (day 13) was quite a struggle though because Matt was so grumpy.  Granted, he is going on such few hours of sleep (mostly because he’s started to worry a lot more), but he was quite cranky.  It’s hard for me to keep my spirits up when he is like this.  I can feel myself getting angry and annoyed at him for not being more positive.  But, it’s easy for me to say when I’m not the one having to fix anything or having to be woken up in the middle of the night to take down the whisker pole or set it up, or repairing equipment that I’ve already had to repair twice before.  My boat jobs are all silly and easy and Matt is so good and efficient at sailing that he could single-hand Syzygy if he really wanted to and usually when he’s on watch, that’s what he does.  He doesn’t really need me for the sailing.  So, when things start to go wrong or the boat just isn’t happy, for the most part, it all falls on Matt. And while we are extremely fortunate that we haven’t experienced any major setbacks, sometimes the day-in, day-out, never ending minor problems are just as bad. And, we’ve had a couple of those days lately.

So, yesterday Matt was a grump and I became cranky myself.  Matt graciously let me sleep longer before I had to go on watch, but then he was woken up half an hour later by me cursing at the auto pilot that had lost steerage and couldn’t hold a course.  So, he gets dressed and comes out to help me get the boat set right.  Then we encounter the current and are barely making 2 knots although the wind says we should be making at least 5kts.  So, all in all, not the best way to start the night.  Matt wakes up just before his watch is to begin and finds that I’ve been heading us up way west to counter the current pushing us east, with the result being that we are averaging 1.9 boat speed.  As I come out to the cockpit, he bombards me with questions as to why I was doing that, clearly frustrated, and I am already ripe to argue, so I just apologize and throw the watch and headlamp at him and immediately go back down below and go to sleep.  Daring him to wake me up, I sleep way longer than I should have, seeing as Matt only got about 3.5 hours of sleep.  I wake up to Matt cursing at the boat.  What a life.

I was thinking, we’ve only been sailing for 2.5 months.  I had to actually look at my calendar because that really didn’t sound right, but it is.  We left SF Feb 10 and departed Mexico for the Marquesas on April 14.  Only two and a half months of cruising!  It seems infinitely longer than that.  I feel, though, and HOPE that when we are old, we can look back at this time and laugh at ourselves –  Out only 2 months and already crossing an ocean!  Woowee!  We were crazy back then….  and I hope that we can somehow find joy and value in this experience THEN if we can’t find it now.

So, we’re out here, two weeks out in the Pacific, with crappy overcast rainy weather, fighting a 1-2 kt current, and going on a great lack of sleep.  Right now, it’s a constant struggle for us to BE happy.  Hope things get better soon.

Late tonight, we ran into some weather system with wind, rain and choppy waves. The wind was south for a while, right on the nose where we wanted to go and there was a current out of the south, we also couldn’t go west because a westerly current was setting us, too.  We motored straight south, angled just slightly off the wind to keep the main filled.  The rain didn’t begin in earnest until early this morning.  Poor Matt got the brunt of it.  The choppy seas came from the E/SE with the wind, and the rain was cold and harsh. I woke up to see Matt in the cockpit, dripping wet head to toe adjusting the sails because, hooray! We were sailing.  We’ve been sailing all day so far, miracle or miracles.  And we’re even going the direction we want to go!  We are now in the 03N, making steady progress towards the equator.  I’m thinking about starting a biga/poolish for sourdough bread so maybe we can have some fresh bread for Neptune, the little Mo’Fo that he is for giving us such a hellish time on our crossing. The boat was actually overpowered, so we are double-reefed, but still doing 5+ knots.  It feels a little strange to be heeled over – we got so used to motoring and having the boat rock equally to both sides, that this strong tilt feels foreign.  And I’d forgotten how it sounds to be beating so hard into the wind and waves.  Once again, it sounds like we are being bombed as we hurtle through a treacherous minefield, occasionally setting off a violent explosion ourselves.

Matt seems to be in a better mood after a fair amount of sleep, although he did protest this morning, “What did we do to deserve this?” when the weather just kept getting nastier and nastier.  I mean, we are three degrees from the equator and yet we’re wearing foulies or our fleece jackets while looking over choppy silvery water as it’s pouring down.  This is the tropics??  Granted, we are sleeping naked on the settee because it’s dreadfully sticky and humid in here…

Days 16 & 17

After a long night on day 15 of messing with sails and having shifting, variable winds, we FINALLY got some awesomely consistent wind out of the S/SE (more the south) and have been flying along ever since.  Flying along as in averaging 7 knots!  Trying to stay close-hauled so we could make more southern progress, we ended up taking two reefs in the main and were still ridiculously overpowered.  But, the skies were clear, the seas were fairly calm and we were doing 6-8 knots, so we kept the jib up and have been living our lives on a 20 degree tilt for the last thirty-six hours, and will probably stay this way for another two days until we reach the ever elusive equator.

We might not be going quite as fast had we not encountered an easterly current just as we moved from 03 to 02 degrees North, which is pushing us hard to the west at 1-2 knots.  It’s by far been the best sailing we’ve had this entire trip.  Although I swear Neptune couldn’t make it more difficult to cross hemispheres!  Winds out of the south, so you can’t head that direction, a current out of the west pushing you back to where you came from, and then a current out of the south, and finally a current out of the east also preventing you from making any real headway south.  No wonder people throw a party when they reach 00 – getting there is quite the achievement!

I started reviewing my french today via our French Rosetta Stone program.  Matt’s been doing it for a while now, so I better get on board before he knows more than I do!  Have also been spending a lot of time writing and sleeping.  Have been feeling super exhausted these last couple of days.

Today we not only have beautiful sailing, but we have blue skies and sunshine for the first time in a week.  So nice to not be surrounded by rain clouds!

Days 18, 19

The last two days we’ve had fairly clear skies and light winds.  Day 18, the sky was clear in the morning, then clouded up and threatened to rain, but just as we thought we were in for a crappy night, the clouds dissipated and just became overcast instead of stormy.  The wind kicked up in the evening and we had incredible sailing all through the night!  We made our first 150 mile day!  Day 19 dawned glorious and sunny.  The first true sunshine we’d had in at least a week.  We both took showers and Matt tried to nap in the cockpit. I spent more time down below, out of the sun because it was too hot for me!  We had good winds for most of the day and then the wind died and became very very light just as we were heading into dusk.  The wind stayed very light until the sails started slatting around and I lost steerage with everything – windvane, autopilot and hand steering. Just couldn’t keep the boat happy.  We could have just taken the main down and bobbed around, but I was worried we would lose our southernly progress by getting pushed to the W/NW by the current.  This southerly progress is extremely important to me since it’s taken us so long to get it! and so I didn’t want to take any chances.  We ended up motoring for 3 hrs before we got just enough wind to keep the sails filled.  Matt got the boat going and we’ve been tripping along since early this morning around 4.3 kts.

Yesterday, since we had such great conditions, I put out some fishing lines and two “teasers.” My teasers were a piece of wood that flips and flops all around and, just for the heck of it, an old toilet brush I found.  Of course, we had no fish even come anywhere near the stuff as far as I could tell.  Finally pulled it all in after dark and not even a nibble anywhere.  what’s up fish??!!?!?

On Day 18, Matt got eager to fly the kite with the camera.  He got the kite out and had a heck of a time getting it to stay up.  He finally took the tail off and the kite lifted beautifully.  Of course, as he goes down below to get the camera, the wind starts to pick up.  We were hauling, averaging almost 7.0 knots.  I was helping reel in the kite so he could attach the camera, and just as the kite was getting near the boat, it seemed to get caught in the lee of the main and totally tanked into the water.  Within seconds, the string had broke and the kite was gone.  Poor Matt.  While I felt awful about all the time and effort he’d just spent getting the darn thing up, part of me wanted to laugh because of course that would happen to us!  We’ve had such crappy luck on this trip…  I was just thankful that it happened before we put the camera on there!!   The kite is one thing and, yes, it was frustrating to lose it after all the time he spent fighting to get it up, but it’s just a kite.

Today and yesterday it’s felt like we are on a treadmill, as Matt put it.  We go outside to look around and it all looks exactly the same.  The skies may be different and the ocean may be more or less calm, but it feels like the ocean is simply passing beneath us, the skies overhead, too, and we are not actually going anywhere.

We are now at 01 degrees north, just another two degrees until we hit 00 degrees 00 minutes and cross the equator!  If the wind keeps up, we’ll be crossing within the next two days. I would really love to catch IO on the radio and ask if they’ll post a note when we cross.  It would be great to share the good news with our families J   We are over half-way now, but still have about 1500 or so miles to go until Hiva Oa.  Depending on the southerly winds, we could potentially make it in another ten days, giving us about 28/29 days at sea.  We have been out twice as long as we ever have before and, while it’s been frustrating at times, it hasn’t actually been too bad.  It’s a strange sort of life, though.  You feel insanely confined.  Too hot or too windy or too wet to be in the cockpit, so we hunker down below within that tiny tiny space, and now that we are heeled over 20 degrees, life takes on a whole other dimension as we’re constantly walking around like a couple of drunks.  The routine is also strange because there’s only so much you can do when you’re moving constantly at an erratic, unstable pace, with limited space.  We have both read through almost all our fiction books, even picking up those that we otherwise probably wouldn’t be drawn to because we are so desperate.  I’ve been writing a fair amount, Matt has been doing a little bit of thinking and has practiced a lot of French.

Day 20

We crossed the equator today around 5:30AM.  I was on watch, it was a beautiful night and we were sailing along nicely.  I woke Matt up when we had just a few miles to go and prepared our celebratory beverages.  Just before we crossed, we went up on deck and watched the GPS tick down until it finally read 00.00.00!!  At that moment, I tipped a little Captain Morgan overboard for Neptune (not too much, that dirty little bastard has given us a heck of a time!) and we clinked our plastic glasses filled with nectarine jumex and rum, and congratulated ourselves for having come this far.

About thirty seconds later, we were back down below because it was chilly out there in the wind!  Matt had put on jeans for the first time since we arrived in Mexico and had on his fleece.  So strange to be in the “tropics” and still the weather has yet to feel very “tropical.”  I picked up the sewing pattern for my dress yesterday and cut out the pattern.  Matt inspired me since he randomly decided to sew himself another pair of shorts out of an old pillowcase.  I can’t believe him – he knows nothing about sewing and yet he just uses one of his shorts for a pattern, draws it out, cuts the pieces, stitches them together and has a rather fine nice new pair of shorts!  It took him maybe 4 hours to do.  My pattern says the dress is supposed to only be a 2-hour project.  I’m sure that’s not going to prove true!  It was hard to cut the pattern out because the wind coming through the boat.  It was blowing the light paper everywhere.  I will have to close the boat up, I think, when I iron the pattern pieces and pin the dress otherwise it’s just not going to work.

Days 20-23

Since we crossed the equator, these days have been flying by – literally.  We’ve been averaging no less than 6.9 knots and our highest average, so far, has been 7.5 knots.  The wind has been awesome and while we started with fairly calm seas and a ridiculously comfortable ride, the seas have since picked up and we now have a decent swell with wind chop and thus the motion has become more and more insane.  For the past couple of days, we’ve been heeled over on a close reach/beam reach at about 15-20 degrees until today (day 23).  We were making too much southerly progress and needed to make equal time west, so we headed down to more of a broad reach.  We are still going quite fast, but instead of a constant heel to one side, we are back to that rock n’ roll motion where we tip equally to both sides.  This is where the funhouse begins – your every movement has to be timed to coincide with the boat rocking back to the middle.  So, the boat heels to one side and you wait, then as it rolls back, you work your way down the center of the boat (or do whatever you need to do) as quickly as possible lest the boat rock again and throw you into a wall or back onto the settee.  Tonight, I was spooning leftover curry chicken into a pan to be reheated and had the curry dish in one hand and the spatula in the other when the boat pitched hard.  The galley floor was slippery due to the dried salt from all the sea water that randomly splashes into the boat every once in a while and so I started to slide….  Matt was sitting at the nav table and I slid five feet across the galley straight towards him. To prevent a face plant into the wall, I jammed my hand against the tool locker splashing curry all over the locker and then violently hip-checked the nav table – like right on my hip bone – and between these two points struggled to balance my torso so that I wouldn’t dump the remaining curry all over Matt who had just showered this morning.  Good times here on this f*ing boat.

We haven’t done a whole lot these last couple of days except sleep, eat and read.  Matt has practiced his french some and I have done some writing, but we’ve mostly just been enjoying the fact that we are finally sailing along in the glorious tradewinds.  We both slept outside in the cockpit on day 21, although sleeping side by side in the cockpit will have to be reserved for being at anchor because it’s way too hard to get a good night’s sleep when the watch alarm is beeping every 20 minutes and the person on watch is sneaking out of your embrace to get up and look around.

When I got up this morning and looked around, I thought, “this is a strange life we have…”  One where it’s now totally normal to look around and only see endless ocean for miles, with no other people or boats in sight.  We haven’t seen another boat in at least two weeks, maybe more.  And certainly no other people and barely any wildlife.  It is just funny to me that it doesn’t feel odd anymore.  To actually see something else would be odd!!  We’ve just come to expect that the only thing out there is open water as far as the eye can see.  We are very much out in the middle of nowhere.  As Matt put it one day, “I’m farther away from civilization than I have ever been in my life.”  When we go camping, we are always trying to get as far away from everyone else as we can, and I think we’ve outdone ourselves now.

On Day 22 we saw other boats for the first time in at least 2 weeks.  One was a cargo ship that showed up on AIS, the other we think was a fishing boat that was about 5 miles away.  There are two other puddle jump boats fairly close to us, one is less than 15 miles away, but we have yet to see them off in the distance.

We are sailing incredibly fast.  We are averaging 7.3 knots and have been sailing this way for the better part of the last 24 hours.  It is exhausting.  Sailing – well, cruising – means being in motion twenty-four hours a day.  While the motion right now is not all that uncomfortable, it stills takes its toll on a person to be moving all the time.  Even in sleep, you are moving.  Even at anchor, there is a constant rolling beneath you.  Matt tells me that we only have 550 miles to Hiva Oa.  Thank God.  I can’t wait to feel solid ground beneath my feet again.  Funny the things we take for granted…
On Day 22 and 23 we made almost 170 miles.  Our best day, day 22, was 168.  So close!  As of today (end of 23), we are only 225 miles away from Nuka Hiva.  Wanting to join our celebration, a flying fish came jumping through the hatch this afternoon.  I was in the head/bathroom opening a cabinet when I heard this strange flop and what I thought was dripping water.  I assumed that water had splashed into the cabin since we had just rammed into a wave.  I poked my head out to look and there on the floor was an 8 inch flying fish hopping all around losing scales and smearing his fishy scent all over our floor.

We have recently changed our plans and are heading to Nuka Hiva instead of Hiva Oa since Mike and Hyo said that’s the place to be.  Apparently several boats checked in at Hiva Oa, only to stay there for a few days and then go to Nuka Hiva, where they hang out for weeks.  So, even though it will mean all the other islands will be upwind for us, we are going to Nuka Hiva first, will hang out with Mike & Hyo for a few days and then go south from there.  Right now, our tentative plan is to do Nuka Hiva, Hiva Oa, Tuatuta and Fatu Hiva before jumping from Fatu Hiva to go to the Tuamotus.  Basically, we’re going backwards from what everyone else is doing. Nothing new there.

So far, we’ve convinced at least one other boat to meet up with us at Nuka Hiva, too.  We’ve made a bunch of friends on the radio – Brian & Claudia on Skylight, Brian et al on Spirit of Gnumi Gnumi, Kim and Larry on Magenta (had met them in La Cruz), and Joe and Adrienne on Blue Bottle (a hilarious aussie couple), not to mention several others.  So, selfishly, we didn’t want to forsake meeting up with them just to meet up with IO, so we’ve been trying to get them all to come to Nuka Hiva with us.  Skylight is changing their plans and I think Blue Bottle is close to changing too.  Gnumi Gnumi might come as well, especially since one of their crew needs to get an x-ray for a bum shoulder.  It would be super fun to meet up with everyone, so we’re trying to swing that. Gnumi Gnumi has promised a fish cook-out on their boat and Joe on Blue Bottle has promised another rousing rendition of his song of all the names of the Marquesas Islands.  (Fatu Hiva… Hiva Oa… Ua Poua… Huka Ua…) haha

The water out here has resumed its spectacular blue color, which was temporarily dulled by all the crazy current action, I think.  But, we still haven’t seen anything especially interesting.  One afternoon Matt spotted some large fins off in the distance, but even with binoculars, we couldn’t tell what they were.  I’m going with killer whales, although they could have been large dolphins, who knows. But, they didn’t come anywhere near us and if you can’t tell what they are, does it really count?  I haven’t put my fishing lines out in the last two days because we have been going so incredibly fast that if we actually DID catch a fish, it would be quite chaotic trying to reel it and slow the boat, etc.  And, seriously, it’s depressing to leave them out day after day and not even get a nibble.

I’ve realized that cruising, no matter how they pitch it, is not any way to get or stay in shape.  I had great intentions of trying to work out on the boat, but honestly it is way too hard, and sometimes dangerous!, to really do much of anything.  Even something as basic as lifting weights while sitting on the settee could do more harm than good if we slap into waves at just the right moment.  When it’s calmer, we’ve done situps and pushups on the foredeck and Matt has even attempted lunges down the sidedecks.  We’ve done pull-ups on the radar arch, but those you really can only do when the boat is nearly still otherwise you swing into the backstay and end up with a scratch all the way up your side like Matt did when he scraped himself on one of the wire ties.  While not working out, you still feel snacky all the time and sometimes eat more than you really should or probably really need to.  It’s like you’re feeding a mental hunger instead of a physical one, because the mental challenge of staying upright and maintaining your sanity out here is more the constant struggle.

To end on a lighter note:  I changed our pillow case this evening because when the flying fish came in, he brought some icky gooey jelly stuff with him and it happened to land on the settee right where my head had been earlier today.  So… I took that as a sign that it was time for some new clean linens (and time to sleep with my head at the other end!)  The pillowcase smells deliciously like fabric softener, easily the best smelling thing on the boat at the moment.

Day 24

We have less than 130 miles to Nuku Hiva.  The novelty has worn off.  I’m ready to be STILL.

We have about 20-25 kts of wind and the seas are a mess.  Waves mostly out of the SE, but all sorts of deep swell mixed with hard wind chop and every once in a while the boat takes one on the beam and with a loud BOOM, the boat seems to come to a standstill and water sloshes up all over the deck, spilling in through the galley and salon hatches that we’ve left open simply because it’s too hot not to.  We are still trucking along at 7+ knots which is awesome when we keep in mind that it will get us to land that much quicker.  Not so awesome when you are constantly pitching back and forth, and even sleeping on the once-comfy settee is impossible because you are getting tossed around too much. I am so ready to stop moving.

This morning a huge wave launched a busted bottle of laundry detergent into the cockpit and got high-concentrated soap everywhere.  Don’t worry – it was the “environmentally friendly” stuff. We had tucked it along the side deck because it sprung a leak in its storage in the head.  Matt took the opportunity to scrub down the cockpit, only to lose the bucket overboard when he went to get some water to wash the soap off.  We have no spare bucket. So I left him down below to do the 1800 informal net and I took a few bin-fulls of water up on deck.  I sloshed the water around and it seemed to get most of the soap off. Then, stupid me, I tucked the detergent back in it’s original place on the side deck.  Ha! Yeah, half hour later, after breakfast, we go up and the detergent is laying on its side and the cockpit is once again covered in slippery soap. Matt decided to use the deck wash pump this time though I don’t know if that was any faster than my bin-fulls of water.  Our fabric hose thing really sucks.

I’m down below and trying to not look around at anything because everywhere you turn there is something that needs to be done.  The deck hardware desperately needs to be washed with fresh water and scrubbed to get the rust off.  The cabin floor is a disaster and desperately needs a new coat of varnish/protectorate.  The oven door has rust spots all over it and I don’t even want to think about what a mess the icebox is going to be.  The v-berth hasn’t really seen fresh air in weeks and Jon’s locker already has a bit of a mildewy odor.  The head is ok unless you count all the mildew growing on the walls, and the quarter-berth cushions still need to be aired out to make sure they are fully dry.  Not to mention we have a TON of laundry to do (which may all have to be done by hand. ugh), there are dishes in the sink, and I think some more of the potatoes are going bad.

I don’t care though.

I’m not doing ANYTHING for the first two days after we arrive (tomorrow?!?!?!). Well, maybe I’ll post a blog and wish my mom Happy Mother’s Day  🙂


Day 25

This morning, just after dawn, we pulled into Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva.  WOW.  It’s spectacular. I can’t believe we’re really here.  We made it.  🙂


Things I would consider essential for another long passage:

–       a great pair of binoculars, preferably those that have a built in compass  (thanks Jon’s parents!!)

–       an awesome flashlight (thanks Mom!)

–       easy to clean tupperware of varying sizes with good sealing lids

–       cup holders  (everywhere in the cabin and cockpit and as many as you can afford!)

–       a good pair of kitchen shears

–       a couple of good general recipe books (we have several specific ones: pressure cooking, fishing, etc. but didn’t have anything like the general betty crocker, which would have been helpful)

–       beach towels

–       small water bottles that can be filled and re-filled without much hassle

–       book of card games  (unless you’re cooler than us and actually know how to play several different ones)

–       coffee pot with wide base

–       lots and lots and lots of paper towels  (I bought lots of napkins, too, but they’re not always what you really need)

–       lots and lots and lots of books that are NOT about sailing and have nothing to do with sailing (we definitely did not have enough of non-sailing books)

–       two sets of sheets

–       a ridiculous amount of sunscreen.  When you look in your shopping cart and think “that should be enough” buy at least five more bottles.

–       Hats: visors, baseball caps, etc.

–       Sunglasses:  always have at least one extra pair of cheap ones on hand

–       Field guides re ocean, wildlife, birds, stars, etc.  You may not care about them when you’re on land, but out here you’ll want to know what you’re looking at…


Books I read  (reading consumed approximately 12 hrs of every day. ha!):
Sex, Lies & Spinnakers
Thinker Toys
Geek Love
The Sparrow
The Highest Tide
No One Gets Out Alive (biography of Jim Morrison of the Doors)
The Hard Way
Sophie’s World
Best American Travel Stories 2002
The Sisterhood of Spies
The Right to Write
Care & Feeding of the Offshore Crew
The Golden Fox
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
You Suck
Let My People Go Surfing
I Will Not Die an Unlived Life
Legend of Bagger Vance


6 Comments so far ↓

  • Elaine

    WOO-HOO! What a grand adventure you two are on – and I will wait anxiously for your posts when you get to the Marquesas. You darn betcha (that’s Minnesota-speak) you are in my prayers every day, every time I think of you, which will be many times daily. After reading another sailing blog yesterday and seeing the gorgeous photos from the Marquesas and other South Pacific islands, it gives me the bug to fly there to experience them first-hand. You guys are in for an awesome treat, and Matt – YOU are the professional photographer, so WE are expecting some awesome photos 🙂

    Happy Sailing!

    Love ~ (Your cyber-aunt) Elaine

  • WE DID IT!!! We are in the Marquesas…

    […] Our Pacific Crossing: April-May 2010 […]

  • Jonathon Haradon

    Thanks for putting this up. Just finished reading all of it. Laughed out loud multiple times and got strange looks from fellow coffee shop patrons. All experience is defined by the lens you use to go through it. Keep it up.

  • MOM

    Oh my goodness!! What a storyteller! Loved every minute, every laugh, every groan. What an amazing adventure you two have had. I’m looking forward to more stories & more photos .
    Love you both!! MOM

  • Elaine

    Karen – you are a treasure! I just finished reading this while at the reception desk where I work and have had more than one person ask me “what’s so funny??” Tooooo hard to explain! Hoping you will enjoy the South Pacific Islands a whole lot, but not too much of a whole lot so that you’ll decide to stay there. Like your Mom, we are looking forward to more stories and more photos. Love ~ Elaine

  • Rob Levy

    Hi Karen! Love your blog! Just finished reading it and really enjoyed all your descriptions. Great stuff! You may or may not remember me. I have a 42′ trawler named “Built for Comfort” on B-dock. (B-32) that has brown canvas on her. I’m 3 slips in from the end of the finger. Anyway! Love reading about Matt and your adventures. I’m jealous! All the best, Rob

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