Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pareu Night

Besides the daytime activities, the Aranui had several evening events to entertain us. Tonight was “Pareu Night,” during which we would learn to arrange the signature clothing for both men and women of Polynesia. My initial expectations were not high, but once again Manaarii proved more than worthy of his role as activities director. This time, he showed off his impressive skills as a comedian. I didn’t record any video, unfortunately, so pictures will have to suffice. As they say in text, LMAO!


Puamau, Hiva Oa (aboard Aranui)

Another day, another island. This would be the pattern aboard the Aranui for the next week. The ship would move during the night, and we would have a new destination outside our window each morning. Today we returned to Hiva Oa (the second time for Aranui, the third time for us), but this time to the north shore, the opposite side from Atuona.

Puamau is important to visitors because of its archeological site, bearing some of the largest tikis in Polynesia. Its only an indifferent anchorage, and there was but one yacht sharing the harbor with us.

Once ashore, we had a brisk, half-hour, uphill walk to reach the ancient tikis


and piles of stones called mae’ae (compare to “marae” in Hawaiian).

As at Easter Island, one of the mysteries is how (and why) these people, without much technology, had moved such large heavy stones significant distances over extremely rugged terrain.

Part of the beauty of this site was the majestic forest that now surrounded it, and the lovely view of mountains and sea.

Friday, April 29, 2011

return to Fatu Hiva aboard Aranui

Back aboard the Aranui, we marveled at our changed circumstances. After having shared a cramped berth and head for the past 36 days, we now had a private cabin with fresh linen, a desk, television, air conditioning, and a private bath with a commodious shower.

After a month of impromptu (yet tasty) lunches on Evergreen, mostly eaten on our laps, we now sat down to a 3-course formal meal accompanied by wine, and surrounded by guests of at least 4 other nationalities. After lunch, we investigated our new surroundings. Although it's a small ship (350 feet or so), the Aranui is equipped with a pool, fitness center, library, shop, and several bars. At every turn, we were greeted by super friendly, helpful (and very attractive) Polynesian crew members. I kept expecting to wake up from this pleasant hallucination!

After watching the ship depart from the small harbor at Hiva Oa, we were heading back down to our cabin for a snooze when we heard the sound of many voices singing. We followed the joyful noise to a lounge area where our new buddy Manaariii, who turned out to be the activities director, was leading a group of about 30 in Tahitian dancing and singing. We tried to follow along, but we had already missed the first 5 lessons, and decided that it was probably going to take too much work to catch up.

Few people visit the Marquesas – the current estimate is about 3500 a year. Fewer still make it to Fatu Hiva, the most remote of the populated islands in the archipelago. So we must be among a very few who have actually been there twice! Yes, this was to be our first destination after boarding the Aranui in Hiva Oa. I was a bit sorry that we were spending so much money to see something we had already seen. I needn’t have worried.

Although it does carry up to 140 tourists, the Aranui is a true freighter, carrying goods of all kinds from Tahiti to the Marquesas, and returning with the copra, noni, and fresh fruit produced in these remote islands. At any given stop, you might see the cranes loading or unloading outrigger canoes, cars, cows, or Coke. The arrival of the Aranui, approximately every 3 weeks, is a big deal, and everyone turns out to greet her.

We were ferried to the Omoa wharf in outboard-powered barges. Once ashore, we saw a couple of things we had missed during our first visit here. We were taken to a palm-thatched shelter to see a demonstration of island crafts. First we were shown how tapa cloth is made, from the bark of several local tree species.

Next we were shown the art of arranging flowers, leaves and roots into fragrant bundles that are tied into women’s hair for special occasions. Everything used in the arrangement was first passed around, and the aromas were just incredible! These lovely scents are some of our strongest memories of Polynesia.

We were ferried back to the Aranui for lunch, and while we were eating the ship moved 3 miles along the coast to Hanavave. We had met only a few of the inhabitants here last week. This time, as we came ashore, most of the village was there, in traditional garb, dancing and serenading us with ukeleles, drums, and song.
video
video
Back on the boat, we attended a very interesting lecture on both the history of the indigenous people of the Marquesas, and a recap of the mostly sad events since European contact. After this first full day aboard, we could see that a significant benefit of visiting the islands as an Aranui passenger would be seeing, and learning about, much more of the local culture!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

return to Hiva Oa

After 4 very nice days at Hana Moe Noa, Evergreen returned to Atuona, in order to resupply and to disembark its extra crew. Can you imagine having houseguests for more than a month? Me neither! So although originally it had been agreed that we could continue aboard Evergreen for a month, or even two, after arrival in French Polynesia, it came as no real surprise when we realized that the time had come to sign off the crew list and embark on our own adventures. We had heard a lot of stories of crew relationships that had not turned out as originally expected, and sadly we had become part of yet another example. Enough said.

We wanted to continue traveling by sailboat if possible, but we couldn’t turn up any vacancies among the boats we had encountered in Tahuata and Hiva Oa. Clearly we were going to have to spend a lot more money at this point, traveling by air and staying in hotels or guest houses. However, beyond purely financial considerations, we had already invested a lot of time and effort to reach this part of the world, and we wanted to see the northern Marquesas and at least one of the atolls in the Tuamotus before flying home from Papeete. Were there any other options?

Turns out there was at least one – a combination cruise ship and interisland freighter called the Aranui. Judging from their website, you could only book a 2-week passage beginning and ending in Tahiti. However, our guidebook said that they would carry interisland passengers, space available. The Aranui pulled into Hiva Oa the night after we returned, so early the next morning I paddled the kayak to the boat ramp and walked over to the Aranui’s gangplank.

Once aboard, it was a short walk to the reception desk, where I was told that there was indeed space available, and that at least several other sailors had also been asking. I hurried back to Evergreen and brought Vicki along for a more serious look. Although the Aranui would no longer carry tourists on deck class (only locals qualified for this discounted passage), they would let us rent a vacant cabin. The handsome young man on duty was incredibly friendly and helpful. Manaarii (Tahitian for royal power) turned out to be one of our best friends on the staff and he certainly played an important role in our decision. After seeing the cabin and getting a rough estimate of the cost (final pricing approval needed to be obtained from the head office in Papeete), we agreed to sign up.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tahuata


We've been anchored for the past 3 nights at Hana Moe Noa, which Eric Hiscock described as one of the 3 most beautiful anchorages in the South Pacific. There is only one other US boat here, the others are from Austria, England, France, Holland, Italy, and yes, even Luxembourg! There is a nice coral sand beach where cruisers go to watch the sunset (and each sunset has been spectacular so far).

Behind the beach, there is a deserted farm where we can pick coconuts, lemons, and pamplemousse (like a grapefruit, only sweeter).
We snorkel at least twice a day along the convoluted, lava-rock coastline on either side of the bay, accompanied by reef sharks, giant mantas, tunas, dolphins, and myriad small reef fish.

John from s/v Calou and I kayaked a few miles to the Bordelaise Channel, which separates Tahuata and Hiva Oa by only a couple of miles.

Yesterday, a boatload of locals came to hunt wild goats in the hills above the bay, and offered to sell us fresh goat meat when they were finished. We passed.

Today we dinghied a few miles down the coast to Vaitahu, where the first European explorer, the Spaniard Mendana, anchored over 400 years ago (and slaughtered 75 local inhabitants during his brief stay). We visited a beautiful stone and wood church, but the small museum was closed, and we couldn't find the most famous tattoo artist in the Marquesas. We made lunch from fresh baguettes and windfall mangoes, then dinghied back to the boat.


a small miracle

After a day of rain (except for the morning in which we had snorkeled) everyone was feeling a bit of cabin fever. John on Calou came to the rescue by offering to give an informal recital. He's a concert violinist in San Francisco, so this sounded like a wonderful treat. Phambili offered to host everyone. When we arrived, Dennis let Fiona tie up Evergreen's dinghy, using the tried and true half hitches that most of us use.

After a wonderful potluck dinner, it turned out we got a bonus act for the evening. John wasn't quite ready to play yet, so Bruce brought out his button accordion, and accompanied by his wife Pascale's vocals, belted out a wonderful selection of gypsy, Russian, and French tunes. After this warmup, John performed a few pages from a number of classical "hits" including violin concertos from Mozart and Beethoven. It was pretty amazing to hear such music while seated under the tropical sky on a gently rocking catamaran.

As the evening wrapped up, we said our goodbyes, not knowing when or where we might meet up again. Fiona went to get our dinghy, only to find that it had disappeared. This was serious. A dinghy is like a car, only much more of a necessity - there is no "public transit" in an anchorage. Fiona and Tommy immediately went out to search, but the sky was clouded over and the moon hadn't yet risen.

The prevailing feeling was that there was nothing to be done, but Dennis decided to raise the anchor and go out looking. By this time it was after midnight. He used his chartplotter and instruments to determine wind and current direction, and motored out in the direction that the dinghy might have drifted. But it seemed hopeless - the dinghy had up to a 4-hour headstart.

When I came on watch at first light, we were in big swells and high winds, nearly 8 miles offshore. The chartplotter showed where Dennis had tracked back and forth across the sea. Finally, about 8AM, he called off the search and laid a course back towards Hanavave. I went below and tried to sleep. An hour later, Vicki awakened me with the amazing news that the dinghy had been spotted, directly in front of the boat, at a distance of no more than a couple hundred yards.

We grabbed the dinghy's painter with the boathook, and because of the heaving seas, decided to tow it back to calmer waters. When we got back to the anchorage, all of the boats that had been there were gone, and a new arrival, Thetis from Holland, had taken their places. We had a celebratory breakfast, and slept away most of the day. Of course, the sun came out and we missed a glorious day, compared to the two previous ones. Toward evening we rallied for a short trip into the village to buy a few pamplemousse.

Fatu Hiva 2


Thursday dawned calm and clear, so I hopped in the kayak at first light and paddled around the bay at Hanavave. Its really a remarkable setting, with cliffs rising nearly vertically from the sea, and yet covered with palm trees, ironwood trees, and other unfamiliar vegetation. There were only two small spots at which I could land the kayak, so I soon headed back to the boat and swapped out the kayak for snorkeling gear. Vicki accompanied me.

Now we're talking! This is why I wanted to come to the South Pacific. Even with all of the runoff from the recent heavy rain, visibility is at least 40 feet, and the water is a remarkable deep blue color. The first fish we saw was a 5' long whitetip reef shark, which continued on its way without as much as a glance in our direction. Soon we had reached the edge of the bay, and were surrounded by a psychedelic array of reef fish, mostly under a foot in length, with an extraordinary variety of colors and patterns. Other than Moorish idols, we only recognized a few as similar to the fish in Mexico. There are no coral reefs on this volcanic island, but corals and sponges grow thickly in places, on the boulders and cliffsides that form the boundaries of this underwater realm. Soon we spotted a large, speckled moray eel, and soon after that, a sea turtle. We continued our circuit around the perimeter of the anchorage. After awhile, we retraced our path, reluctant to cross the deep center of the bay. But there was no need to worry, we never saw another shark.

The highlight of the dive came as we were passing close by the large French catamaran, Charade. Below and to one side was a manta ray, just hanging out. This was only a modestly sized manta, about 5 feet from wingtip to wingtip (they can grow to over 20 feet). It was not at all shy, and allowed me to make several close approaches as it glided back and forth near the catamaran. The captain told me that it was there every day since they had arrived.

We finally decided it was time to head back to the boat. Thankfully we had gotten up and done this early in the day, because before long, the rain resumed with the same intensity as the day before, and the bay turned chocolate brown.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fatu Hiva

It poured rain most of the day on Monday. The Puddle Jump agent, Sondra, picked us up at the harbor and gave us a ride into town in her Land Rover. We checked in with immigration and customs; it was easy and quick. Next stop was the magasin (store) that sells meter-long baguettes for about 75 cents each (government subsidized) and a variety of other expensive, imported foods. We only had enough money for baguettes!

So the next stop was the bank. There is an ATM, but it only dispenses bills that are worth about US$100 and are hard to get changed, so after getting a withdrawal from the ATM, we stood in line at the teller to get smaller bills. There was only one teller, and several yachts were posting their bond (amount equivalent to airfare to your home country, to insure that you don't try to overstay your welcome in Polynesia), so it was about a 30 minute wait. With our new francs burning a hole in our pockets, we headed for the Make Make snack bar for burgers and beer. A shared burger platter and a beer apiece set us back US$28!!! After our first and probably last meal out, it was back to the store while we could still afford to buy something other than baguettes. The rain continued to fall heavily, so we were very happy to run into Sondra, who offered us a ride back to the harbor. We spent the rest of the day watching it rain. The guidebook has a graph that says the average rainfall for the month of April is 4 inches. We probably got close to that much today!

Tuesday morning, we bailed out the dinghy, raised the anchor, and made a 40-mile-long upwind passage to Fatu Hiva, motorsailing the entire day. Fatu Hiva is the most remote inhabited island in the Marquesas, and the most traditional in terms of lifestyle. The only way to get here is by boat (there are several cruise ships that call in about 3x/year). Josh was particularly eager to meet up with two other boats with kids his age that we knew were already in Fatu Hiva.

It was a long rough passage, but as we neared the island, we came into its lee, and we could appreciate the magnificent vista. The afternoon sun illuminated steep, striated, heavily vegetated volcanic cliffs (similar to Na Pali on Kauai), and the masts of the 4 sailboats already anchored at Hanavave. We arrived just in time to get the anchor set before the sun set.

Before we could even sit down to dinner, we were invited to one of the other boats for a "seminar" on the anchorages of the Marquesas and Tuamotus, offered by a German sailor who has made 5 previous trips through these islands. Tons of great info, and a great opportunity to meet the other sailors. Tommy and Fiona invited us to join them and their 3 kids for a 10-mile hike across the island to the one other town, Omoa.

Wednesday we got up early and packed for the all-day hike. We had 12 people from 3 yachts: Evergreen, Phambili, and Calou. A boat ride back from the other village would have cost more than $200, so John from Calou generously agreed to bring two dinghies over to Omoa in the afternoon to retrieve us. We got to shore before the other boats, so Vicki and I strolled into the small village of Hanavave. I tried out my Polynesian greeting on the first local woman I met: "ia orana." I could tell by the length and tone of her reply that I had committed some sort of faux pas. The next person I met was Daniel. He kindly listened to my fractured French questions, and explained that the Marquesan language is different from Tahitian. "Hello" here is "kaoha". Armed with the proper greeting, we now got a warm smile from everyone else we met!

Soon the rest of the group marched up from the small harbor, and we were off on our hike. Vicki and I stopped to take lots of pictures and were soon trailing the rest. A couple of local men asked if we were going to the waterfall (a much shorter hike) and we said, no, we were headed to Omoa. They looked at us like we were a bit daft, which should have been a clue.

We were surprised that the concrete road continued beyond the edge of town and started switchbacking up the steep mountainside. The French have invested a lot in basic infrastructure, even on this most remote of the islands (it is amazing what a country can afford to do when its budget is not dominated by military spending). We stopped and filled our water bottles at a pure mountain spring bubbling out of the hillside, and continued trudging up the steep road until we reached a spectacular viewpoint over the village and the sea. The concrete soon ran out and we were now walking a dirt road. Tommy and Fiona told us that they had done this walk 17 years ago on their first voyage across the Pacific, and at that time there was nothing here but a footpath.

As we had ascended to the level of the bottom of the clouds, it was not too surprising when we started feeling a light rain. The cooling effect was welcome. The only disappointment was that we had not brought our waterproof camera, so photos were limited to lulls in the rain. Onward and upward we went, until we had left the original valley far behind and were traversing a series of ridges. The vegetation was somewhat reminiscent of Scottish moorlands, except that in some places the grasses and low shrubs were supplanted with a variety of tropical trees. Orchids bloomed along the roadside in several places.

We finally reached a tin-roofed shelter with a picnic table underneath, at about the same time that the rain stopped. Everyone was still in high spirits, but that was about to change. After we finished eating and started downhill for the first time, the rain came on again, lightly at first, then harder, and eventually we were being pummeled by some of the most torrential rain I've ever seen. Though the temperature was still in the 80s, I think we could have actually gotten hypothermic had we not been hiking. Most of the group were wearing running shoes and socks. Vicki and I had on Chacos, and these were far better suited to the conditions - deep puddles, oozing mud, and red torrents of muddy water. The forest along this part of the trail was incredible - enormous mango trees and a huge variety of other unfamiliar species.

Finally the storm spent itself and we reached the concrete again, which told us Omoa was not far off. When we had descended below the clouds, a cruise ship could be seen anchored out to sea. Once in town, we found baguettes, beer, and a number of inquisitive cruise ship passengers wondering how in the world we had managed to become so filthy and sodden! We were glad to find John waiting with the dinghies. After a quick tour of town, we loaded up and made the 3-mile return trip to Hanavave by sea.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Arrival in Hiva Oa

After several windless nights, the wind kept blowing about 20 knots during our last night at sea, throwing our calculated time of arrival off. Fortunately, the full moon gave us a nice view as we closed with Hiva Oa, the largest island in the southern group of the Marquesas, just after midnight. The air was filled with the humid fragrance of the island's dense vegetation. We slowly made our way along the coast, hove to for a couple of hours, and entered the small harbor near Atuona just before dawn. A brilliant rainbow shone against the precipitous, emerald-green cliffs across the bay, and a pod of dolphins escorted us for the last mile in, making this landfall truly memorable and picturesque.

There are about 15 other cruising sailboats here, with hailing ports like Melbourne, Australia, Prague, Czechoslovakia, and London, England. The average boat size is at least 45 feet, making the anchorage rather snug. We're anchored bow and stern in only about 8 feet of water. Our passage time was almost exactly 24 days (even though this is the 25th day, we didn't depart until later in the day).

Because we have arrived on a Sunday, we can't officially check in until tomorrow, but our agent had told us we could go ashore. So after a couple of hours of rest, and hoisting our yellow "Q" flag, we inflated the dinghy, paddled to the quay, and wobbled ashore, still swaying with the motion of the sea that has been our life for the last 3 and a half weeks. Everything was closed in town, so we contented ourselves with a stroll around the "neighborhood." The most delightful sights were plants and animals. We spent a half hour watching a flock of goats in their pen. It is good to be back on land!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Day 24 - last full day at sea

We're now less than 100 nautical miles from the Marquesas. We've had to slow the boat down in order to time our arrival for daylight tomorrow.

The weather has been quite mellow the last couple of days - gentle swells of 8 feet or less, winds less than 20 knots, resulting in light chop and a fairly smooth ride. Night watches have been cheered by the light from the waxing moon. Yesterday we were surrounded by a pod of very small and very frisky dolphins for nearly a half hour. It felt like we were being welcomed to Polynesia. The sunset was one of the more colorful ones we've had so far.

Some summary of the voyage seems in order, before memories fade. For myself (Mark) I can say that I was never scared or seasick. On the other hand, I never really felt 100%. I expected to adapt to life at sea, and I have; however, I never really enjoyed the passage as much as I had hoped. The highlights for me were the intense, deep blue of the sea; the knowledge that we were traveling through one of the most isolated places on the planet; and the surprisingly easy sailing conditions that we enjoyed for most of the trip. The drawbacks were boredom -- the feeling that the voyage was WAY too long; the dearth of sea life (a few dolphin sightings, no whales, no albatrosses); the difficulty of getting enough exercise; and the constant need to hold on or brace against the movement. Generally, I felt confined, nearly imprisoned. This is not good when I consider that this boat is larger and more comfortable than our own boat. We enjoyed pretty much unlimited water and a wide variety of food, which will not be the case if we do the crossing in our own boat.

Am I glad I did it? Yes, it has always been a dream of mine and I'm very grateful I finally managed to do it, even though I didn't get here in my own boat. Would I do it again? At this point, I'm not sure I would give up the time and freedom to repeat such a long passage. But I won't pass final verdict until we've seen something of the islands.

Vicki now: I too am glad I've done this passage (almost there). Signing on as crew with Evergreen has allowed me to experience this passage with less stress, since it's not our boat, but now here we are without Southern Cross, and I'm ready for my own 'home'. Today is day #24 at sea, and I will admit that it's been very, very difficult for me. The movement of the boat, trying to hold on and balance,lack of exercise, and struggling with seasickness has at times put me 'over the edge' within myself. I've managed to maintain, with meds, and I've done my part as crew, which has been 6 hrs./day watch and helping out with galley chores. Each day in itself has passed by quickly, with the exception of missing sleeping with my hubby, but many times I have talked to myself about how much I wanted to be done and off the boat. I also found myself thinking a lot about family, friends and the beauty of the NW, our home/surroundings, and our sweet, so livable small town of Corvallis. So, what's next? We'll see how we do during these next couple of weeks, as we have until May 20 when we fly out of Papeete in Tahiti. The land based travel will cost us way too much money, but hey, we're here, so we'll do and see what we have planned. I certainly could go on and on about the group dynamics, but that can wait for when I have more personal time with all of you.

Today is Briana and Jesse's wedding, and our hearts are in SoCal with them. Congrats to you two! Other happy events coming up: B-days: Missy (today), Bryan , Eric H. Bruce and Larry H. (all in April).
May: Bob R., Mark W., Ian, Claire, and Faye. I'm listing these now, as we've heard that internet on the islands can be as much as $60/hr., thus not much contact with all of you until we return to Mexico May 23. We love you all, and REALLY miss you all.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 21

Our tranquil passage across the Equator is a distant and misleading memory, as we navigate our way across the doldrums. Mark Twain, in his book "Following the Equator" describes the doldrums as: "variable winds, bursts of rain, intervals of calm, with chopping seas and a wobbly and drunken motion to the ship."

And so we find it. After two days of unsettled, squally weather, today's dawn brings more of the same.

Back home in Oregon you might just call it crappy weather and leave it at that. But we sailors call it "convection", which more accurately describes the process which creates the crappy weather. However, my theory is that this particular meteorological term should be pronounced "can vex one."

To emphasize the most vexing property, the mish-mash of wave patterns cause the boat to roll, toss, and wallow in a very unpredictable manner. You will be waiting to pour a cup of coffee, and just as you think you've timed it right, you pour the coffee onto your arm instead of into your cup. Or you will be holding your toothbrush, waiting for a calm moment to let go of the ship with your other hand so you can pick up the toothpaste tube with the other hand and quickly squirt some onto your toothbrush. The moment arrives, or so you think. You let go of the handrail, grab the toothpaste, and are immediately launched across to the other side of the head compartment, where you break your fall with the hand holding the toothpaste tube, which promptly squirts its contents down the wall.

Another vexing property of convection is the effect on our attempts to steer a steady course and make the most efficient use of the wind. We'll be reaching along with 15 knots of wind or so, and a squall will suddenly arrive with anywhere up to 35 knots of wind. The wind vane, sails, and course must be adjusted to the new conditions, the quicker the better. Once we have adapted everything to suit the squall, it passes by, leaving us becalmed and wallowing in its wake. No matter how long you wait, as soon as you've started the engine, the wind returns, starting the whole process all over.

At night, with only one person on watch at a time, we prepare the boat for the worst, with a double-reefed main and a small staysail. This usually guarantees light winds and no surprises. If we want more wind during the night, all we have to do is leave the genoa out or the main unreefed, which will usually guarantee a fire drill in which all hands must be called up to shorten sail expeditiously.

But the most vexing thing about this part of the trip is the overall effect on mental state. Quoting from Mark Twain again: "...on long voyages...the mind gradually becomes inert, dull, blunted; it loses its interest in intellectual things; nothing but horse-play can rouse it, nothing but wild and foolish grotesqueries can entertain it. On short voyages it makes no such exposure of itself; it hasn't time to slump down to this sorrowful level."

But at least we are getting closer to our destination. Less than 500 miles remain. Our position this morning is 04 deg 12 min S, 133 deg 05 min W.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 18

We crossed the equator yesterday morning on my watch, at 5:15 AM, with the first light of dawn just barely above the horizon. I woke up the captain and crew so all could watch the countdown on the GPS, poured out a bit of tequila for King Neptune, and gave my own private thanks. We postponed the group celebration for later in the morning - costumes, toasts, and good cheer!

We were surprised to be sailing in 7 kts of breeze by noon, less surprised to be motoring again last night. The doldrums can extend quite far on either side of the equator, so we have been lucky to sail as much as we have.

Everyone's thoughts have now turned toward the islands that are still nearly 700 miles away. We broke out the French textbook and started practicing useful phrases. We have read and re-read descriptions of anchorages, inter-island routes, and shoreside attractions. However, we are still 6 or 7 days away, with lighter than normal winds in the forecast. This morning's position: 2 deg 00 min S, 130 deg 15 min W.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Day 16

We're within two days of our next milestone, crossing the Equator into the South Pacific. All of us are "pollywogs" meaning that we haven't yet sailed across the Equator. Once we cross, we have to undergo certain rituals, including a sacrifice to Neptune, and then we will become "shellbacks." My father underwent this initiation 70 years ago in the Merchant Marines, and I will be thinking of him as I follow in his wake.

The ride has been somewhat more "boisterous" in the last few days due to unsettled weather. Seems like whatever course we make causes the boat to wallow and roll heavily. I thought this would be something you get used to with time, but it is actually pretty tiresome at this point for all of us, and for the other boats on passage with whom we are in daily contact. We're trying not to think about how far we still have to go.

The fishing continues to be disappointing; only 6 bonitos, in two separate events where we hooked up on all 3 lines at once. Three of the other boats have caught mahi mahi, which is what we would like to catch.

The skipper dug out a spare water pump for the generator, and it works like a champ now. No need to alter sail in order to generate electricity.

Our position this morning is 03 deg 40 min N, 129 deg 15 min W.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Day 13 - halfway

We just passed the halfway point, about 1380 nautical miles from both Mexico and the Marquesas. This is one of the most remote areas on the planet, and certainly the most remote location that I have ever visited. We haven't seen even a single jet contrail to remind us of civilization.
Two days ago (the last blog entry was in error - should have read Day 10), we passed through the predicted "mini-cyclone." We only saw winds of 25 knots, but the seas built quickly, giving us a pretty bumpy ride for most of the day. We also got our first rain, which gave the boat and its passengers a warm and quite welcome washdown.

By the end of the day, the winds had died back to 15 knots and the seas had flattened out. Yesterday was one of the nicest days thus far - enough wind to fly the spinnaker, and long, gentle swells with hardly any chop. The sky overhead was clear, while fluffy cumulus clouds marked the horizon in every direction. Its warm enough now that we wear bathing suits around the clock. Really a delightful relaxing place to be. However, we did get hit by our first squall - a low, compact stratus cloud pushing winds of about 20 knots and packing some rain. We'll be seeing lots of these for the rest of the trip. They require us to shorten (reduce) sail, because a sudden blast of wind could tear a sail or knock the boat on its side.
The captain's temper has been frayed by a finicky generator. We carry solar panels, but not enough to power the refrigerator, freezer, autopilot, radar, computers, and other power-sucking devices on board. The generator needs to be run every day for a couple of hours just to keep the batteries partially charged, but the raw water pump that keeps it cool by circulating seawater through it doesn't suck in enough water while the boat is underway, especially if we are heeled. So we have been forced to slow the boat down for a few hours a day while Dennis tries to coax the generator into submission, and I try to stay out of his way.
PS - happy birthday to Ruth, Tonya, Steve, and Nicholas, and happy anniversary to Will and Kim! Vicki likes to keep track of these dates, even though we can't contact you separately at this time.
Our position this morning is 08 deg 30 min north, 125 deg 15 min west. Mark
Hey all, I miss you tremendously. We keep ourselves busy with scrabble, cribbage, reading, and I've been the assistant, and sometimes the 'lead' person in the galley. What I feel the most lack of is exercise, but I try to do my stretchy bands and some Jane Fonda & yoga now and then. Not easy while heeled over! I think of my friends and family every day, and especially during my night watch while I listen to music. So often a particular artist brings up a specific person in my thoughts, and I find myself reviewing fond memories of these people. Love you. Vicki

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Day 11

After I had already posted yesterday's entry, we had an unusual and noteworthy event. Vicki was on watch and spotted a sail on the eastern horizon, about 4 miles off our port side. The other boat was on an intersecting course and passed within a mile and half astern of us. It could only be Pericles, who has been within 25 miles for the last week or so. This was confirmed during the evening radio roll call. Pretty amazing to see another vessel this far from land!
I recorded a boat speed of 0.00 knots for the first time during this morning's watch. At least we have a favorable current that is still carrying us along close to 1 knot. We don't want to motor this early in the trip; we need to save fuel for the doldrums as we cross the equator. The wind finally picked up around 2pm, and as I write this we are making over 6 knots with the spinnaker and unreefed main. But the highest wind we have seen today is only about 12 knots.
The morning weather forecast from Don Anderson in Oxnard, CA, confirmed that this is part of a large pattern of unsettled weather. He predicted formation of a "mini-cyclone" in the next two days in our vicinity. There will only be winds of about 25 knots associated with this, but it will make for a large area of irregular wind patterns. So much for the tradewinds! The early season forecast was for "reinforced" (stronger) trades due to La Nina. So far its been just the opposite.
Our afternoon's entertainment was provided by a booby, which skidded in for a landing on the bimini top and ended up clinging precariously to the lifeline, right where I had pinned my towel to dry after showering. I waited for the inevitable blast of booby poop to befoul my towel, but he repositioned himself in a few minutes and I was able to whisk it out of reach. No harm, no foul. At that minute all 3 of our trolling lines were hit by bonito, and all hands rushed on deck to reel in the catch of the day. The booby seemed to know what this was all about, and rather than being scared off by all the commotion, he (she?) peered intently at the fish as they were being reeled in. All were too small to keep, but one had swallowed the hook and was too injured to be released, so we put it in a bucket and held it out to the booby. He gamely tried to get his bill around this supersized snack, but it was an order of magnitude larger than his usual prey and he had to reluctantly give up.

At that point, Dennis decided enough with the booby and its poop, and sprayed both off of the boat with a freshwater hose. But the booby was determined to make the most of this temporary roosting spot, and after circling a few more times, landed on the radar dome partway up the mast. A perfectly flat, booby-sized perch! Josh tried to dislodge it with his (nonlethal) pellet gun, by shooting peanuts at it with a slingshot, and by trying to heave a line up to scare it away. Nothing worked, and Dennis took up the battle with the heaving line. He succeeded only in snagging the free end of the spinnaker halyard around the radar dome, leaving us temporarily unable to lower the spinnaker. Carol got everything back to where it should be, but as darkness falls, the booby is still firmly perched atop the radar dome!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Day 9

Yesterday we had another great spinnaker run. The sea has smoothed out to the point that the windvane can steer the boat by itself even as we surf along at over 8 knots. This is some of the most enjoyable sailing I've ever had, the boat doing what it does best, the sea giving us a smooth ride, the sky as clean and unpolluted as I've ever seen it, and no need to worry about rocks or boat traffic. And I'm happy to report that we have seen very little trash out here, perhaps 3 plastic containers in all.
We had a pod of dolphins swimming along with us in the afternoon, a welcome reminder that we are not alone on this big ocean. We also caught our first fish since the marlin strike back on day 3. Two Mexican bonito, which were small enough that we released them back to their saltwater home. Still waiting to see an albatross!
Today is April Fool's Day. The joke on us is that the wind has died, when we are supposed to be in the NE trades! Vicki and I have the graveyard watches, she 1-4 AM, and me following from 4-7 AM. Last night I awoke during Vicki's watch at 2AM because of the sails slatting and the boat wallowing along at less than 2 kts. When I came on watch what little wind there was seemed to be veering to the E, taking us a bit N of W, so we jibed the boat over where we could make some southing. When Carol came on watch at 7, we poled out the genoa and now we're making between 3 and 4 knots. Dennis is sharpening his fillet knife in anticipation of more fish, hopefully big enough to eat!
Our position this morning is 14 deg 23 min N, 121 deg 34 min W. We're over 1000 miles from mainland Mexico, and still more than 1700 miles from the Marquesas.