"Sailors know that days take off distance, they have the nautical faith that there is more time than there is expanse of the world, and so any voyage at last will end." (Ivan Doig).
Today is May 3, 1998. We've crossed our first ocean.
We have arrived safely in Atuona, Hiva Oa in the South Pacific, our 3000 mile crossing was actually pretty uneventful. Although I cannot send this to you for a few weeks when we get to a place where we can hook up the computer, I think you will like to read about the trip. Here are some notes I made as we went along.
Our first few days of the crossing were gentle days, spent sailing slowly, drifting along, or motoring. We were learning the reality of a departure from Acapulco: there isn't much wind this far south along Mexico's coast. So the first few days we sailed close hauled to the Southwest on quiet seas. There were a few NE winds and we used the chute once but there were also lulls. Sometimes we stopped completely and once we swam next to the boat, one at a time so the other could watch out for sharks. (Yes, we had seen one prowling around a few hours earlier, it was fearsome.) Once I woke from a nap and the boat was so still I thought we were in a marina, but I couldn't remember which one. It took me a while to realize we were in the ocean, hundreds of miles from a marina.
This crossing turned into a competition. Another boat, a Gulfstar 50 named Glory Days, with friends aboard, was 400 miles north of us, where there was wind, and they were smoking! We talked on the radio and they were reeling off 175 mile days while we were doing 60-70. Plus they started two days ahead of us, and they started from Puerto Vallarta which is actually one day closer to the Marquises than Acapulco, so they were well ahead of us and moving out. My competitive juices were flowing and we listened to their radio reports.Fred Steering
On the fourth night the wind, which was NNE as it had been the previous two nights, came in a little more solidly, and on the morning of the fifth day out of Acapulco it held, and was steady all day. We decided we had made it to the trades. My morning weather fax pictures suggested the same thing. By afternoon we took down the Number One Genoa and put it away, hopefully for the duration, and we set the Number Four; a little slower but a lot easier. We had 16-20 knots of wind and the boat speed was a steady 7+ knots. Not really fast, but it was OK. The wind vane was steering.
We'd received advice which said, "Go north of Clipperton." So we planned on that, and the first few days we thought it might be hard to lay Clipperton on starboard, but the wind has shown a constant lift, and now we think we'll pass about 200 miles north of it. We are now sailing fast, on a broad reach down the rhumb line to a point at 125 degrees West Longitude on Latitude 10 North, where we'll think about turning left to cross the Equator and the Doldrums at about 132 West. With any luck, at that distance west, there won't be any Doldrums. We'll see, it's still about 1073 miles from here.
With this point of sail, the fresh wind, and the big seas we have, things are loading up pretty good on Wings, particularly in the 9-10 knot surfs. The roaring sound from the bow wave is deafening outside, but inside all you can hear are the creaks and groans from all over the boat. But so far we have had few failures or breakages and we tracking nicely even in the big seas and things are going well.
Even though we've had few repairs we have needed to do, we have done some other projects; I made a new sun awning for underway which we use instead of a permanent Bimini, and we've checked off some other minor things on our boat list. We've also finished several books between us, and we've been slowly listening to our library of CD's and tapes on the headphones during night watches. I think this is how it is supposed to be.
As icing on the cake, we heard this morning that Glory Days has been parked! Really parked, at an island called Isla Clarion, and we have gained 150 miles on them. It may be the last gain on them we'll get so we'll take it any way we can.
Eight days out:
Get this; we're up with Glory Days! They were stopped for three days and we passed them, which makes up for the three day head start they had leaving Mexico. There are a total of twelve boats out here doing the crossing near us, and right now we are in the lead, in the best spot, and but for one, going the fastest. One however is the 90ft Locura who just appeared on our net this morning and is knocking off 300 mile days. Endurance is about 60ft, is behind us too and moving, and there is still Glory Days to worry about, so we have our hands full. But then, we're just cruising, not racing, so, this is just for fun.
At dawn this morning some dolphins or porpoises swam under our keel and set of the depth alarm, which I didn't hear since I was listening to the new U-2 CD on the headphones, but Judy did, and when I didn't reset the alarm she got up to see what I was up to. I finally heard the alarm just as her questioning face appeared in the dark hatchway and I was chagrinned. But she had to get up to go to the head anyway, so it was alright. I watched the dolphins or porpoises, which ever they were, to the accompaniment of Bono, The Edge, and the other lads from Ireland. I visualized the opening scene of a movie. It worked. At daylight I looked around the boat to see how many flying fish had belly landed on our deck during the night. I found four, plus the one who landed in the cockpit last night which I threw back right then. Unlike the squadron of big ones who found themselves low on fuel and landed on our boat in the Sea of Cortez last year, these are all small flying fish, 2-6 inches in length. When we sail into their midst they pop up out of the water like a covey of miniature submarine launched cruise missiles and take off across the sea surface at an astonishing rate. Then the Boobies swoop down and wreak destruction on them, causing them to scatter or crash. The Boobies don't get many, but they never give up. Sometimes a big Tuna will leap out of the water chasing a flying fish and once I saw a Tuna and Boobie, hounding the same frantic flying fish, almost collide with each other. The Boobie had to swerve off since at that point the Tuna was ballistic and unable to do anything himself to avoid the issue. Judy and I agree that between Tunas, Boobies, and sailboats, the Flying Fish have a pretty tough life.
As for us, our life is pretty good, we have been knocking off 170 mile days, and one of 180 miles, which is good, but it is hard to keep it up; it requires good wind, a good angle, the right size waves, and us staying alert, making adjustments to trim, and frankly, we have to push the boat a little. The conditions have been perfect however, 18-24 knots of wind on a broad reach. Any less and we'd slow down, any more and we'd have to reef. As it is, the boat is moving at an optimum speed, and the motion, while a little tiring is not too bad. The noise on deck however is awesome. It's like being next to a waterfall or a mountain stream with rapids all the time.
We are also suffering some chafe on some of our lines and rigging, which will undoubtedly cost us a fortune to replace later on. I guess it is a hidden cost of cruising. I readjust or fix things as soon as I find problems, but often the damage is done by then. Fortunately we have a lot of line on board.
We have our routine down now. Our watches are three hours each. Every 24 hours we have two "on" watches during the day and two at night. Four total "on" and also four "off". While "on watch" we have to be on deck keeping lookout. During the "off" watches in the daytime we relax or do chores. I check for chafe, fix things, and do some radio duties like check in with the net and get weather pictures. Judy does some maintenance, most of the cooking, although I have done some, and she likes to polish stainless steel, which I think relaxes her. At night we sleep when off watch and sit in the cockpit during our three hour spells "on". We are both resigned to the fact that every night, long before we are ready, we will hear those dreaded words: "Honey, it's time for your watch." and we have to get up again.
We spend a lot of time checking our progress with the GPS and the big DMA #51 Pacific Ocean chart. The "x" marks are tracking right across its broad expanse.
Each day or so we shower with fresh water and when absolutely necessary we change clothes. Laundry will be a problem out here so we conserve.
Last night we were thundering along at 9-10 knots as the wind was getting close to 30 knots, and we were, both of us, nervous about the speed and forces at work, to say nothing of the size of the waves. But I wanted to keep pushing while Judy wanted to back off. We argued for a while and finally we reefed but then the wind dropped and we just had to shake it out again. Today we are taking it easy doing seven knots in 15 to 18 knots of wind. We are below 10 Degrees Latitude, where the doldrums could start, but we've been tracking them with the Weather Fax and we are trying to dodge them. We've spotted a gap and we'll try to cut through before it closes. So far so good. We are also still ahead of the others, although Locura should pass us tomorrow and Glory Days, if they maintain their speed, could catch us in about five days. I've been plotting the whole fleet, which is up to 24 boats now, on my chart and their tracks are all converging right on our tail. It looks like they agree with my routing.
Barring a big drop in the wind, late tomorrow we'll hit the half way point.
We passed the halfway point last night on Judy's watch and today the trade wind sailing seems to be behind us. The wind has been light and our course was just about dead downwind. The headsails were flapping badly as the boat rocked and rolled in the waves. Chafe! Wear! argh! We tried everything but finally at 06:30 This morning I just took down the jib and we sailed along, right towards the equator, with just the mainsail. We were still going four knots and it was quiet, and easy for a change. With the #4 down I took the opportunity to do some minor repair on it, and then decided we needed to check the headfoil so we took that down too. Eventually I went up the rig twice and so we spent all day on that project and others. During this whole time the boat was sailing along by itself at four knots and it seemed to us like we could have been at the dock working on the boat, since we were not paying any attention to sailing.
In the afternoon we caught some Northwesterly winds, which are definitely unusual, and we reset the jib, took showers, had a drink, and got on with our trip. Now we are again doing 7 knots and life is good. I hope we've gotten through the Doldrums and that this holds all the way to the Marquises, but I doubt it.
It didn't last. We cut to the south too early and now we have been through some terribly slow conditions in the last 24 hours. We've had every kind of sailing, but mostly more waves than wind, so the problem is keeping the sails filled. Our tactic of taking down the jib only works some of the time, it depends on the waves. Some times there is nothing you can do to get the boat moving or to relieve the awful flogging of the sails as the boat rocks and rolls. Then, at other times, we have good wind and we try to make good use of it. Before noon today we' were able to put up the spinnaker and we're still going with it. It added about 2 knots and 100% work. But it is nice to go fast. On Wings, at 6 knots or less it is pretty mundane, at 7 knots the boat comes alive, at 8 it seems fast, at 9 it thunders, and at 10, it's too exciting. For the last four hours we've averaged 8 knots, and that is OK. I can't say much about speeds over 10, they are just a blur to me, and we don't do it that much.
There is some real strategy developing is this group of boats we're sailing with. Several, including Glory Days and Locura stayed way high, hoping to keep out of the slow stuff we've hit, while we went low, for the mark. But they had to cross this slow zone sometime, and the farther west they went the longer distance they had to sail. Finally they both followed us, but slightly more to the west, and now it is a drag race the last 950 miles, we are still leading but they are gaining fast.
I don't think I realized how slow things could be. We crossed the Equator today at 3:03:30 pm. and we still have 900 miles to go to the Marquises. The weather doesn't seem like equatorial. It is overcast, 91 degrees, and muggy. We've got 9 knots of wind and a choppy sea. Last night we had squalls and lightning and some rain. On the other hand, maybe this is equatorial. Anyhow, we drank a bottle of good Mexican (cheap) Champagne. I am already a shellback and therefore I was supposed to "initiate" Judy but I didn't know what to do. In the Navy we washed people with a hose, made them crawl in garbage, and swatted their behinds. Finally, after they kissed the fat belly of the designated King Neptune, they were initiated. I think we'll just stick to the champagne.
Locura passed us yesterday and Glory Days is only 37 miles behind. We held off these boats as well as we could but Locura is motoring at 8 knots (they have lots of fuel), and Glory Days went west and found more wind, plus they are pushing harder than we chose to, carrying the chute through the squally nights and hand steering. But also they are a bigger boat, with a crew of three guys who are hot to go as fast as they can, and so I don't think we can hold them off. This morning was an example of why. We had a period of 20 knots of wind on the beam and we were right on the edge with the kite, going 9+ knots and experiencing big thundering surfs. It was fast but steering took a fine hand, a lot of nerve, and not a little strength at times. With only two of us there were too few to handle all the sheets and other lines in the big puffs which was somewhat dangerous, and the sky was really threatening, so we backed off and dropped the kite. Later Rod, on Glory Days, told me they carried theirs right through that period, had some close calls, but survived them, and they made a lot of time on us. That's racing.
Great sailing under spinaker.
Actually the windy stuff is easier than the light wind stuff. Right now the waves are big and coming from two or three directions, and the wind is about 9 knots. We have been trying to fly the spinnaker again but it is impossible. Imagine sailing on Puget Sound and you get hit by a ferry wake at the same time as the wake from a 40 foot Bayliner going 20 knots coming from the other direction. Imagine how the boat pitches and the sails shake. Now imagine this every 5 seconds for 8 hours. Twelve times a minute the boat is yanked, jerked, and tugged until you think that every line, wire, rod, bolt and fiberglass joint is going to be torn apart. All the while we have to work up in the lulls and down in the puffs to maintain an optimum VMG, comparing our wind angles to the published polars, which takes mind numbing concentration. And the net result is a earth shaking 4.5 knots through the water. If we drop the kite and let the boat coast along with a main and a jib we get one tenth the grief and we still go 4.0 knots. So we'll coast. Glory Days might be working the problem harder than we are but we this isn't my idea of a good time. They can have it.
At least the rest of the fleet is well back.
We have been in the Doldrums for eight days. Locura dropped out and motored into Hiva Oa, Glory Days has done some motoring, otherwise they are just ahead of us suffering though the same stuff. However, they are still more to the west, and they get a little better wind more often. Some days we get enough wind (in little bursts from all sorts of directions) to make 100-120 miles, other days we barely get 50. They have consistently been making 100. This zone is about 1000 miles across right now, which is unusual, maybe an El Nino effect. The fleet of boats behind is still screaming this way in the trades and one by one they are piling into the hole and screeching to a halt, just we we did.
It is not always calm and frustrating; sometimes it is windy and exciting. Yesterday we had a lot of wind. We were in a dense rain squall with 20-24 knots dead against us, huge steep seas, and torrents and torrents of rain, for about 15 hours. We held our course and drove into it close hauled with all plain sail set, meaning to make some time while we could. We charged along, blasting the seas aside, making great speed, and demonstrating again to ourselves what a wonderfully powerful yacht we have in Wings. However, at that speed, in that wind and those waves, the motion and the sounds, while exciting, caused some tension in us, as they telegraphed through the very fabric of the boat that there were tremendous forces at work. The constant thought of this strain on our boat and equipment was particularly tiring for us. Plus we frequently powered right through the waves rather than over them, and then the water rushed back along the deck like a raging river nearly a foot deep. It was hard to keep dry and eventually we didn't. But we did keep pressing forward determined that we would hold out as long as needed, but we wondered how long it would last. It stopped after 15 hours. The rain stopped first so then the wind and seas caused the salt spray to coat everything good just before it all shut off. Today we've been salty and totally becalmed since about 11:00 AM. It is now 4:00 PM and we have the sails down, we are just sitting. At least we were able to dry out.
We talk to Rod on Glory Days twice a day. Both he and one of his crew, John, have wives waiting in Hiva Oa. They have been there four days already based on an overly optimistic estimated time of arrival. Glory Days would motor on in except that I don't think they have enough fuel. Of course we all expect the weather to break any moment, and every puff is interpreted as "the new wind". They had some scary times in the squalls, getting caught with too much sail up, and had to run off, but today they were jubilant as they announced that the "Northwesterly" had finally filled in, they were off at 7 knots down the rhumb line, they'd "See us in Hiva Oa". Two hours later it died and they sat again.
A boat called Rumplesteelskin showed up on the radio week ago, they have been here south of the Equator for a while. They are out of fuel, (they evidently have been a little too addicted to using the iron jib) and they have no wind. So they sit. They sound cheerful, or at least resigned, though. On Wings we get testy but we are trying to stay patient, right now, with the sails down and the slatting stopped, we are feeling better than an hour ago when we were trying to sail and getting very frustrated. But I keep remembering how John, on Expediter told us they sailed the trades right on through this area, with not one day of Doldrums.
We have had four more days of Doldrums (the location, not our attitudes) since I last wrote. We've made progress each day, but not a great deal. No more squalls, and with each hour, less and less wind. We finally, today at 3:00 PM, gave up and turned on the motor. We are 70 miles out and what wind is there is against us. Our sailing progress this afternoon was about 2 knots, only 1 of which was towards the destination. Perhaps that would be temporary but Glory Days passed here yesterday and they reported no change all the way into Hiva Oa. They motored. The boats behind us are motoring. So we are motoring. We sailed have sailed 2728 miles, now if it will take us 12 gallons of fuel to motor the rest of the way in, so be it. If the wind comes up we'll use it, but if no wind comes up between now and then, at least we'll be there.
08:30 The Marquises waypoint, which was in front of us for 2780 miles, is now behind us. We motored for 20 hours and finally passed Cape Matafenua, our GPS destination since Acapulco. Shortly afterwards we went on soundings for the first time in 25 days.
Seeing land after 3000 miles, here.
12:35; at his hour we anchored in Atuona, on Hiva Oa Island, Isle de Marquises, French Polynesia, the South Pacific. The crossing is behind us, the Doldrums are behind us, and we've made it.
On the flag halyard, a French flag.
There is a full harbor here of yachts waiting for weather to proceed further west. Mostly they are European boats. The few from Mexico who arrived here previously in a previous group have moved on already. Glory Days is here, having arrived 36 hours ahead of us. Like us, without room in the harbor, they have anchored in the roadstead. This afternoon we'll go ashore and put our feet on dry land for the first time since April 8. Today is May 3, 1998. We've crossed our first ocean.
Bye for now,
Fred & Judy, S/V WINGS, Iles Marguises
Labels: crew, sailing