March 27, 2006

Current Location: Underway to the Galapagos

0 dg. 30.302’S, 82 dg. 6.783’W

Total distance traveled so far:  5,234 nm

We’re finally sailing into the sunsets.  Until now, we have headed just about every direction except west, but ever since we left Bahia de Caraquez yesterday at 12:30 in the afternoon, we have been heading due west, just 30 miles south of the equator (or as due west as the winds will allow).  Tonight will be our second night literally sailing directly into the sunset.  Last night’s sunset was beautiful, complete with a green flash.  A great omen for this leg of the trip.  The winds have been light and contrary so far, but we expected that between Ecu. And the Galapagos this time of the year so that’s no big deal.  We won’t pick up the trade winds until about a day after we leave the Galapagos heading for the Marquesas.  One nice thing is that even out here, 100 miles from the nearest land, the ocean is almost as calm and flat as a lake.  It makes it real easy to sleep, something that always comes hard the first night or two.

So far, there has been a lot of sea life, including a sleeping turtle that I woke up when I motored within about 20’ of him, lots of flying fish, a sleeping dolphin that woke up when I got within about 50 yards from him, hundreds of small (about 2’ across) rays (dark on top, white on the bottom) leaping from the water in a display that lasted several minutes, a dorado leaping out of the water as it chased the flying fish, and a pod of dolphins leaping from the water, one of which would stand on his tail with his entire body out of the water except for the tail flukes for a second or two before falling back in.  Oh yeah, and his afternoon, I got pulled over by an Ecuadorean Coast Guard boat.  No big deal, they didn’t even board me, just had me stop my engine (we are motoring when the wind dies completely), came up alongside, asked where we came from and where we were headed, then let us continue on our way.

This cruising life is a hard one, but somebody’s got to do it if only to let the others know how it is.

March 31, 2006

Current Location: Isla San Cristobal,  Galapagos

0 dg. 63.692’S, 89 dg. 36.827’W

Total distance traveled so far:  5,696 nm

We made it!!!!!

At 9:55 this morning (central standard time – we also crossed a time zone so we are now only 2 hours ahead of all of you in Calif.), we dropped the anchor in Wreck Bay, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos.  We are in 30 feet of crystal clear water and anchored amid about 20 other cruising boats (this is THE time of year to visit the Galapagos).  As we motored down the length of the island (the wind died completely yesterday afternoon), we saw a number of rays lounging about on the surface.  They were about 5’ across and all you could see was when they would occasionally lift their wing tips out of the water as they slowly swam along.  We also saw a number of sea lions, the first since Mexico, I think.  The neatest thing we came across was an incredible rock sticking 500’ straight up out of the water, it’s vertical sides forming a huge cliff rising up out of the water.  What made it all the more incredible was that this rock plunged another 400’ straight down below the waves to the ocean floor.  At one point, we were only a couple of boat lengths away, yet we were still in water hundreds of feet deep.  One end of the rock has a split in it.  The split would have been wide enough to drive the boat through, but I was way too chicken to try that. There was also a cave that ran all the way through the thickest portion of the rock.  I hope the pictures Kathryn took do it justice.  We spent about 45 minutes at the rock and circled it completely, taking pictures and just enjoying the sight of it.  You might try looking it up on the internet as there might be a picture if it somewhere.  Its name is Leon Dormido.  Apparently it’s also called Kicker Rock.

Well, I’ve been up ever since I took over the watch at midnight last night, so I think I’m going to take a nap, then see about going into shore to check in with the Port Captain.

April 1, 2006

Current Location: Isla San Cristobal,  Galapagos

0 dg. 63.692’S, 89 dg. 36.827’W

Total distance traveled so far:  5,696 nm

Today was a good day.

We went with a group back out to Leon Dormido, that rock that towers up out of deep water, and spent a few hours snorkeling around it.  It was really impressive the way the underwater cliff face just dropped straight down into the depths.  There were a lot of 4’-5’ Galapagos sharks swimming around down about 40-60 feet (we’re told that they feed mainly on fish and slow humans – just kidding!).  We also saw some largish spotted eagle rays (3+’ across), a good sized white tipped reef shark (we saw lots of these in Panama) and some of the people spotted some hammerhead sharks, though we didn’t.  The highlight of our time there came right at the end of our last dive.  We came across a sea turtle that didn’t seem to mind our presence at all.  He would let us swim up to just a few feet away from him and while he was clearly keeping an eye on us, that was about the limit of his reaction.  However, he didn’t like to be touched.  If you tried to get close enough to reach out and touch him, he would speed up to try and keep just out of reach.  When you did manage to touch him, he would put on a burst of speed and be suddenly 6 feet away, but then he would resume his slow pace through the water and let you approach him again.  We played this game over and over again.

On the way back to port, we stopped at a place called Isla Lobos for the real highlight of the day.  This is a shallow area, only 3’-8’ deep that a bunch of sea lions hang out at.  For an hour or more, we swam with and played with these delightful creatures.  It was clear that they enjoyed the time at least as much as we did. It was like playing with a basketful of puppies.  They would rapidly swim around and around us, not only not bothered by our presence, but actually attracted by us.  They were moving so fast that you had to be very quick in order to touch them, but this didn’t seem to particularly bother them.  In fact, I found that if I just held my breath and without moving, settled to the bottom with my arms outstretched, one would occasionally come up and nuzzle one of my hands briefly, as if to ask if everything was all right.  They would often pick up a sand dollar from the bottom and, balancing it on their nose, just push it along for awhile.  When they would eventually drop it, they would wait for it to settle to the bottom and start that game all over again.

Finally, shortly after we got back to the boat, Aventura, a boat that left Bahia de Caraquez at the same time we did, but experienced engine trouble (the bearing on their fresh water pump froze), finally made it into port and they are now anchored right next to us.

Tomorrow, I have no idea what we’ll do, but on Monday, we’ve made arrangements to visit a number of interesting places around the island.

April 8, 2006

Current Location: Isla Santa Maria (Floreanna),  Galapagos

S01 dg. 16.557, W90 dg. 29.442

Our trip around San Cristobal didn’t pan out after all.  The guy (Frenando) we had arranged the tour with met us at the dock Monday morning and told us that he hadn’t been able to get anyone else to come, so we could either go the following day (which he assured us he had two more people lined up for) or pay more than we had agreed upon and go with just the two of us.  We politely told him to stuff it, that we were no longer interested in arranging a tour through him.  Instead, we walked a mile or so out of town to an area called Las Loberia (the sea lion place) and enjoyed visiting with a bunch of sea lions and marine iguanas (really ugly critters).  The following day, we basically just loafed on the boat and took it easy.

Wednesday, we checked out of San Cristobal and (shhhhh, don’t tell anyone) went over to Isla Espanola, an island cruisers are not allowed to visit except through one of the official tours.  We arrived there just at dusk after a slow sail on an almost windless day.  After finding a deserted cove to spend the night in, we picked up the anchor at dawn and spent the first half of Thursday motoring around the island, staying pretty much as close to the shore and cliffs as we could safely get.  We saw lots of wildlife, including turtles, dolphins,  a whale, tropic birds (really cool), swallow tail gulls and waved albatrosses.  About noon, we headed for Isla Santa Maria (also called Floreanna) and got within sight of it just as the sun went down.  Once again, we had almost no wind, so spent the night slowly sailing around the south side of the island, arriving off of the anchorage on the west side of the island about 02:00 in the morning, at which time the wind died completely.  Rather than come into an unfamiliar port at night,  I just drop all sail and sat about a mile offshore until dawn.  Since there was no wind or waves, the hardest part of this was staying awake just to make sure that if another boat happened along, it wouldn’t bump into us.  None did and at dawn, we had only drifted about ¼ of a mile from when I had stopped the boat.  I quickly motored in, dropped the hook and took a nap. 

Later that morning, we went in to find the port captain, check in and then to locate the hotel Whitmer where we were supposed to be able to arrange a trip out to a great dive spot called Corona Diablo (Devil’s Crown).  Welcoming us onto the pier were a sea lion and a marine iguana.  It took awhile to find the port captain, and he spoke not a word of English, but was very patient with our struggles with his language, sometimes even writing what he was saying on a piee of paper so we could study it and work out the meaning.  Finding the hotel was no problem since the island only has a total of 100 residents (mostly fishermen and their families).   At the hotel, we met Erika Whitmer who warmly welcomed us to the island, gave us a couple of cokes and had us sign their guest book of visiting yachts.

Later that day, Jade (a Manta 42 catamaran from Hong Kong) came into port with Arne, Cam, Molly (7) & Nancy (5) Also aboard was Karin from Magic Carpet.  These were boats that we had known in Ecuador and come across to San Cristobal at the same time with.  Chris from Magic Carpet is waiting for some parts for their engine to be flown in and Karin will meet up with him again at Isla Santa Cruz.  Since our dinghy was already in the water and we had to go back to the hotel to finalize the arrangements for our trip on Sat., we gave Arne a ride in to the port captain, then sat on the hotel’s veranda enjoying a beer with him.  On the way over, Jade had caught two yellow fin tuna, so that evening, Kathryn & I went over to Jade for dinner.  I found it interesting listening to the girls easily switching back and forth between English and Chinese as they chattered away.

This morning, the panga showed up right on time at 9:00 and everyone from both boats all piled in for the days adventure.  Among other things, we saw a flock of 30 flamingos and a penguin.  There was just one penguin that we found, but he let the panga get as close to the rock he was standing on as the driver dared and seemed completely unconcerned that the funny humans were ogling him.  The flamingos we only saw from a distance as they fed in the middle of a shallow lagoon, but they were beautiful.  Corona Diablo is the remains of a volcanic crater, the rim of which sticks up a hundred feet or so above the sea in the form of a series of rocks that form a circle about a hundred yards across.  The water was very clear and the fish were probably the tamest I’ve ever seen.  You could swim right through a school of them and they seem not the least bit concerned.  I also found a spot with a half dozen white tipped reef sharks, most of which were the normal 4’-5’ long, but a couple of them were in the 6’-7’ range and pretty impressive. 

Tonight, we are all going to the hotel for a Hungarian goulash dinner.  I can’t wait.

April 13, 2006

Current Location: Isla Santa Cruz,  Galapagos

0 dg. 44.876’S, 90 dg. 18.419’W

Total distance traveled so far:  5,834 nm

Last Sunday, we took the dinghy back to where we had spotted the penguin on Saturday and did some snorkeling.  The water was colder than we’ve seen in a very long time.  I wish we had put the wet suits on.  We didn’t see any more penguins, but we did get to swim with a number of turtles, a couple of sea lions and lots of fish.  Kathryn even saw a large ray.  I found a goat skull on the bottom in about 20’ of water, at the base of a cliff.  Interestingly, as we were heading back to the boat in the dinghy, we saw a couple of goats hanging out on top of that cliff.  I wonder if at some point, one slipped and drowned there.

That afternoon, we checked out with the port captain and the following morning at dawn, we pulled the anchor up and were once again under way, this time to Isla Santa Cruz.  This is the island with the biggest town (Puerto Ayora) in the Galapagos and sailing under light winds, it took us all day to get there.  We finally dropped the anchor about 4:45pm.  The harbor is crowded enough and bumpy enough that we had to deploy the stern anchor for the first time in a long time.  Jade (with Andre, Cam, Nancy & Molly aboard, along with Karin from Magic Carpet left about an hour after we did and since they have a faster boat (a Manta 42 catamaran), passed us and were into the harbor about an hour ahead of us.

Tuesday, we walked out of town to the Darwin Research Center where they raise tortoises to be released into the wild then met up with the guys from Jade and went out for dinner to an Italian restaurant.  It was a bit more expensive than Kathryn and I would normally have done, but really good food and great company.

Yesterday, we got up before dawn, took the water taxi (a guy in a panga) into the dock in order to go on a tour of Bartolome Island.  This first meant meeting the bus with the rest of the tour group at 5:00 am followed by a 45 minute ride to the other end of Santa Cruz.  We were then transferred to a medium sized power boat (about 40’) for the 3 hour ride to Bartolome.  This was pretty exciting sine we had a pod of killer whales cross right in front of us.  There was one large male with his huge dorsal fin and 4 or 5 small ones which I assume were females and juveniles.  There were also a huge number of large manta rays jumping that morning.  We first took a path through an incredibly stark and barren volcanic landscape up to the top of the volcano for an absolutely fantastic view of the island.  I don’t know when the volcano last erupted, but it sure looked like it wasn’t very long ago.  There was essentially no soil and the ground was just pyroclastic detritus with a dozen small craters scattered around the slopes of the main volcano.  We then went snorkeling for an hour or two and saw a number of new species of fish (at least new to us) and some large schools of fish that were at times, dense enough to block out all view of the bottom. At one point, Kathryn stuck her head out of the water and spotted 5 penguins sitting or laying on a rock, so we swam over to get a closer look.  A real closer look.  Clinging to the edge of the rock with just our heads sticking out of the water, our faces were no more than 2 or 3 feet from these guys and they just completely ignored us.  Really cool!

After lunch, we headed back to Santa Cruz and had a frigate bird gliding just a few feet over our heads, just hovering on the up draft from the front of the boat.  We could literally have almost reached up and touched him.  This went on for 10 or 15 minutes before he finally saw something in the water and flew off.

We spent today provisioning, with me topping up our diesel supply and Kathryn running around getting a huge load of fresh vegetables, etc..  Tomorrow, we’ll check out with the authorities and leave in the evening for an overnight sail to Isla Isabella, our final stop in the Galapagos.

April 15, 2006

Current Location: Isla Isabela,  Galapagos

0 dg. 57.873’S, 90 dg. 57.910’W

Total distance traveled so far:  5,878 nm

My last provisioning step yesterday before leaving Isla Santa Cruz was to fill up our water tanks and jerry jugs.  This turned out to be a wee bit more difficult than it should have been as I had failed to realize that it was Good Friday (we tend to loose track of things like dates and even the day of the week), a day this catholic country take fairly seriously.   About 12:30pm I finally managed to track down the guy who ran the local purified water supply place (Agua Galapagos) at his home and literally woke him up out of bed (they also take their siestas seriously here).  He agreed to meet me at this office at 3:00, so rather than pay the water taxi another buck to return to the boat, I just hung out in town.  10 5-gallon bottles of water cost me $20 and rather than return again to the office, he asked me to return the empty bottles back to his house.  I then hauled that 50 gallons of water to the dock via the taxi, then transferred them to one of the water taxis and finally to Tricia Jean where I emptied them into or tanks and jerry jugs.  I then, hailed another water taxi to haul the empty bottles to the dock, transferred them to a land taxi and at last, returned them to the guys house.  Unfortunately, while transferring them from the water taxi to Tricia Jean, I set one of them down too hard and it cracked.  I only lost about a gallon of water, but when I returned it, he charged me $6.00 for breaking it.  Expensive!

We finally got the anchor up about 5:00pm and sailed away with 5-7 kt.s of wind.  That’s enough to move the boat reasonably well, but we were sure not going to break any speed records.  The wind gradually diminished until when I came on watch about midnight, it was down to 3 kt.s.  No problem though as we had lot’s of time.  I just put some recordings of early 50’s radio shows on the CD and we just drifted along through the night under a full moon.  The wind eventually died altogether and by 2:30am, both the wind meter and the knot meter were reading 0.0.  I finally gave up and started the engine and set it to just above idle.  This gave us just enough speed so that dawn broke as we were approaching Isla Isabela and we had the anchor down by 7:30am.

After napping and relaxing for awhile, we took the dinghy in and walked about 20 minutes into town to check in with the Port Captain.  The procedure here was a little different than everywhere else we’ve been in Ecuador.  Other places, we go into the Port Captain when we arrive at a port for the check-in paperwork, then return just before leaving for the check-out paperwork.  Here, he checked us in, then asked us how long we were staying and proceeded to check us out and issue us the international zarpe for the Marquesas.  All we have to do is to call him on the radio as we are leaving to notify him of the fact.  If we leave when we told him we were going to, we will be leaving the Galapagos behind on Wednesday as we head for the South Pacific.

On the way here last night, our self-steering wind vane developed a problem and after checking it out this afternoon, it looks like I’ve got to replace some bushings in it.  Rather than do it when I am tired and sleep deprived, it will be tomorrow’s major project.  Since the wind vane sticks out past the end of the boat, the biggest problem in working on it is the danger of dropping some major parts into the water.  This happened to me once before up in Morro Bay and I would rather not have a repeat of that so I’ll do the work when I’m fresh and alert.

April 17, 2006

Current Location: Isla Isabela,  Galapagos

0 dg. 57.873’S, 90 dg. 57.910’W

Total distance traveled so far:  5,878 nm

I hope than everyone back home had a great Easter.  Ours was nice enough, but hardly “Easter-like”.  It has been said and it is certainly true that “Cruising is just working on your boat in exotic locations.”  We spent the day working on our wind vane self steering gear.  Since this was a major job, not just a minor adjustment, the first step was to dismount it from the stern of the boat and bring it aboard.  Not a difficult task, but a cumbersome one.  What we needed to do was to completely dismantle the thing in order to replace some bushings that had disintegrated with age and finally crumbled away to nothing.  This is what has been allowing the main gear to slip out of adjustment, a problem than has periodically occurred ever since the beginning of the trip.  Originally, something (like the dinghy floating behind us while anchored) had to bump it for this to happen, but it has gotten so bad that on our last passage from Isla Santa Cruz, the gear slipped a cog while in normal use.

Dismantling it would have been simple enough except for the fact that the thing is 20 years old and has been periodically exposed to salt water during that entire time.  Where the manual says “Push the shaft aft … keeping one hand on the gear, holding the washers that secure the roller bearings in place”, actually required several minutes of us pounding on it with a hammer.  Another step that is not even mentioned in the manual is the actual removal of the ring gear from something called the pivot shaft.  This is a bronze gear on the end of a stainless steel shaft.  This step alone took us several hours, lots of liquid wrench and a great deal of creative tool use.  I had resigned myself to hoping that there was some kind of a machine shop on the island that we could take it to Monday morning.  Kathryn, however, by beating on it with a hammer in a creative way finally got it to move a teeny amount.  Lot’s more liquid wrench and both of us working on it for a long time finally got it off.

After all the effort of taking it apart, replacing the bushings and bearings and reassembling everything (after cleaning all the corrosion off the parts that are supposed to slip on and off) was easy.  With Kathryn lowering it down over the stern on the outboard hoist and me working in the dinghy, we then remounted it to the stern of the boat.  It was as I was doing the last step, reattaching the paddle that I realized that I had put a critical assembly into it exactly backwards.  By this time, the sun was setting and we were both tired, so we’ll dismount it again this morning, bring the whole thing aboard again, dismantle it (this time, it will be as easy as the manual says it should be since we’ve just cleaned everything), reassemble it correctly and remount it to the back of the boat. The self steering gear will then work better than it has ever worked since we’ve owned the boat.  This is an especially important piece of gear right now since on Wednesday, we leave on a 3 or 4 week non-stop passage, all the way across the Pacific to Polynesia (our expected landfall is Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas).

As we were struggling with getting that gear off, the guys from Chiquita, a boat anchored nearby came by in their dinghy looking for a 26 millimeter wrench that they could borrow.  They were working on their boat’s hydraulic system.  It’s not just us, everyone agrees that cruising truly is just working on your boat in exotic locations.

Chiquita, like the majority of boats we’ve been meeting lately, is from the United Kingdom.  It is owned by James and Ding.  Ding is from Liverpool, England and has a delightful accent.  He sounds just like John Lennon of the Beatles did when he was young.

It’s interesting.  Prior to our arriving in Panama, most of the other boats we encountered were from the U.S., with Canada coming in a close 2nd.  Now, the U.S. boats are in a distinct minority.  It is a much more international group with the largest number coming from various places in the U.K. (England, Austrailia, New Zealand, etc.).

Yesterday, while waiting for the Liquid Wrench (a penetrating oil) to soak in, we went exploring in the dinghy.  It must be hatchling time for the marine iguanas here as in one area, we came across hundreds and hundreds of little baby ones.  Really cool!

April 19, 2006

Current Location: Underway

S 1 dg. 30.150’, W 90 dg. 27.932’W

Total distance traveled so far:  5,922 nm

Well, at 7am this morning, I had the anchor aboard and we said “Goodbye” to the Galapagos.  We are now heading south-west and will continue to do so for a few days at which time I expect to hit the trade winds.  We will then turn west and continue in that direction all the way to the Marquesas in French Polynesia.

We had planned to take a tour to some really nice snorkeling grounds on Isabela yesterday, but the guide never showed up.  After some investigation on the part of another cruiser (who had made the arrangement with the guide) it turns out that the guide apparently decided he would rather get drunk than take some gringos on the tour.  Since we would have paid him $200 for his time and the use of his boat, I can only presume that these guys are doing pretty well financially.

So far today, we’ve had winds in the 4-7 kt. Range.  We sure aren’t going to be mistaken for a go-fast race boat, but when combined with a favorable current, we’ve averaged just over 5 kt. over the last 9 hours and are very happy with it.  Until we hit the trades, we expect our progress to be kind of slow.  Earlier today, we passed some dolphins that were apparently herding a school of fish by splashing their tails and leaping out of the water and falling back with a splash.  A couple of them were really jumping high, at least 10’-12’ out of the water.  Wow, I thought they only did that at places like Marine Land and such. 

We were also buzzed by a small orange helicopter when we were about 40 miles from Isla Isabela.  It flew in from the south with 3 people aboard, came down really low and circled very close to us 3 times while the guy in back took some photos of us then disappeared back to the south again.  I’ve no idea where they came from or who they were, but they seemed to enjoy the encounter as they smiled and waved to us.

Only 2,921 more miles to go.

April 24, 2006

Current Location: Underway

S 3 dg. 58.330’, W 99 dg. 14.358’W

Total distance traveled so far:  6,453 nm

Just a quick note to let people know that we are doing fine.

It’s amazing, there are over 40 boats that I know of that are currently on their way from various places across the Pacific to Polynesia, most of whom are planning on making their first landfall in the Marquesas as we are, yet the closest one to us is a couple of hundred miles away.  It really is a big ocean.

I know there are over 40 boats (at least as of a few days ago, some have arrived by now), because that’s how many checked into a daily radio net used solely by sailboats crossing to the south Pacific.  There are actually an unknown number of boats who either don’t have the SSB radio needed to access the net, who have elected not to participate or who just didn’t hear about the net before they started their crossing.  The net is no big deal, we just give our current position, current wind and sea state and the number of miles to go to our destination.  It also gives us an opportunity to call for help if it needed.  That way, if there is a boat within a reasonable distance who can help, they can be alongside within a day or so.  So far, there has only been one boat in this group call for help.  I’m not sure just what the problem was since it occurred before we joined the net, but they were motoring and ran out of fuel.  Another boat was able to rendezvous with them, transfer some fuel and stay nearby until they made it into port.

We are not seeing as much wind as I expected, but as a result, it is a very pleasant sail (7-8 kt.s of wind on the beam) and we are still making about 120 nautical miles per day.

We got our first rain of our crossing last night and I was able to collect enough to top off our tanks.  This gives us plenty of water so we really don’t have to be extra careful anymore.  So much so that Kathryn did some laundry this morning and the boat now has it hanging all along the life lines drying.  Kathryn said that the next time we get some rain, she’ll wash the sheets.

Only 2,377 more miles to go.

April 24, 2006

Current Location: Underway

S 5 dg. 58.937’, W 108 dg. 9.865’

Total distance traveled so far:  7,003 nm

I am slowly learning how to sail.  You’d think that after all the time I’ve put in on sailboats that I’d pretty much know what I’m doing by now.  Let me assure you all that nothing could be further from the truth.  I have been reefing, unreefing, raising or lowering a sail, adjusting a sail or fiddling with the self-steering gear every few minutes since midnight (it’s about 2pm now).  Part of the problem is that the wind is a little variable, but most of the problem is that the direction I want the boat to go is not one that it really wants to be on.  It’s sort of like balancing a stick on the end of your finger.  The boat either wants to go about 30 degrees to the left of my desired course (and go very fast while heeling way over) or 20 degrees to the right (and go very slow).  I have been trying every thing I know to get things balanced so the self-steering gear can keep the boat going in the direction I want.  I think I finally got it figured out as I’ve now been going for almost an hour without touching anything, but it’s been a frustrating battle.  For the record, the main is unreefed and sheeted normally, the staysail is down and the jib is poled way out, that is there is a pole rigged between the mast and the back corner of the jib holding it out away from the boat.

The pole is called a “whisker pole” and ours has an interesting story behind it.  We didn’t have one when we left because the jib we had at the time was a small one (called a “yankee jib”) and I just didn’t think the small benefit we would get by poling it out was worth the $900 cost of a good whisker pole (it amazes me just how expensive those things are, but remember that price as it comes into play later in the story).  While we were in La Paz, Mexico, you may recall that we had a new jib made and that after agonizing over it, we decided to have the sail maker make what I call a “super yankee”.  It’s about 3-4 times the square footage of our old jib, but still has the high clew characteristic of a yankee jib (don’t worry if you don’t know what that means, it’s not important right now).  It turns out that this was a really good call on our part as this jib has worked really, really well for us.  It is, however, big enough that under certain points of sail, we would really see a benefit from a whisker pole.  As a result, we have been looking for a used one ever since.  The only one we found that the owner was willing to sell was actually for a much larger boat than ours but would have worked.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t come anywhere near agreeing on a price.  Finally, while in Ecuador, we bought an 19’ long piece of bamboo.  It ain’t pretty and it is a real pain to work with (whisker poles are adjustable in length so they are much easier to store and move around on deck), but it works just fine.  Oh yeah, what did we pay for it?  $2.00.  Yep, just two bucks.  I’d love to have an adjustable aluminum pole with fancy quick release fittings on the ends, but for the $898 difference plus tax plus shipping to get it down here, I can work with and cuss at that bamboo one and stay out cruising just that much longer.

By the way, for the last few days, we’ve been making about 140 miles/day toward our destination and are now over a third of the way there (pretty much due south of Raton, New Mexico).

Only 1,838 more miles to go.

May 19, 2006

Current Location: Underway

S 10 dg. 13.609, W 137 dg. 20.309

Total distance traveled so far:  8,882 nm

This has been a longer than expected passage.

The first couple of days were slow, but we had expected that.  We then started to pick up the trade winds and over a couple of days, our speed gradually increased until we were averaging 130-140 miles per day, really good for our boat, but about what we had expected since these were pretty much ideal conditions.  We expected this to continue all the way across.  Indeed, the sailing along this route is generally so good, it is known as the “coconut milk run”.  We had ten wonderful days of this, but then the wind started easing and we started slowing down until we were only making about 90 miler per day.  Still fair sailing, just not as fast as we had expected. Then, to our complete surprise, the wind died completely for several days and we just sat there, drifting along – usually at less than 1 knot.  When the light winds did come back, it was a real shocker that they were now coming from exactly the wrong direction, right from the islands to us so that we were beating our way upwind in light winds (something our Tayana is not very good at).  After enduring this for a couple of days, things got even worse.  We encountered an adverse current, pushing us away from the islands at about half a knot.  When moving at a good speed, a ½ knot current is not that big a deal, but when your only going 1 ½ knots to begin with, it was the final straw.  We finally gave up and started the engine.  We have resisted this for a number of reasons, the noise, the added heat it puts into the cabin, etc. but mostly because in Polynesia, fuel costs $5/gallon (after paying $1.08/gal. in Ecuador, this is gonna hurt) .  Barring any problems, I will adjust our speed so that we sight Fatu Hiva just after dawn tomorrow (Saturday).  By mid-morning, we should have our anchor down after being underway for just over 31 days.  The direct line passage distance is about 3,000 nm, and we will have traveled a total of about 3,100.  It’s been a long way and we are ready to step foot on land again and to sleep the night through.

As we get closer to our goal, all the boats that are enroute are getting closer and closer together.  We went for 3 weeks and only saw 1 ship and no other sailboats.  Then yesterday, I spotted 2 boats about 3am and spoke to one of them on the VHF radio.  They were a pair of Swedish yachts, one was named Storm Svaller and I didn’t get the name of the other one.  Later that morning, we spotted Nymph, a South African yacht we had met in  Panama.  They were low on fuel, so we gave them 10 gallons.  Immediately afterward, we spoke to Aventura who was just a few miles over the horizon.  Aventura is a U.S. boat who had heard us talking with Nymph on the short range VHF radio.  We speak with them twice a day on the long range SSB radio (they are part of the same radio net we are), but talking with Chris on the VHF just made them seem like they were suddenly so much closer.  In fact, it was Aventura that was responsible for our linking up with Nymph (who doesn’t have a SSB radio).  They had happened upon them, talked on the VHF and were told that they were low on both fuel and water.  Aventura was able to give them water, but had no fuel except in their main tank and no easy way to get it to them so during the next SSB net, let everyone know about the situation.  We were fairly close and have plenty of fuel, so we diverted north to intercept Nymph, say “Hi” and give them some fuel.  The cruising community is indeed a pretty small one.  A few months ago, Nymph was anchored very near us in Panama and, in fact, Christina was the one who showed Kathryn where the best outdoor market to get fresh vegetables was and how to use the local busses to get there.

This was the third time that we have passed fuel to another yacht.  The first time was to Windsong, off of Guatamala, then to another boat, whose name escapes me off of Punta Mala, Panama, and now to Nymph.  One of these days, when we need someone else’s assistance, it will be good to know that we’ve got a few Karma points in the bank.

Only 78.9 more miles to go. 

May 19, 2006 Addendum

Current Location: Underway

S 10 dg. 18.510, W 138 dg. 4.949

Total distance traveled so far:  8,927 nm

We’ve stopped motoring and are sitting here absolutely becalmed and will resume motoring slowly about 7:00 tonight so that we arrive at the anchorage at Fatu Hiva just after dawn. 

We just had an encounter that I thought people might be interested in.  While we were looking down into the crystal clear water, looking at some things that we decided were fish eggs floating at or just under the surface, I saw something moving way, way down deep, just at the edge of visibility.  I called to Kathryn (she was over on the other side of the boat) and as I did so, what I saw resolved itself into a LARGE oceanic white tipped shark swimming almost straight up out of the depths straight towards us. Once it got close enough to see the boats bottom (and for us to see it clearly), it then apparently decided that there was nothing good to eat here after all and turned away and again disappeared back down into the depths.

Our book describes this shark thusly:  “Carcharhinus longimanus, to 11 ½ feet…. Not fast moving but potentially dangerous all the same, and implicated in attacks on humans.”  We had been thinking about jumping in and going swimming to cool off a bit, but decided to just haul a couple of buckets of sea water up and pour it over our heads instead. 

Only 34.5 more miles to go.

May 20, 2006

Current Location: Anchored in the Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva, French Polynesia

S 10 dg. 27.956, W 138 dg. 40.170

Total distance traveled so far:  8,970 nm

We made it!  At 7:30 this morning, we dropped the anchor for the first time in over a month. 

Kathryn is scrambling to get the courtesy flag made, a task she has been putting off until it is needed.  We finally need it.  There are a bunch of other boats here before us, so we had to anchor in some fairly deep water (85’).  I am going to be real glad that we have an anchor windlass on this boat when it comes time to haul all of that chain and anchor up off the bottom.  After launching the dinghy and checking in with the local gendarme, I think we’ll probably just return to the boat for a day of rest and sleep.

May 29, 2006

Current Location: Anchored in the Hana Moa Noa Bay, Isle Tahuata, French Polynesia

S 9 dg. 54.414, W 139 dg. 6.255

Total distance traveled so far:  9,025 nm

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a journal entry.  We are experiencing some minor problems with the bank of batteries that powers the fans, lights, radio, in fact, everything except starting the engine.  First, I made a mistake when I bought them in El Salvador and they are quite a bit smaller than I thought they were, but they are also not holding a charge properly.  As a result, we are trying not to use any power that we don’t have to (like spending a lot of time on the computer).  Additionally, it has been overcast much of the time since we got here and actually raining for the last few days so we are not making much, if any, power from the solar panels.  Just another aspect of the cruising life.  Electricity and fresh water, two things that are taken for granted ashore are precious and hoarded commodities on the boat.  Because of our power problems, I have also been remiss in responding to emails people have been sending and I take this opportunity to publicly apologize to everyone.  We’ve finally got some sun this morning, so while it’s shining down on the solar panels, I thought I’d better let everybody know we are still alive and having a great time.

We spent a few days on Fatu Hiva, at an absolutely incredible anchorage.  I just cannot adequately describe the beauty of that bay.  You are basically surrounded on 3 sides by 1,000’ cliffs covered with foliage that are a range of intensely vibrant greens.  Jutting out from these cliffs are a number of towers, each one reminiscent of the Lost Arrow structure on the north wall of Yosemite Valley.  Take a dinghy ride outside the bay and you encounter numerous deep clefts carved out of the island from the ridge high above down to the sea.  Far too steep to be called canyons, they are almost vertical and at the base of everyone of them the waves have carved out either a cave or blow-hole.  Truly impressive.

There is a very small village at the base of the canyon that forms the Bay of Virgins with perhaps 100 people living there.  Walking up the road into the canyon from the village, then following a steep, slippery, boulder strewn trail through the jungle-like vegetation you eventually encounter a 300’ waterfall with a small pool at its base.  While we were there, it had been some time since it had rained, so there was not a whole lot of water coming down the fall, but it was still really cool.  There were a bunch of fresh water shrimp in the pool and while she was trying to catch one of these, Kathryn came across an incredibly ugly eel.  This guy was almost 4’ long, as big around as my upper arm and had a huge ugly, though not particularly threatening mouth that my entire hand would have easily fit into.

Eventually, we pulled the anchor up off the bottom 80’ below us (the deepest we have ever anchored), and made our way to Hiva Oa, 35-40 miles to the north.  Hiva Oa has is more of a population center (at least by comparison to Fatu Hiva) and more importantly to us, is a port of entry where we can legally check in to French Polynesia.  There were about 15 other boats there when we arrived, so the anchorage was really packed with everyone setting a stern anchor as well as their main one (by keeping the boats from swinging around the anchor, you can pack a lot more boats into a given area this way).  Even so, we couldn’t find anywhere in the anchorage we could squeeze in so wound up anchoring out in the channel the first two nights.  Eventually, some of the other boats left and we were able to find a spot in the anchorage.  Also there were Jade, Scotty and Aventura, boats that we had made friends with in Ecuador and the Galapagos.

We arrived there Tue. evening and the following morning, I caught a ride into town (about 1 ½ miles from the anchorage) to check in.  Or at least I thought I was going to check in.  F. Polynesia requires you to post a bond for each person equal to the cost of an airline ticket to your home country (which you can then redeem when you leave).  This has to be done at the bank before you can check in.  Unfortunately, the bank wasn’t doing it that day and was closed the following two days so the earliest we could do so would be the following Monday.  Additionally, unless you had the cash, it was being handled as a cash advance on your credit card and people were having two problems with that.  First, for unknown reasons, some peoples credit cards were being rejected by the computer and second, the amount of the bonds far exceeded the daily limit of the cards so that they would have to come back over a period of several days before enough could be withdrawn to cover the bonds.  As a result, a lot of people were (technically illegally) leaving without checking in and planning to do so when they reached Nuka Hiva, an island with a larger city.  We lucked out though.  We have an insurance policy that includes medical repatriation insurance, i.e., if we become sick or injured, it covers the cost of flying us back to the US.  The local gendarme let us use this in lieu of a bond.  Interestingly, while she made copies of our insurance cards, she never even looked at the paperwork that specifies the details of what the insurance covers.  She just took our word for it that it includes repatriation.  I got the impression that this whole bond issue has caused her a lot of grief and she is happy to do anything she can to let you get around it.

Yesterday, we left Hiva Oa and came to this lovely bay where for the first time in a long while, we could see the bottom as we were anchoring.  This hasn’t happened since we were roaming around the islands of Panama, months ago.

May 30, 2006

Current Location: Anchored in the Hanamenu, Hiva Oa, French Polynesia

S 9 dg. 45.914, W 139 dg. 8.433

Total distance traveled so far:  9,036 nm

This morning, we were anchored in Hana Moa Noa Bay along with Remis, a German boat and Kauila, an American boat with Jeff & Molly aboard.  We first met Kaiula in Bahia Santa Elena, our first stop in Costa Rica (after leaving El Salvador) last fall and have bumped into them a few times since.  They had set a stern anchor last night to keep their bow pointed into the waves that were entering the bay, but now that they want to leave, they are unable to get it back up.  They had let the anchor go from the boat and Jeff had been working on it for about 45 minutes from their dinghy when, as I was putting my snorkeling gear into the dinghy to go over and see if I could help, Molly called over on the VHF radio to ask if I might assist him.

When I got there, Jeff was pretty tired.  The anchor was in 30’-35’ of water and the rope to it had caught under a coral head.  Jeff had made several dives trying to free it, but it was being stubborn and was now too tired to get down that deep.  I can dive that deep, but just barely.  At that depth, I only have about 5 seconds of air left in my lungs before I have to head back to the surface.  Jeff is about the same which explains why he has been unable to free the rope which has become jammed quite severely under the coral head.  On my first dive, rather than spending my time pulling and tugging on the line trying to free it, I stick my head under this barrel sized chunk of coral to see if I can figure out just exactly how the line is jammed in there and what is the perfect direction to tug on it in order to free it.  Upon surfacing, I discuss the situation with Jeff and we discuss a couple of options, one of which is to pull the rope backwards through the coral head which we agree is probably what we are going to have to do in the end. On my 2nd dive, I try just going about half way down and pulling from the side.  I lucked out and the line came free.  I am a hero (a very minor one anyway).  It turns out that we are both heading for Hanamenu Bay on Hiva Oa today, so he promises me a beer this evening.  I think that they have refrigeration on their boat, so it will be the first cold beer in a month and a half.  I am really looking forward to it.

June 1, 2006

Current Location: Anchored in the Hanaiapa Bay, Hiva Oa, French Polynesia

S 9 dg. 42.946, W 139 dg. 0.889

Total distance traveled so far:  9,046 nm

June 22, 2006

Current Location: Anchored in the Ahe atoll in the Tuamotas of French Polynesia

S 14 dg. 32.165, W 146 dg. 21.446

Total distance traveled so far:  9,676 nm

I’ve haven’t been doing any journal entries lately as we have been having battery problems and I was reluctant to use any of our precious electricity on the computer.  Sorry.  I hope to get new batteries when we get to Tahiti and that should solve the problem.

We spent almost a month in the Marquesas.  These are beautiful, very young islands in the geological scheme of things.  As a result, they are very steep and rugged.  Almost all of the bays we anchored in were surrounded by cliffs a thousand feet or more, sometimes much more, tall.  This was another factor in not doing journal entries.  When surrounded by cliffs like these, our SSB radio with which we send and receive email to stations back in the U.S. just doesn’t work very well.  Despite the ruggedness of the islands, they were covered in greenery.  Not the oppressive, impenetrable, almost antagonistic jungles we found in Panama and elsewhere in  Central America, but a much kinder and gentler jungle-like environment.  The vegetation at ground level was far less dense and easier to move around in.  There were far fewer bushes with thorns and far more flowers.  Indeed, there often were flowers littering the jungle floor.

Whenever we penetrated inland, more often than not, we found ourselves walking along the remains of a roadway built by the ancient Polynesians.  Not infrequently, we would come across the ruins of buildings or religious sites.  None of this had been restored by archeologists, most of the buildings were just piles of large stones, perhaps with parts of a wall still standing.  I really enjoyed seeing it in its “natural” state.  One of the treks we made was on Nuka Hiva, to a 2,200 foot water fall.  But unlike the Yosemite waterfalls which drop over straight cliffs and can be seen for most of their fall for miles, this one had carved itself a narrow serpentine gorge in the side of the cliff and it was almost like it was falling straight down a rock tube a couple of thousand feet tall.  As the water hit the pool at the bottom, it hit hard, like it was issuing forth from a bunch of unseen fire hoses hidden in the rocks above.

On Hiva Oa, we came across a pool that was like something out of a Hollywood movie.  It was circular, about 30 feet across and maybe 4 feet deep at its deepest.  The crystal clear water was fed by a cascade coming down the cliff into it and the whole thing was surrounded by sweet smelling, flowering bushes.  The water was pleasantly cool and bathing in it was a real treat.

All in all, the Marquesas was something like Yosemite covered in greenery, designed by Walt Disney and empty of people.  Truly marvelous.

We spent so much time in a place called Daniel’s Bay on Nuka Hiva waiting for strong winds to die down before venturing out to sea again that we are a little behind the curve schedulewise.   Our son, Brian and his girlfriend are flying out to spend some time with us, so we have only a month to make it to Tonga to meet up with them.  That’s about 20 days of actual sailing time, so we are not going to be able to spend nearly as much time as we would otherwise like in the places between here and there.  I guess we will just have to come back some time.  Perhaps next year?

July 29, 2006

Current Location: Nuku’Alofa, The Kingdom of Tonga

S 21 dg. 08.277, W 175 dg. 10.988

Total distance traveled so far:  11,476 nm

It has been quite a while since I’ve written a journal entry and since then, we have visited Tahiti, Beveridge Reef and are now in Tonga.  We’ve also sailed almost 2,000 miles since my last entry.  I’ve been remiss.

We spent only a few days at the atoll of Ahe in the Tuamotas.  The snorkeling there was really nice with clear water and lots of small reef fish.  I even saw some sea horses, a first for me.  We also saw lots of giant clams.  It seems like everywhere there was an appropriate sized crack in the coral, it was filled with a clam.  They have fleshy lips lining the opening of their shell and these lips vary in color from orange to green to blue and are really beautiful.  We also explored an area that had been a pearl farm that had been destroyed by a hurricane not too long ago and found 2 small pearls in the oysters we collected.  Being a bit pressed for time though, after 3 days we moved on without visiting any other of the many atolls of the Tuamotas.  That will just have to wait for another trip.

Our next stop was Papeete on the Island of Tahiti.  This is a large city with something like 60,000 people in it and is the capitol of French Polynesia.  Here, we were finally able to buy new batteries for the boat, something we have needed ever since the Galapagos.  Other than enjoy the local food, that’s about all we managed to accomplish in the few days we were there.  We then headed west towards Aitutaki, one of the Cook Islands.  Unfortunately, the pass past the coral and into the lagoon of the island is a long, narrow and shallow one.  It is so shallow that Tricia Jean needs a high tide in order to make it and when we got there, the high tides were right at dawn and dusk.  Since we also need the sun overhead in order to see down into the water and spot the coral heads, we were unable to get in and kept sailing to Beveridge Reef.

Beveridge reef is way out in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from the nearest land and rising up from where the ocean is about 16,000’ deep.  I’m told that if you Google Beveridge Reef, there is a site that has a great aerial photo of it.  It has no land itself, it is just a ring of coral reef just under the surface of the water about 2 ½ miles across.  The water is crystal clear, clearer than any swimming pool I’ve ever been in.  The coral on the western side of the reef has been damaged by a hurricane sometime in the past, but the eastern side is just alive with life.  It is without question the best snorkeling I’ve ever seen.  We stayed there for a few days, waiting out some contrary winds.  Finally, the winds shifted back to the SE and we were once again under sail.  Our next stop would be here in Tonga.

We got here almost exactly 24 hours before our son, Brian, flew in to join us and it is a real treat having him with us.  In a couple of days, Brigid, his girlfriend will be joining us and we will head for the islands of northern Tonga, the Vava’u group for some more exploring and snorkeling.

Tonga has a real mixed reputation.  Capt. Cook had such a good experience here, he named them “The Friendly Islands”.  Capt. Bligh, however, had one of his men killed here.  We have two travel guide books that tell us that Capt. Cook may have misnamed the islands, so we really had no idea what to expect.  Let me set the record straight once and for all.  These are the Friendly Islands.  The people here are outgoing, open and generous although perhaps not scrupulously honest.  Before they would issue us clearance papers two of the inspectors we had to clear with charged us “fees” that we are sure went straight into their personal pockets.  Not only did we not get receipts for the “fees”, but they were also negotiable and seemed to depend upon how much cash we had with us.  There was one other instance where I think I was overcharged when I wasn’t looking.  The attitude seems to be that if you are stupid enough to let us cheat you, we’ll sure accept the opportunity.  On the other hand, one of the ladies we met invited us to a thanksgiving feast at her church that was absolutely unbelievable.  Then, she wouldn’t even let us make a donation to the church.

The feast was about as authentic Tongan as you can get.  We were the only white people there.  The church service was in Tongan, so we couldn’t understand a word of it but the singing lived up to its reputation.  This was just a small church with a small congregation.  There were no more than 50 people in the church, including us yet the singing was marvelous.  I wonder if I can get a CD with music on it.  The feast was incredible.  We sat at what amounted to picnic tables which were piled edge to edge with food at least 8” high.  The food was mostly prepared in large individual portions in small bowls covered with plastic wrap. There was also at least one suckling pig for every 4 people laying in the middle of the tables and a few roast chickens scattered about.  Those of you who know me know that I can put away an amazing amount of food in one sitting yet even though I had not eaten a single bite of food that day prior to arriving at the feast, I was unable to finish even a quarter of the food that was in front of me and that doesn’t even count the pig.  As near as I can remember, I had some chicken, a small lobster, some sea turtle curry, sweet and sour chicken, a yam-like root, some octopus, baby back ribs, suckling pig, various salads (potato, cole slaw, etc.) and more.  Some of which I had multiple servings of.  I tried to eat my share, I really did yet I barely dented the food in front of me.  Then to top it all off, when we left a huge amount of food was sent back to the boat with us.  This was a gastronomic experience not to be believed.

It is with something of a bitter-sweet feeling that we enjoy Tonga since it is the last major stop of our 2 year journey.  We’ll spend about a month here, then after Brian and Brigid leave us, we will turn the boat around for that long and somewhat arduous up wind trip back to America.  It looks like our daughter, Nicole will be joining at some point while we are in Tonga and will be helping us bring the boat back.  We are really looking forward to seeing her again too.  We will probably stop briefly for fuel and provisioning in American Samoa, Christmas Island (part of Kiribati and one of the Line Islands) and Hawaii.  During this trip we will be skirting the end of the N. Pacific hurricane season a little ways north of the equator and the N. Pacific winter storms as we cross from Hawaii to the mainland.  If everything goes well, look for us to be coming through the Golden Gate sometime between mid October and mid November.

August 28, 2006

Current Location: Vava’u, The Kingdom of Tonga

S 18 dg. 41.858, W 174 dg. 02.182

Total distance traveled so far:  11,860 nm

We left Tonga last Thursday at noon and enjoyed an easy sail during the day as we finally headed back towards home.  All during the day, we managed to head ENE, then the wind shifted some in the evening, so even though we eased the sails a bit, we were still managing to hold a course due east.  This is about the ideal course for us as we leave Tonga, and because of the way the prevailing winds blow, a better course than we expected to be able to  keep.  You see, sailboats cannot travel directly into the wind and heavy cruising boats (like ours) don’t even point very high into the wind (high performance racing boats do much better).  Therefore, when it becomes necessary to go upwind, we do what is called “tacking into the wind”.  This means that we point as high into the wind as we can with the wind on one side of the boat, then some time later, we turn and point as high as we can with the wind on the other side of the boat.  In this manner, we slowly zig-zag our way towards our goal.  It’s slow going as we sometimes have to travel double the actual distance than we would if we could go directly towards our destination, but eventually, we get there.  If you think about it, you will see that the actual direction we are pointing the boat at any given moment depends on the wind.  Unlike when our destination is down wind and we can just point the boat where we want to go and adjust the sails for their maximum efficiency at that wind angle.

Thursday night, the wind had shifted so far south, that we weren’t even pointing as high into it as we could have been.  This is a good thing, as not only does the boat go faster, but since the waves generally come from the same direction as the wind, it means that we are hitting the waves at a broader angle and the boat tends to lift itself over them instead of trying to crash through them.  This makes for a less jerky and more comfortable ride.   This was the situation about 3:00am, Friday morning.  We were heading due east and making great time (almost 6 knots) and the boat had a very comfortable motion to it.  Kathryn was asleep below while I was on watch up in the cockpit.  I remember thinking that this was just too easy.  We had expected it to be a rough, uncomfortable trip pretty much all the way back to California, yet we were just cruising right along making an easy time of it.  A minute later, all that changed.

It was a very dark, overcast night with no moon or stars to illuminate things.  First, there was a loud BANG! Just a few feet away from me, something like a rifle going off, but not quite as loud.  At the same time, our sun shade/rain shield over the cockpit suddenly went slack and started flapping in the wind.  I knew immediately what had happened.  The backstay, one of the main wires that hold our mast up had broken.  This is often followed immediately or shortly thereafter by the mast breaking and the pieces falling down.  We were in no danger (as long as nothing came falling down and landed on one of us), since we were only about 70 miles from port, but should the mast fall, it would not only be very expensive (many thousands of dollars), but trying to get a new one shipped to us or to get us to where a new one could be shipped would be a major and very time consuming ordeal.  So all I could think of was to disengage our Monitor wind vane, which was steering the boat, and get turned up into the wind to get the pressure off the mast as quickly as I could. 

About this time, Kathryn called up from below, “Do you need my help?”

“Yes!” I shouted back, “Get up here!  The backstay let loose.”

A few moments later, she was in the cockpit.  “What can I do?” She asked.

“Get the sails down while I keep us into the wind or you steer us into the wind while I get them down.” I told her.  She grabbed the wheel, so I quickly snapped the safety line onto my harness and went to work.  I first let the main halyard (the rope that the mainsail is hauled up with) just fly loose and our double reefed mainsail came crashing down.  After throwing a sail tie around it, I did the same to the jib, then the staysail.  Once I had them all down and secured, we could slow down and evaluate the situation.  If the mast hadn’t come down by then, with all the pressure now off it, it was not going to.  I then rigged the topping lift and main halyard in such a way that they were doing the job that the backstay used to.  Perhaps not as well, but well enough.  The mast was secure and there was no way it could come crashing down.  However, it was not strong enough that I wanted to risk putting any sails up.

After a quick conference (Vava’u was 15 hours west of us and Western Samoa about 3 days north), we decided to turn around and motor back to Vava’u and Kathryn headed back down below to try to get some more sleep.  There was no danger now, neither to us nor that further damage would occur to the boat.  We just had to motor the 70 miles back to port.  It was pretty uncomfortable though.  You see, the sails not only drive the boat forward through the water, but they also act as big stabilizers and dramatically slow down the rolling motion the waves try to impart to the boat.  With no sails up, we were being tossed around pretty good.  I doubt if Kathryn was able to get any more sleep that night.

We arrived back at Vava’u just as it was getting dark Friday night, too late to make it into the harbor, but we were able to get anchored in one of the outer anchorages before it was too dark.  We both then collapsed into an exhausted sleep.  When we awoke Saturday morning, we raised the anchor and motored back to the main harbor.

When we bought our boat, we found that there was a brand new, never used wire labeled forestay complete with all fittings in one of the lockers. Our plan was to take that spare forestay, cut it down (the forestay is slightly longer than the backstay on our boat), install it, rig us a jerry-rigged radio antenna (the backstay doubles as the antenna for our short wave radio), top off the fuel and water tanks and get back on our way.

Have you ever heard the saying that starts out “The best laid plans…?”

I took the stays ashore and laid them out, the broken backstay next to the new forestay, so I could mark where I needed to cut.  It was immediately apparent that we would have to come up with a new plan.  The “forestay” was a foot shorter than the backstay.  This means that it was at least 2 feet too short to be used as a forestay on our boat.  I have no idea what the previous owner was thinking, whether he measured wrong at some point when he was having the boat rerigged and so wound up with one labeled “forestay” but too short, or what.  All I knew was that we needed a new plan.

I won’t go into all of the details of the Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, E, F, … that we went through only to find that they either would not work, be incredibly expensive or take weeks (we discovered that having anything shipped here takes a loooong time).  We finally figured out a way to connect in a piece of anchor chain between the turnbuckle of the shortened backstay and the chain plate it attaches to with the fittings we had onboard.  I spent much of today implementing that plan and we now have a functioning backstay again. 

Tomorrow morning, after cleaning up and putting stuff away, we will once again head towards home.

August 29, 2006 (again), 11:00am

Current Location: Underway

S 17 dg. 14.787, W 172 dg. 37.701

Approximate Course: 30dg (mag.) 

Approximate Speed: 5 kts

Total distance traveled so far:  11,986 nm

Just a quick note to let you all know that we did, in fact, manage to get underway yesterday morning, our first Aug 29, 2006 (we’ve crossed back over the International Dateline, so we get to experience Tuesday all over again) at about 9:30 am.  All is well as we get used to once again living in a tilted, bouncing environment.  The normal underway lethargy has overtaken us, so it is an effort to get anything done.  It will take us a few days until we can sleep well while underway.  I’m not sure if it is a matter of becoming used to it or that we just finally get so exhausted that we could sleep through a train wreck, but experience has shown us that we will eventually start getting some quality sleep again.  The lethargy seems even worse than normal this time, probably because we are heading as far into the wind as we can.  This makes for a more tilted, bouncier ride than when sailing downwind as we have done in the past.

In one sense, this will be sort of a lonely passage for us.  All of our other passages have been done when a number of other boats are traversing roughly the same part of the ocean and in the same direction.  There has also always been a radio net among these boats that we check in with daily, giving us some human contact other than each other and a sense of being part of a community.  This time, as far as we know, we are the only boat currently heading NE from Tonga or any of the other nearby island groups for that matter.

Septemer 10, 2006, 3:00pm

Current Location: Underway

S 1 dg. 24.734, W 160 dg. 40.128

Approximate Course: 30dg (mag.) 

Approximate Speed: 4.5 kts

Total distance traveled so far:  13,220 nm

Later this evening, we will be passing the halfway point between Tonga & Hawaii (via Christmas Island).  We still have about 255 miles to go to Christmas which will take us about 2 days and a half since we have been averaging a pretty consistent 97 miles/day.  The winds have been generally kind to us and we have been under sail continually except for a 12 hour period during which we hove to when things were getting kind of boisterous.  At least navigation has been simple.  Just sheet everything in on the starboard tack so that we are pointing as high into the wind as we can and still make good speed.  Amazingly, even in this relatively empty stretch of ocean, we have had to dodge a couple of islands, coming to within 5 or 6 miles of them and there is a 3rd, Jarvis, that we will be keeping a close look out for tomorrow morning.  Beyond that, we just add or reduce sail as the wind force changes to keep the boat heeling between 15 and 20 degrees.  It looks as though we will pass slightly north of Christmas and unless something changes, will not be stopping there since we’ve used almost no fuel so far, pushing on to Hawaii instead.  It now looks like we will be arriving in Hawaii on Sept. 23 or 24.

Tonga was a wonderful last major cruising destination for the trip.  We sailed to within 15 miles upwind of an erupting volcano, saw lots of whales, including one breaching and another that swam right under the boat, visited a remote island for a few days, spent a couple of weeks cruising around the Vava’u group with it’s great snorkeling and wonderful, calm anchorages and even spent an afternoon listening to whale song as we snorkeled around a coral garden.  The sound of the whales singing got louder and louder as we dove deeper and deeper until it was so loud that I couldn’t help but keep looking out towards deeper water, half expecting whales to appear out of the depths.  It was an incredible day.

After getting off to a false start and breaking our back stay, the trip home so far has been easier than I was mentally prepared for if not more uncomfortable than I had hoped for.  We will both be really looking forward to finally getting somewhere where the boat is not constantly pitching and rocking again.  Look for us to be coming through the Golden Gate towards the end of October.

Septemer 14, 2006, 1:30am

Current Location: Underway

N 3dg. 38.030, W 15 dg. 30.43

Approximate Course: 110dg (mag.) 

Approximate Speed: 4.5 kts

Total distance traveled so far:  13,601 nm

Earlier this evening, while Kathryn and I were relaxing in the cockpit, enjoying the coolness of the end of the day, the wheel and wind vane suddenly shuddered loudly, as though the paddle that sticks down into the water had struck something.  We both got up and went to the back rail, to see if we could see what it was and if there was any damage to the wind vane.  You’ll never believe what we saw!  Swimming along with the boat, staying just a few feet back of the wind vane was a huge black marlin.  It’s difficult to be certain, but I while standing there watching him, I estimated him to be between 11 and 12 feet long!  The book says that the largest one ever caught was 14’9” and 1,560 lbs.  Ours wasn’t that big, but let me tell you, he was big enough.  This was a huge fish.  He stayed 3 or 4 feet beneath the surface and in the clear water of the mid-ocean, we could see him clearly.  Sometimes he would drop back 10 or 20 feet, then he would come forward, veering to the side a little so that, as we were standing at the back rail, he would be abreast of us.  But mostly he just stayed directly in line with the boat, the tip of his bill just a few feet behind the wind vane’s paddle.  We stood there, marveling at this magnificent fish for at least 10 minutes until the gathering gloom of the fast approaching night made it impossible to see down into the water.  We’ve no idea how long after that he stayed back there.

Oh yeah, that shudder?  All we can figure is that he must have struck at the paddle, trying to stun it so that he could then eat it.

Hey Emmy (our friend who works at Scanmar, the company that makes our Monitor wind vane), is marlin damage covered in the warranty?

I’ve said it often before and I’ll say it again:  There is no saying what they will be, but if you stay out on the ocean long enough, you’ll see some incredible things.

September 16, 2006, 00:03am

Current Location: Underway

N 5dg. 25.132, W 153 dg. 15.531

Approximate Course: 0dg (mag.) 

Approximate Speed: 4.5 kts

Total distance traveled so far:  13,886 nm

Wheeeee!  A new record for Tricia Jean!  An unexpected south wind combined with our finding the equatorial counter current have given us a new record for a 24 hour run.  From 6pm Thur. To 6pm Fri. we covered 157 miles.  To put this in perspective, for the first 2 weeks after leaving Tonga, we averaged about 9 miles/day.  That’s like driving 55 on the freeway, then stomping on the gas and zooming up to 90.  Granted, many of the newer catamarans regularly pull off 200 mile days, but for this old girl, 157 is a great number.  What makes it even sweeter, is that that distance was made going almost due east.  At this point in our trip, that’s even better than it would have been had we been going north, directly towards Hawaii.  The reason is that when the prevailing NE winds fill back in we will have a much better angle on the wind and no longer have to point the boat as high into the wind as we can.  This will result in a faster, more comfortable ride.

It is now looking as though we will arrive in Honokohua Bay, Hawaii on the 23rd or 24th and we are both looking forward to being in a marina for a few days.

September 23, 2006, 2:30pm

Current Location: Underway

N 18dg. 28’, W 155 dg. 40’

Total distance traveled so far:  14,710 nm

After 4 weeks of battling our way up wind, the island of Hawaii is finally just starting to appear through the haze on the horizon and we should be at Honokohua Bay in the morning. This leg was a few days shorter than our trip from the Galapagos to Polynesia, but far more strenuous.  We are both really looking forward to spending a few days in a slip in a marina, sleeping all night and with the boat sitting flat in the water and not bouncing around for awhile.  Then, we will be off again.  The final leg of the trip should be about 3 weeks long and only during the first half or so do we expect to be fighting our way up wind. After that, we expect to motor for several hundred miles through the Pacific high, then when the winds pick up again, they should be somewhere around the beam.  It will be good to see the Golden Gate again.