Monday, April 30, 2012
The good news about French islands is the wonderful bread that seems to be always fresh and available, We hear you can also get yummy croissants – but we haven't found them yet.
We got safely anchored on Friday night and slept for more than three hours which was certainly a treat. Then at 7:30 am Saturday, the French customs agents boarded our boat. Normally on this island, you simply go to the post office and fill out a form and mail it to Customs headquarters in Tahiti. But there has been some smuggling and drugs in the area, so it seems that the custom boat is out traveling the islands more often. We got boarded and luckily one of the agents spoke good English. They asked questions, filled out paper but they didn't inspect below. We heard several other boats did get a full inspection with the agents mostly looking at the quantity of alcohol that was claimed versus what was really on board. We heard one boat was carrying a whole lot of rum – and got fined and has to appear in Tahiti for more fines or other punishment. They customs took lots of money from him to make sure he would appear in Tahiti. So we were glad our customs experience was a good one.
We have to finish our clear-in with a visit to the gendarmes on Monday (they don't work on weekends) and get our immigration stamps. Then we'll be officially in the French Polynesian Islands for three months.
On Saturday, after a "lost on board" wallet was found, we headed into town to get some foreign currency and hopefully some bread and fresh goods. Unfortunately we ended up leaving later than we had hoped so almost everything was closed. The bank machine was available and still working (we heard that later in the day it was out of money – maybe we took it all) and we got some colorful, big Polynesian francs to buy some baguettes and tomatoes and a cucumber. Not too much else was available. We have to wait until Monday for more serious shopping and finding a phone chip and internet card so we can try to call our moms, check our e-mail and download tax forms.
We headed back from town which is a few mile hike over hilly terrain. It was hot and after 35 days at sea, tiring. Luckily a local breadfruit grower stopped and gave us a ride at the halfway mark. People here are exceptionally friendly and helpful. He also spoke a little English, so that made it easier.
Sunday (today) was cleaning day. Michael is working on the hull which is terribly stained from all the rolling we did offshore. The stains were almost as high as the rubstrake and won't come off. He also scraped the rest of the barnacles/mussels off the waterline. When customs came aboard they were amazed at all the growth we had and kept pointing and asking about all the shells on our boat. It is a very hard project.
Barbara handled the wood below decks and that was also pretty moldy thanks to being closed up for 35 days. We'll slowly get Astarte back to her glory.
Now we enjoy watching the new boats arrive – about five a day and squeeze into the anchorage. It is quite an international fleet here and an exclusive club of ocean passage makers.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
About 20 nautical miles from our destination, a huge whale was seen spouting water. As we moved towards our Marquesas destination, the whale also was moving closer to us. It was magnificent, dark and very, very large. It came by the boat less than 1000 feet away and not being whalers – we aren't exactly sure what type. But it could have been a sperm whale based on its head shape. It cruised along on the surface for quite awhile and then not long after it passed our boat, it took a deep breathe, hunched and dove showing us its full tail. So huge and yet so graceful in its water environment.
Then on the horizon "Land ho" - the steep cliffs of an island could be seen and on closer inspection, several smaller jagged rocky islands were also nearby. It was something to see land after 35 days.
The islands quite steep with straight sides. Some areas on the top are quite worn down and other parts are very jagged. These are the northernmost islands of the French Polynesian territory. The Marquesas consist of six large and six small islands. Unlike most of the French Polynesian territory, these mountainous islands are not protected by coral reefs. These islands are quite fertile and used to house many plantations – but due to uneven rainfall, they failed. Now the island group is inhabited by native Polynesians numbering around 9000.
We landed on Hiva Oa in Atuona. The harbor entrance is quite hidden and looks quite trecherous with breaking water. Especially because of the setting sun in our eyes and the hazy evening. But as you near you can see an opening and calmer water around the lee. You also see lots and lots of sailboat masts. The small bay of Vipihai is packed with boats as this is one of two places to clear into French Polynesia and the closest one after a 35 day passage. The boats are all anchored with a bow and stern anchor so you can fit more boats in (other than the few catamarans who decided not to play by the rules and are taking up more than their fair share of the space.)
So we went in around 1730 local time (5:30 pm) and found a home in the midst of the pack. It is very tight quarters but we neatly dropped our bow anchor and set it, put out additional chain and dropped back, put in the stern anchor, and then pulled forward on the bow anchor again. Very nicely done – not bad after 35 days at sea. No yelling, no drama!
We opened a bottle of chilled champagne to celebrate the passage making. It tasted great and we relaxed enjoying being at anchor.
It was a long passage – longer than we anticipated. We ran the engine only 25 total hours – most of it the last day as we wanted to get in before dark and not sit out there another day. We were only 50 miles away – but there was no wind so at noon local time, we fired up the engine and motored the last 26 miles.
Another check mark on the bucket list – a long ocean passage. Thanks so much to everyone who sent us notes with encouragement, news and gossip. They made the passage go by more quickly and were our daily entertainment when we did mail call. We appreciate it. We felt all your positive vibes sailing with us.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Michael went for a swim in the Pacific yesterday to try to "de-aggregate" the FAD - Fish Aggregating Device, (aka Astarte's hull). The wind had just about died and the seas were the smallest we'd seen – so he decided to get in and check the prop, thru-hulls and hull. We dropped all sails, tied him on to a rope, and with scraper in hand he went in. Barbara was line handling and on shark watch. He got a good workout as there was enough wave and current to fight as he dove under the hull to check, scrape and de-barnacle the hull. He wanted to make sure the engine would get enough cooling water and that the prop was actually a propeller and not a ball of mussels and growth.
After 90 minutes, it was time to come in as he had probably started to attract enough attention of those oceanic sharks with all the noise and food supply he was sending into the current. That plus a few grunts and groans probably sounded like shark mating calls.
He may try to get the other side done today – or we'll just wait the day or so until we are at anchor for further cleaning. We had hoped that we would have an arrival today (Thursday), but it doesn't look like that will be the case. We had a very slow night with no wind at all – and now the wind has changed directions from the SE to NE and is still less than 10 knots – so that means slow, slow, slow. We should hopefully make it in by Friday afternoon. We started slow, its probably appropriate we'll end just as slow (but hopefully not going backwards).
35 days and counting.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
We take down the pole that we have holding our our headsail and get the drifter up (this is a chore in the rolly seas). We're sailing along having gained about a knot of speed with this sail, but the seas still are big enough, and the winds light enough, that the sail regularly collapses on itself and refills jerking the boat and making a racket. Then, all of a sudden, BAM! The sail is now in the water. Its a big sail and it seems to have broken off from the top as both the bottom sheet and lower pennant are still attached to the boat and we are dragging the sail along. We get it back on deck and realize that the sock that holds the sail is still attached to the top by a halyard we were very lucky that Michael could get this bit down with the sock's control line without losing the halyard. So now we have a salt watered, soaking wet huge sail on the foredeck, as the sails sock as a separate piece and have to get up other sails to we can move through the water without letting the waves have their way with us.
We manage to get the sail down the hatch (wet) and the main back up. We take a breather than get the pole and head sail back in place so we are sailing again (albeit at 3 knots). The pennant that holds the sail to the halyard at the top was made of a stainless steel wire and nico press fitting. Chinese workmanship at its best – the fitting gave loose. Now this is only about the sixth time we've flown this sail – so its just about brand new! It can be repaired – but not today.
Less than 150 miles to go, but like we started, t looks like we'll finish at a tortoise pace. We are barely making 3 knots through the water. Today, Michael will get in the water and clean the prop, shaft, thru-hulls, and some of the bottom – maybe that will take us to 3.5 knots of speed!
The fishing has also settled down – consistent with the lack of boat speed. But we did enjoy a good run of mahi dinners and have several meals still in the freezer. The day's menu planning goes like this – if we catch a fish before our big meal, that's what we have. If we don't, we punt! Actually we have plenty still left – but most of the meat is frozen.
Our "ad hoc" morning radio net, which is named the POST net (Pacific Ocean Sailing Tribe)is getting smaller as boats that left within weeks of each other are starting to reach their destinations. "Adventure Bound", a Tayana 37 has made it to Pitcairn Island and said its a very cool and friendly place; "Stolen Kiss," "Mary Madeleine," and "Sophie" have all made it to Hiva Oa and most have already departed from there already as well; and, "Wig Wam" and "Viatrix" have made it to Easter Island. We should be the next boat to get to our destination followed by "Namani," "Daramy," "Happy Bird," "Rhapsody," "Katydid" and "Solstice." It is quite an international collection boats and has been fun to hear them on the radio daily with their positions and weather conditions. We have met a few of them, but many we only know via the radio. Michael and Markus from "Namani" (who was one of our line handlers through the Panama Canal) handle the "net control" work and have done a great job. It meets every morning at 1600 Zulu and it provides a nice safety and comfort factor.
Otherwise life at a slant, roll and toss continues. Bread is made; laundry done; fish caught and cleaned; but not many of the big projects we had hoped to accomplish. Oh well...less than 250 miles to go.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
This morning, (Friday, April 20), the yell came from the cockpit "FISH ON" and the reel was running fast – quickly stripping line. Michael got to the fish line, Barbara started to slow the boat down (pulling in sails) and the battle began. Man versus fish. Michael vs. the monster of the deep. Whatever it was is huge and fighting mad. He had nearly stripped the reel clean and Michael fought to get some line back on with about 6 turns left before it would all be gone. Michael would get some in – and the fish would run again. On and on this battle raged. We managed to create a poor man's "fighting belt" out of some foam and a webbed belt so Michael could at least not get quite as big a bruise from the end of the rod. The rag he had wrapped around the rod didn't seem to be quite enough padding. We'll post a picture on the web of our homemade "fighting belt" - it's quite a fashion statement!
After the fish would get close the boat, he'd run again. We could never see it, as it stayed very deep – never surfacing to jump or check out what had him. It seemed to want to go deeper and deeper and Michael said it's movement felt like rolling and head shaking. So we think SHARK of course. He's got one of our favorite lure's in his mouth – the Mexican flag (from Tom) and it's done a great job catching us some fish – so we're hoping we don't lose it.
The battle continues – 70 minutes into it – Michael gets him back close to the boat but he does not seem in the least bit tired (that would be the fish). He tries another run and the fish finally spits out the lure. We get the lure back – a bit worse for the wear and tear – but never saw the behemoth. Michael is nursing a bruise and disappointment for not getting to see what he battled so long. We were ready with a longer, bigger, tail loop line, camera, and gaff hook. But ...it's a fish tale. True, but it is one that got away.
We went through another time zone today – so now we are now the same time as Alaska! One hour ahead of Hawaii. It's weird – all of a sudden you look at the GPS clock and it's an hour earlier. So did that fish battle take ten minutes or two hours and ten minutes. Hmmmmmm.
We have under 700 miles to go and have been steadily making 100 mile days or even a bit more. Michael has to go overboard at some point to look at the bottom. It seems to be covered in a mussel or barnacle critter. This is clogging intakes and outflows, the prop is probably a mess and it certainly is taking a knot at least off our speed. We spoke with a few other boats on our morning radio net and one of them said he had never seen anything grow so fast or so extensive in all his life. His prop was a ball and all the intakes were jammed with the critters. Kathryn of course tells us we are a FAD - Fish Aggregating Device. We're happy to be providing an environmental service to the tunas and fish by supplementing their food supply. But being a FAD, and catching what may have been a shark, Barbara's not too excited about Michael going overboard to do some cleaning and maintenance. Michael probably not so thrilled either. But, we don't want to start the engine to enter a new harbor with the potential for serious over-heating or no steerage due to a fouled prop and clogged engine intake.
Almost four weeks out. Making headway – its still a rough ride – due to the confused seas – but we are making progress and adjusting as best as we can.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
The hull is covered with small mussels – this is another reason we are going so slow. We cleaned the bottom completely prior to departing from Galapagos, but it seemed the first several days of slow drifting in nutrient rich water got them established on the hull and they have been happily growing and multiplying since then. It's not calm enough seas for Michael to dive over and do some at sea cleaning (though mussels in marinara sauce - yummy)
But we are making progress across the big Pacific. And we haven't killed each other yet!
Monday, April 16, 2012
A question we get asked quite often is, "What are you eating?" You do have to plan ahead when doing this kind of passage. There isn't the handy little grocery around the corner. We provisioned up in Panama City (as Barbara's sister Carol can attest to – she paid the Visa bill.) Panama City is a good place for that kind of provisioning with lots of groceries and good prices.
So since we've left Panama City February 22nd, we've been eating off those supplies. We dine pretty well on Astarte – and so far the dinner menu has included roast chicken, meatloaf, roast pork, chicken curry, barbecue pork, chicken chef salads, pork lo mein, chicken burritos, hamburgers, homemade chili, black beans with ham, ham dinner, kielbasa dinner with homemade baked beans, hot dogs and some homemade soups like cheddar broccoli and pork vegetable. So we have not been deprived nor have we been bored with the menu. We usually make our main meal at midday. This is easier than at night when we are getting ready for our watches and radio nets. We have a decent breakfast in the morning, often a homemade treat like banana bread or coffee cake or your typical options of eggs, pancakes, oatmeal or toast. We eat our main meal sometime around 1 or 2 pm, and then we snack or forage in the evening. It might be leftovers or a sandwich or simply crackers with cheese, fish dip or hummus. There is always a snack bag as well with granola bars, cookies, brownies, dried fruit or treats for the late watches.
So we eat well and are certainly not feeling deprived in that category – and we can last aboard with the supplies we have for at least another two months – let's just hope it doesn't take us that long to get there.
Oh and tomorrow's menu – another Mahi dinner – we just caught another one (we actually caught two at the same time but only one (the smaller of the two) made it to the boat. If we keep catching – that stretches our protein supplies even longer.
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Friday, April 13, 2012
We love the new distance standards. Kathryn tells us we are one Google earth screen through the trip and only one and a half to go. She offers such great positive encouragement (and news updates).
Got some bread made and laundry done and a few odd projects completed. We are either adjusting to the boat's constant roll or we are ignoring it better.
Not much in the way of wildlife sightings lately. We keep looking for whales as some of our friends saw giant grey whales in the vicinity. Because the seas aren't very flat though, it is harder to spot things.
Day 19 - 1484 miles to go.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
The dream (and we understand actual experience of many) is of a peaceful (thus the name Pacific) ocean. Long gentle swells and a steady trade wind to give you those perfect sailing conditions. Yes, it's a long ocean-crossing passage – but it is supposed to be the sailing that we dream about. We imagined just such a passage. We fantasized about all the projects we'd get done in 30 days of wonderful sailing. Books read. Articles and screenplays written, The new dinghy cover finished and other sewing projects. Cruising guides studied for our new islands. Computers cleaned out. Even stainless steel all polished up bright. New recipes tested. Oh, the plans we had.
It is now 16 days into the voyage and we have yet to experience that idyllic sailing day. The projects mount and these aren't the fun projects. The boat is tossed around so it is near impossible to accomplish much. Writing on this log page is the only writing getting done and even that, with some difficulty. The stainless continues to rust not shine. The dinghy is still cover-less. A few books are getting read – but you hold on with one hand and hold the book with the other. We're eating well – but it isn't easy getting a meal together because when you open a cupboard – everything comes flying out!
Perhaps we read too many of those magazines and books about the perfect passage. But many of our cruising friends have had good passages as well. Is it a test of our skills, our fortitude, our patience??? Is it El Nino, La Nina, the ITCZ or Global Warming? Is it simply pure chance that the time we chose to make the journey, it wasn't the best weather window.
An ocean passage was on the bucket list. Now, we wonder why.
Day 16 – 1760 miles to go. We've at least started to make 100 miles in a day – but just barely and we still have some miles to make up from those first five days of drifting backwards in the current. We need some good wind, some sunshine and some miles under the keel.
Monday, April 9, 2012
As you know, the Pacific is one big ocean. And on most days we haven't sighted another boat. But around 0300 on Sunday, there was a fishing boat lit up on the horizon. And over the next hour it got closer and closer. It got close enough that we would be on a collision course with them or at least their trailing nets (because that's what we think they were doing). We were smartly moving along with our headsail poled out. Under this sail set, it is hard to simply go in another direction. Remember – we're in a big ocean there is plenty of room for more than one boat! But this fishing boat was determined to make us change course. We called them on the radio several times and finally reached them but there was a major language issue. We could not understand them and they could not understand us. All they kept saying was they were on a due north course of 000 degrees. We asked if they had nets out or if they could go to port a few degrees – but they couldn't understand or chose not to help out. So we started the engine (remember every gallon of fuel is precious), pulled in our head sail, put up our mainsail and moved to get away from them.
When we were clear, we wanted to go back to the poled out head sail. Only now, the steering wouldn't work. It broke – we had no steerage. It is around 5 am. The seas are still very rocky and rolly. We took down the sail and drifted. We got tossed around quite a bit as we couldn't control where the seas hit the boat. We slowly unloaded a very full lazarette to get to the emergency tiller. That meant piece by piece getting the stuff from the aft to the cockpit or tied to the rails or below in the cabin. Then we got the tiller out and it took some banging, filing and body language to get it to fit. That done,now we at least had steerage. We put the sail back up and could get the boat back moving through the water. Michael then got our electric autopilot to work again (with steerage) so we didn't have to hand steer the boat but could let "Nigel" handle it.
We took a break (it's now about 8 am) and made some coffee, breakfast and determined what the next steps were. The boat was back doing 5 knots in the right direction.
It was an all day project – and Michael did a terrific job of trouble-shooting the problem from one end to the other and then fixed it. It meant taking apart the pedestal (that was a challenge) and climbing in the engine room and lazarette again. But in the end, he fixed it. By 1700 (5 pm local time), we had wheel steering again. We will keep the tiller out and not re-stock the lazarette until tomorrow to be certain it is indeed a permanent (or as permanent as boat things can be) fix.
It was a full day of hard work. Barbara has been up since she came on watch at 0300. Michael got up at 0400 (after just finishing his 3-hour shift) so it has been one very long day.
But it was Easter and in between all the repairs, we managed a nice ham dinner and chocolates (thanks Dave and Lorna).
Yup, we live the life everyone dreams about!!!!!
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Saturday, April 7, 2012
A small bird called Astarte home one night. Unfortunately, we didn't see him come into the cockpit and he startled Barbara as she went to bring in a sail. She almost stepped on him and his fluttering against her leg startled her. It was a golondrina – or at least that is the Spanish name. Or a Oceanodroma tethys. It was cold and tired and working itself into a frenzy trying to climb out of the cockpit. Barbara put a cloth over it, moved it to a warmer, more secure spot (but out of the cockpit). A few hours later it flew away.
There have been lots and lots of schools of flying fish – and it looks like multiple varieties. The very small ones seem to take off in mass. Probably upwards of 30 at a time take to the air. The larger ones seem to fly solo or in smaller groups. We had a small one on deck one morning...he became bait.
We also had a squid on board – how they get that high is amazing.
This morning we were sailing and we woke up a pod of sleeping pilot whales. Luckily, they aren't as grumpy as Michael when you wake him – they simply sunk below the surface and disappeared. There were about eight on the surface with their fins above the surface when the boat approached, they stuck their heads up, blew big breaths and sunk.
We did catch a fish – only it was the world's smallest mahi ever to bite a hook. He is back in the sea to grow up!
Otherwise, we watch the rain and fill the water tank. We'd do laundry but there is no place to hang anymore wet clothes. The boat is filled with wet stuff – our rain gear isn't working that great! We headed further south thinking we'd pick up more wind but only continue in this trough of rain and calm winds.
Sorry for the lack of entries – the roll just makes it tough to write below decks.
RUSH OUT today and by your copy of "Ocean Navigator" Magazine's annual cruising edition called "Ocean Voyager." In it, you'll find an article by yours truly on repairing your boat in exotic locations. We haven't seen what it looks like yet – so let us know!
Friday, April 6, 2012
Position on Friday morning 0725 local:
06 degrees 10.63 minutes south
101 degrees 53.48 minutes west
2145nm to go
We are still trying to update the "where are we" page with position reports.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
When at sea, especially a sea with swells and waves, you don't want to make the trip to the top of the mast. But things do break and sometimes, if those things that break are ON top of the mast, you have to go up to fix them. As you've read, the wind has been anything but consistent either with speed or direction. So, of course what broke, was both our wind speed and wind direction indicators. The electronic one allows us to sit comfortably in the cockpit and look at an instrument to determine which way the wind is blowing and how fast. This then allows us to adjust sails – and it is especially nice to have at night when simply looking at the sail is difficult. The other is a basic mechanical wind indicator that is like a windvane and moves as the wind blows it. Both stopped working at the same time...so we had no easy way to tell direction for tweaking sails.
On a "relatively" calm day, Michael decided he'd go up to have a look. This requires Barbara to hoist him up with a halyard and winch, while he sits in a bosun's chair and goes for the ride. Of course, the mast is moving and the higher up he went the movement was greater and greater. He had to secure himself to the mast to keep from flying off and swinging like a Flying Wallenda. He took apart the electronic one (don't buy Navman/Northstar) and it must be something in the sender that is broken because everything else seemed good. The manual "windex" just required a re-bend – it seems a big frigate bird must have made our mast top home for a bit. He was going to check on some other things – but the roll got worse and worse and he got greener and greener. So down he came.
Another adventure completed and he's hoping not to have to head skyward again soon.
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Monday, April 2, 2012
We wrote about the doldrums and said they were also called the Horse Latitudes. From Kathryn comes this correction:
Minor point of clarification, the Horse Latitudes are actually around 30-35 deg.
N or S--they are the dead winds between the trades and the roaring 40s. The
equatorial dead zone is the doldrums.
Plus we were curious about the waving sea lions. Tom writes us that that is the way the critters cool themselves. Though we still like to think of them as a synchronized swim team minus the goofy swim caps, nose plugs and waterproof makeup.
We are into Day Nine of the Pacific Passage. We have finally picked up some wind and actually made a 100 mile day. We still have a lot to make up for those first few days of barely making 30 miles. We could have walked faster – that is if we could walk on water!
Last night (Saturday, 3/31) we started sailing around 10 pm and by early Sunday morning around 1 am we were flying at 6 to 7 knots (thanks to a current as well). We hit highs of 7.9 knots and kept a steady pace over 6 knots for about 10 hours. That was nice. It finally felt like progress. There is a lot of convection around and we see lightning around us and big clouds. We had one very rainy night on Friday night and got soaked with about 7 hours of nonstop rain. Though we recently added waterproofing to the bimini – it did manage to leak profusely. We had to dry out all the seat cushions, rain gear and clothes the next day when the sun finally came out. That was the first real rain we've had for a long time, so the decks, solar panels and gear enjoyed a much needed rinse off.
The seas have been pretty steep with swell as well as wind chop. This keeps the boat a bit uncomfortable. It's challenging to cook, clean and do projects when you are heeled over and bouncing around. That's why there hasn't been a log entry for a few days. Just too crappy to sit below and do it.
But we are making progress and when we are sailing well we like it a lot. When we sit and rock and drift and the sails clang – we wonder why people think we are living their dream.
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