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Monday, April 23, 2012

4/22/2012 Almost there

We are making great time and the miles are rolling by. We have just under 250 miles to go so if the winds hold we will be arriving at Hiva Oa by early morning Tuesday. In fact if we don't slow down a little bit we will arrive in the middle of the night and will have to heave to and wait for daylight. Hiva Oa doesn't have a terribly difficult approach but it's never wise to enter an unknown anchorage at night. So, two more night watches tonight, two tomorrow and a wake up. WoooooHoooo.
It seems a little unreal to be so close but I am sure it will all fall into place once we are checked in. The plan for now is to complete our official check in and then work our way clockwise around Hiva Oa before making a day passage to Fata Hiva were some of the best cultural sights remain. I will take advantage of the sunshine and flat water to get the laundry done and the boat put back in order and Bill will be busy fixing a handful of small problems. All in all it was a fine passage, few problems and the sleep deficit stayed at a minumum. Several boats had much more serious equipment failures so a lost halyard, a leaky diesel tank and leaky watermaker along with it being too bumpy to serve much in the way of gourmet meals is a small price to pay for arriving in French Polynesia aboard our own boat. I do have to admit though I can't wait to sleep through an entire night in a dry clean bed. Kat

Saturday, April 21, 2012

4/19/2012 Day 18 at Sea

Day 18 at Sea
Yesterday we crossed the equator into the southern hemisphere officially transforming us from Tadpoles into Shellbacks. We crossed over in the late morning with pictures of the chart plotter reading 00 00 001 South, a bottle of sparkling apple cider and bacon cheeseburgers. We had considered stopping the boat and taking a swim as many do as part of their celebration but I have a tiny phobia of swimming in very deep waters. All I could imagine in my head were thoughts of Great White's patrolling the equatorial line every spring waiting for their free dinner to arrive. How easy it would be to pick off the cruisers one by one as they plunged into the depths to celebrate with King Neptune.
Our days have flowed into hours of rhythms: getting up, going to bed, taking watch, passing watch, grabbing something quick for breakfast and sharing dinner our one sit down meal together. The incessant rocking and rolling has been replaced by hours running from squalls and trying to combat the hot muggy equatorial weather. The squalls are part and parcel for traveling through the ICTZ. They are the counterbalance to the normal lights winds usually found here. So our hours are spent trying to keep the sails filled and set with whatever wisp of air comes our way or frantically taking in canvas as the squalls blow through. Thank God for radar. During the daytime hours it is fairly easy to spot and track the micro storms as they build and flow but at night they are impossible to see or anticipate. The radar gives advance warning so we can avoid them all together and also lets us use them to our advantage by tucking in and taking a hold of the winds to help us on our way. They squalls bring high winds and torrential rains. The rains keep the decks cleaned which I love but also adds to the humidity and forces us to keep the hatches and ports closed to try and keep it dry down below.
The rhythm is an almost palpable thing and the term is what always seems to come forth when you talk to sailors who make long passages. On the one hand the day seems so long and at the same time the days are shortened too. You might think there would be lots of time to do projects or watch movies or work on a hobby but that doesn't seem to be true. The days flow into each other until you have no idea what day of the week it is and the hours are hard to follow as we pass through one time zone after another. The only real things in life are sleep, food, watch and more sleep. Oh and reading. I have read 12 books so far. Each sunset slides into sunrise and a kiss good morning morph's into a kiss good night as you pass in the hallway headed for a still warm bunk.
We should be reaching Hiva Oa in a week or less. Till then...kat

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

4/12/2012 Day 12 at Sea

4/13/2012 Pacific Crossing Day 12

Sailors everywhere know the disappointment of the whims of the wind. In the Pacific Northwest if you don't motor sail you don't sail. No matter where you're headed it seems that the winds are on your nose until that is you turn around to go home and then they shift and are on your nose for the return trip too. The Pacific trade winds are usually an exception to the rule yet once again the winds are not cooperating.

First the winds were too light and for days our sails were banging and popping as they filled and dumped the bursts of air. They also evidently only wanted to send us anywhere except west. Then they began to fill in, lots of wind free for the taking but now they blow from directly behind us and with our broken whisker pole and the lost halyard we can't go directly downwind. For every inch of west we could scrape out we had to accept the penalty of also moving north.
Then as the winds built so did the swells. Because of a high pressure ridge to the north of us and another system to the south though the winds are from the north east we have two sets of swell one from the NE and another from the SE. Let me explain what that means: hours on end of sailing merrily along while being pushed around first from the NW and then from the SW. The boat rocks back and forth steadily until it doesn't quite know which way it wants to throw our 32,000 pounds. It is immensely uncomfortable. It makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to move around, sleep, stand up, sit down, climb the companion way, make a cup of tea or put anything even close to a real meal together. One wrong move and the effects of gravity and motion take over. Thankfully no real injuries but the constant pin-ball effect is defiantly leaving bruises.

Now at least we are moving which is great except we are still going in the wrong direction. The winds have now ramped up and the washing machines like seas are close together, unorganized and 6 to 8 feet high. Speed is no longer the issue. In fact we are doing all we can to slow the boat down. Trying for control we are sailing along with just our head sail or stay'sl and a reefed main.
Each night I sit my watch in the cockpit and watch the "windicator" rise: 12mph, 14mph, 17mph, 22mph - last night to 30- I lock my eyes on the chart plotter and watch our speed ratchet up. The normal speeds when it comes to sailing are relatively slow. Our hull speed is 8.4 knots. We travel under power at around 6.5 knots and are pleased to average 5 to 6 knots while under sail. The wind and waves has us surfing down the wave crests at over 10 knots. Speed is not your friend.

In the middle of the night your perceptions change. You can't see the swells coming but all around you they crash and swoosh, hitting the side of the boat, sometimes slapping spray into the cockpit or across the dodger windows and occasionally we take one hard across the stern. The wind whistles in your ears and the boat groans and creeks as it rocks off a swell. There is constant noise from down below as the contents of lockers rattle and clank and occasionally some item reaches its limit and goes crashing across the cabin, somewhere. It's eerie and a bit scary as you're true speed gets very distorted. It sounds a lot like you are rocketing along on a freight train.

Now for four days now we have been sailing along with nothing but a little bit of a hankie sail in order to keep our boat speed down and add some level of comfort. In the mean time the swell gives us the added benefit of crashing into Island Bound and sending cascades of water every which way. Yesterday afternoon Bill asked if all the cabin hatches were dogged down so I scurried down to check. Sure enough the one over our bed and the one in the main cabin were closed but not locked. So I locked them. Later while I was trying to catch a little nap we took a big wave which instantly informed me that the hatch over our bed was not dogged down but rather was in the one inch open but locked mode. Saltwater poured in soaking pillows, bed spread, blanket, sheets and mattress.
We have had water in the boat before but this is the most we have ever had and the absolute worst timing. The salt water doesn't dry it just leaves a sort of sticky dampness which spreads to anything it touches. In order to set things right I will have to rinse everything multiple times and then hang to dry. But I can barely walk the cabin so my bucket washing system is out of the question. Where would I hang wet laundry to dry? Not outside where the salts spray is still raging. Don't forget, the next laundry mat we see will be months from now.

So, let me honest with you here. This put me into a bit of a tizzy. The aft cabin is my refuge. I bought lovely sheets, made black out curtains so I can sleep on my off watch even when the sun is out and filled it with down pillows. The bunk is designed so that no matter which tack we are on I have a wall to scrunch up against. There aren't many rules in our house but there are rules about this bed on passages….no daytime clothes in the bed, no dirty feet in the bed, no icky sticky, just- gutted-a-fish on the back deck hands and feet, and of course everyone takes a shower on clean sheet day, no matter what. I'm really not neurotic I just have always been a little particular on this point.

So, here I am coming up on ½ way to Hiva Oa. Yes only half way! I've had no more than 3 ½ hours of sleep at any one time in the last 11 days and ever movement in the last 6 days has needed to be choreographer. I tore out a chunk of my toenail, bashed my head on the roofline above my bed, tried to tear out a piece of flesh on the companion way hasp, haven't really cook much of anything for days now and, AND my bed is full of salt water! I didn't really take it well, and worse yet it was all my fault.

Today was better. I got over the wet bed thing. I didn't have a choice really: nothing to do but strip the bed and pile everything together on the floor of the head to keep it out of the way and move on. The saltwater has migrated throughout the boat making everything it's touched a little sticky. We are doing only that which has to be done. Everything else goes to the end of the line. Last night the roll got so bad that when I went to relieve Bill for watch we discussed simply heaving to and getting some sleep. Heaving to is a sort of survival move, you backwind your headsail and your main and it stops your forward progress. When done right you simply stay in place or slowly move downwind. Screw forward progress.

We looked around into the darkness: 12 foot waves rolling and crashing by, no moon, slick decks, tired to beat all. But and the main sail was down. Our boat doesn't heave to without having the main up. To risky to go forward and raise the main in 30 knot winds so Bill went to get some sleep and I sat in the cockpit in the rain, on wet cushions, under a soggy wool blanket and waited for the sun to rise.

Today looks better, a little. We put up the main, triple reefed just in case. Good to keep our options open.


4/10/2012 Fishing has been fabulous

4/10/ 2012 Fishing had been fabulous!

We caught two very nice yellow fin tuna our first day out and caught a nice ahi tuna a few days ago. The other morning I went to check the lures and one was gone and the other had no hook, both signs of BIG fish. So I dug through the tackle box and came up with a white glow in the dark hootchie with big squidy eyes and a silver and blue feather that was nice and new and sparkly.

Fishing off a sailboat is a little different than what most people think of as fishing. We don't' use a rod and reel. We are strictly meat fishermen so it's not really a sport. We just want to get them on the boat and try to lose as few lures as possible. We drag thick 300 to 600 pound test lines with wire leaders from our back cleats. They have a bungee cord set up so when the big fish bite they don't just tear the hooks out. It's not uncommon to haul in your line and find the lure gone or hooks straightened out, or even occasionally just the head of a fish. Fish bites lure, gets drug along in the water in the dark and then something with a very large mouth comes along and enjoys a free meal leaving nothing but the head and the hook for us.

There is a great deal to timing too. They like to bite right as the sun is setting so you have to take care of them in the dark, or right as the watch changes so everyone gets to stay up to take care of the fresh meat, or just as you are headed into an anchorage, or right as the winds kick up and you are trying to reef. It's not sport but it is fun.

Two days ago my lure picks had already brought in two nice ahi tuna and then a five foot long Wahoo, our first. Bill was down below getting the weather off the Ham radio when I heard a noise. I looked back and could tell we had a fish and could tell it was very big. "Fish on, a bigggg one Bill." We were screaming along at 7 knots and this fish was skating off to the side like a water-skier -back and forth, back and forth the line making a very cool zinging noise as he tried to get away.
Wahoo are known for their big teeth. Lots of fish are lost because they bit through the leaders but this guy was hooked. He's not on a rod and reel so Bill has to bring him in by hand. Once up to the boat we could see what we had and he looked very unhappy. I ran for the gaff and Bill took a swing then moved to fling him over the life lines. Five feet long and perhaps 50 pounds and he wasn't going to simply be flung over the lifelines. Oof…..and a thud and gnashing teeth. Blood everywhere, I swear it looked like we were slaughtering pigs back there.

Our freezer is filled to the brim. Bill is pouting (a little) because the hooks are put away until we have room to store more fish. I'm too tired to deal with fish anyway and for that matter, I think I'll pass on anything over 20 pounds.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

4/6/2012 Equipment Malfunction, User Error and Bugs

Days five and six

We have settled into our watches and Island Bound is performing well but the winds are awful. We decided not make our island dive stop because the winds were supposed to be excellent for making tracks towards the trades and there was a predicted swell that would have made the anchorage untenable. Friends on three other boats are there now diving with the Manta Rays and we sit becalmed with out sails banging and popping under the lightest of winds which worse yet keep clocking around us in a circle. So much for our great weather window.
The winds are the worse so far today but the past two days have not been much better. Yesterday we decided to hoist our light wind sail so set off to rig it up. Bill wanted to try a slightly different configuration and set up so fresh off four hours of sleep and still groggy we moved to the foredeck. For those who don't know Bill is an engineer and.......I'm not. I have learned loads of things in order to be out here on this big ocean but being able to quickly envision mechanical workings in my head is not one of them. I have a decidedly empty place in my brain where there should be an ability to work through spatial issues. Bill on the other hand simply see's things a different way and then sometimes expects me to have followed his thought processes (perhaps by osmosis)and sometimes never the two shall meet.
He had the pole -a fifteen foot, carbon fiber, telescoping whisker pole -in his hands and wanted me to be working the thin red lines while he lengthened the length of the pole from some 15 feet to 25 feet. First he wanted me to ........then he wanted me to ........then no grab that one and go forward......then...Oh Sh!t! I stood holding two of the red lines in my hands while the third line which HAS to be tied down (it holds the pole up) had come loose and was now half way up the mast jammed in a pulley while the end of the whisker pole was falling, falling, falling until it's tip was two feet underwater with four knots of wake trying to tear it off the boat. We managed together to push the pole forward out of the water and get it back on deck but no one was very happy and everyone was suddenly mad. Eventually cooler minds prevailed and in a surprisingly short period of time everything was back on track and we were soon scudding along in the light winds with our beautiful brightly colored asymmetrical pulling us along.
A very short time later I was down below when I heard another howl. I rushed topside and discovered our asymmetrical was now hanging along the port side of the boat completely in the water. Bill was hauling hand over hand and shouting at me to turn the helm into the wind in order to reduce the drag as much as possible. It turns out that the halyard for the spinnaker had parted/chafed/untied -who knows, its stuck at the top of the mast- letting the sail and our brand new chute fall overboard. Again we had things quickly under control. Nothing worse the wear but we are now unable to use our light air sail for the remainder of the passage. Unless of course someone goes to the top of the mast, a thing nobody likes to do and is even less inviting while wallowing around with fluky winds and a 8' swell rolling under the boat. I guess only time will tell how desperate we get for a light wind sail!
Today dawned warm and calm, again. Everyone is well rested and settled in to pass the time with books and IPods. We polled out our Yankee and are making a whopping 2.5 knots as we roll and bang around. So I decided it was a good day to cook a grand meal -sliced, chilled tuna on a big Caesar salad: make some croutons, wash the romaine, grab the Ponzu sauce to season the tuna, brush off the bugs, Bugs!!! A cupboard full of little brown bugs. So much for settling in to read. Does anyone remember which locker the bug spray us in?


P.S. The bugs at least seem to have been contained to a single locker -the flour and baking supplies are safe as are the brownie mixes. Disaster averted.
It was an instant crisis but one which we had fixed

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Day 4 at Sea

4/4/2012 Day Four at Sea (1/6th of the way there)

In the end our departure was a fizzle and spurt instead of the big bang of an occasion I suppose I expected it to be. We receive news that there was a favorable weather window opening up in four or five days. We were far enough along in our preparations to catch it's start but then found out that in two days Semana Santa would begin -Mexico's huge Easter week celebration- and with it all the official offices would have curtailed hours or be closed completely. In the past cruisers have been allowed 48 hours to leave the country after checking out but this year for reasons unknown it had changed to immediately. All the boats who had already checked out had actually left but of those remaining suddenly everyone was talking about risking problems with immigration and checking by weeks end but staying to complete their preparations. It would be impossible to leave until the weekend because we had a new VHF radio coming in as baggage with friends on Saturday but we also didn't want to miss the window. We decided to beat the rush and left the next morning to begin the checkout process.
All went well and no one actually said we needed to leave immediately so Zarpe in hand we snuck back into the anchorage at La Cruz. Other boats who had checked out were merrily going about their business, talking on the radio, doing final banking and sitting around in the local gathering spots. Bill being more skeptical than most insisted that we stay off the radio and fly under the radar so we finished our preparations but remained pretty much isolated from the rest of the cruisers for several days.
The entire final day I felt disconnected and on edge. We were ready but stalled. Everything stowed, cupboards brimming, minutes ticking by. I wanted to say goodbye to friends but felt stuck on the boat saturated in energy and emotion, stressed, nervous, exhausted and excited.
As the sun was setting we decided to join a group of friends at the Sky Bar for cokes and goodbyes. The rooftop bar was filling with cruisers come to say goodbye and there were several other boat crews there who also were planning on leaving by sunset.
I was thrilled at the unexpecxted last minute gathering. It was a great way to let off some of the steam and help run out the final minutes of waiting. We all sat around laughing and talking and taking pictures it was reassuring to me to hear that to a one every Puddle Jump wife present was bone tired, stressed out, exited and ready to strangle their captain husbands. Everyone had been working so hard on final preparations (Captains too, don't get me wrong)and the tension was high. As the cameras clicked I looked around and watched as one wife mimed strangling her hubby, another was barely speaking to hers and another threw a mock roundhouse punch as the shutter clicked. It was good to know we weren't the only couple bickering: stress and tension full blown! Finally we got the call that the VHF had arrived so one last round of hugs and a tear or two and we were climbing into the dink headed out to the anchorage. Absolutely nothing left to do but stow the outboard, tie the dingy on deck and lift the anchor.
There was of course one last glitch, there always is. As I stood at the bow hauling the anchor aboard I heard an exclamation from the cockpit followed by a very stressed sounding..."wait." Suddenly we had no reverse! Captain Bill is a whiz though and within five minutes we were motoring out of the anchorage while the last bits of light crept out of the sky. Disaster averted, bye bye La Cruz.
We've been at sea now for four days. All our energies have been directed at getting our sea legs and establish our watch routine. We caught two beautiful yellow fin tuna in the first twelve hours which topped off the last bits of space in the new freezer. The winds have been fluky but we have managed to sail every mile since we raised anchor -no sense using up our stored diesel in the first few days. We have four hundred miles behind us and all is well. The watch schedule is letting us both get adequate sleep and today I even had enough energy to pop some brownies in the oven and make bread to have with seared tuna we'll have for dinner.
Expectedly but still disconcerting is that there is so little visible life around us . Other than the tuna the only wildlife we have been seeing are the birds circling above us. Last night I had porpoises during the end of my watch which made for nice company but all in all life right now is just an empty sea. I am surprised that the emptiness is making such an impact on me since. In fact I have explained to plenty of folks that though we are part of the Pacific Puddle Jump once we left La Cruz, even if we left at the same exact time as another boat we would probably not see them again for the entire trip. That reality is pretty big. Three to four weeks of it coming my way. We left at dark, a couple of boats right ahead of us and another right behind us and another that had left a few hours earlier -we haven't seen another sailboat in 400 miles! We haven't even been able to raise anyone on the VHF. We are miles away from any other boats checking in on the Pacific Puddle Jump Net. In fact even with our AIS to give us a heads up we have only seen three fishing boats off in the distance. 64 million square miles makes for one really empty ocean. Kat

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