They call it the ‘Puddlejump’ or the ‘Coconut Milk Run’ which suggests the passage is a bit of a doddle. But at nearly 3000NM it’s a long, long ocean passage which creates wear and tear on boats and crew alike. I had visions of clear sunny days, long gentle rolling Pacific swells pushing us westwards under the spinnaker, lazing about reading, filing our nails and playing guitar to while away the time. As you can see, we did have some of that, but unfortunately not nearly enough…
So for those of you who’d like to live vicariously for 18 days and 2984NM on an ocean passage, here are some excerpts from my daily journal:
Day one: Tues/Wed 12th May
After doing our last minute rig and oil checks, and pre-cooking a beef rigatoni for dinner we were ready to leave the anchorage at Isla Isabela with our buddy boat Rehua. At 2.15pm we raised the main with one reef, brought the anchor up and we were under starters order, off across the blue paddocks on our mammoth steeplechase. I just hope the boat copes with all the stresses and strains of such a long passage. The swells as we were leaving the anchorage were very large because of the shallow water, but as we cleared out they settled into long rolling swells, but from the south. Unfortunately, because we’re trying to get south out of the counter-current, we’re having to sail close-hauled with the motor on. Hopefully after the first 150 miles or so we’ll be able to lay off more to the west.
We’ve agreed to do 3 hr watches each, around the clock. My first watch was 18.30-22.30, the skies cleared, we were doing 7-9 kts in 16kts of breeze, just beautiful, with Toucan rising gracefully over the big swells. Felt very good to be back at sea, although sleep is always hard to come by on the first night out. During the night Geoff and Bruce rolled up some more jib as the squalls started to come through with rain. My next watch at 5.30 -8.30am was a nasty shock to the system – endless rain squalls with the wind fluctuating between 8 -24 kts and a confused and choppy sea. Got absolutely soaked. Really miss the dry cockpit of Illusion! Visibility very poor this morning, a grey day, grey sky, grey sea and the squid count was 10 bodies on deck this morning! Our 24 hr run was 180NM, not bad!
Day 2: Wed/Thurs 13th May
The seas continue to be beam-on and about 2m so not very comfortable. Mostly we sleep and read when off watch. Geoff cooked hot dogs for dinner, but didn’t notice they were individually wrapped in plastic so we had to suck the meat out of the wrapping!! He’s not going to live this one down! Slept reasonably well and got up for my watch at 2230 -0230. Clear night so spent time watching the night sky and listening to music, the water swishing past the hulls, the occasional thump under the hulls as a wave hits us, the glow of the nav instruments for company and the sometimes crazy swaying of the bananas in their hammock in the cockpit! We’re trying to stay close to Rehua so we can keep in VHF contact.
Another 8-10 squid and flying fish on deck this morning. The day is beautiful and sunny, the swells are still around 1.5m and lumpy but we’re making good progress doing 8-9 kts in 18-20 kts of SSE wind.
The paddocks have flocks of white sheep everywhere today and every so often clouds of flying fish erupt from the water, little silvery bodies skimming the tops of the waves, sometimes bouncing off them to get an extra few metres. Some of them can fly almost 100-200 metres out of the water, amazing! No other bird life or sea life though. The first night we had half a dozen seabirds flitting around the boat’s nav lights like ghosts, whirring and clicking away. Last night none, we must be too far away from land now.
Had fresh passionfruit and papaya for breakfast, plus the ubiquitous bananas that are ripening faster than we can eat them.
Made coleslaw for lunch with hard-boiled egg, ham and tomato.
Daily run of 192 NM – getting better!
Day 3 Thurs/Fri 14th May
Made another batch of banana bread – slowly using up the bananas!
My watch at 0230-0530 (my least favourite) was uneventful, except for a large flying fish landing next to me in the cockpit. They really stink! Rehua continues to edge ahead of us despite our best efforts, they seem to do better in the lighter airs than us. The wind’s been varying from 10-20kts most of the night, but the seas are settling and coming a little more on our port quarter making for a more comfortable ride. Only about 2390 NM to go!
Just discovered that the fridge is not working properly again so we’ll need to investigate if the pump and filters are OK, or if the lines are blocked again. Last thing we need now, with a fridge full of food for the next 2-3 weeks. We did all the usual checks and it seems the lines are blocked again, probably by growth, as no water flowing through the system. Bruce got the air pump and after several rounds of pumping air through the system we managed to dislodge enough crap to get the water flowing again. We’ll have to find out if there’s something we can put through the lines to kill the growth.
Had a shower as I was sweltering after being in the front cabin fixing the fridge issue – feels good to be clean again!
Daily run of 200NM – Woohoo!
Day 4: Fri/Sat 15/5
Lots of chatting on the VHF with Seathan on Rehua, who keeps us amused. It’s been hard to catch him, and he was about 4NM ahead of us this afternoon, but then he decided to put his MPS up and drop his main. That gave us a chance to catch up, and we had a rather special Sundowner’s mid-ocean with them, drifting along side by side. To celebrate the occasion I made Banana Coladas – fresh bananas, pineapple juice, coconut cream and just a snifter of rum. Yumbo!! We took lots of pics of each other and then waved farewell and went our separate ways.
The wind got a bit light overnight, but we managed to stay sailing with almost 2 kts current with us – it was a beautiful starry night with the Southern Cross the star of the show and the milky way in all it’s glory.
The dawn is coming later now as we move west, eventually we’ll have to change our clocks. Another round of the decks to collect the dead bodies – this morning’s tally was one flying fish and 6 squid.
The wind is holding steady at about 12-15 kts so we’re doing 6.5-8 kts SOG. More cloud cover today, maybe there’s a change on the way.
Bladerunner (Robbie & Nev) are having a challenging time – after problems with their port motor, then breaking the sheave on their reefing line, they now report the mainsheet block has fallen off. Talk about unlucky!
This morning I logged on to the Magellan net on the HF radio, made breakfast, checked and sent emails and then will probably read my book for a little while. Hoping that we get some rain so I can do the washing!
Day 5 Sat/Sun 16/5
Before dinner put a 2nd reef in the main as the wind is picking up to over 20kts. After dinner I went to bed to catch some rest before my next watch at 23.30. The sea state a bit lumpy again, and the wind is quite cool, so much so that I needed my jacket when I came on watch. I was quietly sitting in the cockpit when suddenly there was an almighty bang behind me and I felt something whizz past my head. The preventer line block had exploded with the pressure. Thank God it missed my head otherwise I would have been in serious trouble. Geoff and I rigged another block and everything OK but after that I was very hesitant to sit anywhere near the preventer line and spent a fair bit of the remainder of my watch on the other side of the cockpit. After Bruce came up for his watch I went to bed and slept like the dead.
Got up at 7.15 to log on to the Magellan net- several other boats who are further ahead have had problems with loss of rigging and rudders, it seems the seas are big and brutal. Our wind had died and we’re trying to make headway but the wind has gone very east (behind us) meaning that to get any speed we have to dive south. By mid-morning we needed to change tactic otherwise we’d be heading for Antarctica. Sean had to make repairs to his reefing system so we dropped our main and pottered along under jib only to wait for him. By midday he was almost done so we decided to try the spinnaker (we’ve named it Luigi because of the Italian-looking colours) – it went up like a charm and we’ve been running with it ever since, with only about 5-6 kts breeze but at least it’s keeping us moving in the right direction.
Our daily run was only 156 NM, but we’ve passed our first 1000NM of the passage!
Day 6: Sun/Mon 17/5
Geoff cooked ribs and wings with rice for dinner and we had a very pleasant dinner in the cockpit with a much more settled motion now that we’re running with the swell (the seas are much flatter too). My watch was 1730 -2030, another beautiful starry night with Venus making a bright and grand appearance to the northwest. Hopefully the wind will stay light and we can hold Luigi through the night (something I’m a bit apprehensive about, but Bruce assures me it will be OK).
Up at 0230 for my watch – Luigi still flying. Really out of my comfort zone doing a night watch with the spinnaker up, but the Italian Stallion behaved himself well and it was all OK. Listened to music to distract myself from all the ‘what if’ thoughts.
After breakfast we took the spinnaker down as we’d lost sight of Rehua and no VHF contact. Put up the jib only and motored south to find them, eventually intersected about 11am. In the meantime I did some washing.
Day 7 Mon/Tues 18/5
Put the spinnaker back up on my watch, 1130-1430. Had a sleep in the afternoon and got woken up by Bruce shouting ‘fish on!’ from the back deck. But by the time I got up there the fish had come off the hook, dammit.
On watch from 2030-2330 with Luigi, who behaved himself well, although the wind seems to be picking up a little.
At 0200 got woken to help take the spinnaker down as the wind had increased. Bruce and Geoff tethered on and went forward to drop it while I steered away from the wind. It was quite tough to get it down in the increased wind and not easy in the dark, but eventually they succeeded. Then we had to get the main up – again with me steering to keep the boat into the wind. Took about ½ hr to get it all done, by which time I was wide awake and pumped with adrenaline. The first mate voted for no more spinnaker runs at night!. At 0500 I was up again to help Geoff reef the jib in some more to stop the boat banging and crashing through the waves.
My watch at 0530 -0830. Quite a lot of cloud cover and rain squalls, and wind up to 20kts. Got Geoff to help me reef more of the jib in. Spoke to Seathan from Rehua on the HF at 6am, they’re about 5 NM behind us but will probably catch up once they change their sailplan at daybreak. Also had a chat to Audrie, she agreed that she doesn’t like running the spinnaker at night either. Seems us girls are a more prudent lot!
We’re now making good progress on a beam reach, although it’s a lumpy ride with confused swell on our beam. Currently making 7-9 kts SOG.
Day 8 Tues/Wed19/5
Well, we’ve been at sea for a week now and still not even halfway…
The seas are still lumpy and uncomfortable, trying to cook anything in the galley is a challenge. I probably look like I’ve had one too many glasses of wine as I lurch and sway. Cats are tricky felines – they lull you into a false sense of security. “Ooh look I’m so stable you don’t have to live at 30 degrees”. Yeah right, what about the lurch to the right, then the jump to the left “let’s do the timewarp again”. And just for good measure what about a little slam-dunk that throws everything including you up in the air about 6 inches before slamming you back on the ground. Very funny haha I think not.
I’m trying to use up what fresh stuff we have left in the fridge, so I concocted a pumpkin ricotta bake with sweetcorn and bean salad.
Had a beautiful night watch from 2330-0230, Toucan gliding along under reefed main and full jib, 14 kts of breeze and flatter seas. The stars were out again (of course) and no moon currently. I discovered there’s a constellation called Toucan on the southern horizon a little to the east of the Southern Cross. How amazing! Listened to my music and had a little sing and a boogie on my own in the cockpit in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Magic!
Fishing lines are out again today, ever hopeful. Some sashimi and sushi rolls would be very nice for lunch, fingers crossed.
We’re only about 100 NM off our halfway mark so I’m thinking of baking a cake in celebration. We’ll see how it turns out!
Day 9 Wed/Thurs 20/5 1430
Well, the cake didn’t happen as I realised I don’t have any icing sugar to make the frosting. It will have to be muffins instead, probably tomorrow now.
A beautiful day’s sailing today with relative calm seas, gentle sunshine and enough wind to keep us rockin along without too much hassle.
I was on watch until 2030 although we decided to put our clocks back an hour (Marquesas are 3 ½ hrs behind Galapagos) as the mornings are now very dark, with dawn happening about 7.30. So I did an extra ½ hr on my shift, and Bruce took the other ½ hr.
My next watch was the 0230-0530. Was uneventful although the wind was shifting from 7 -14 kts and going from 180 -120 degrees so needed a lot of tweaking at the helm and not much time for relaxing.
This morning Bruce cooked bacon & egg sandwiches, yum!
We powered ahead of Rehua during the night, so this morning we put a reef in the main and the jib to slow down a little and let them catch up.
Made choc chip muffins from a packet mix – a nice mid-passage treat.
Daily run 187NM
Day 10 Thurs/ Fri 21/5
Trying to stay as far north as possible to stay in the current, which means our sailing angle isn’t great, about 150 degrees. The swells are still big and lumpy.
Had two fishing lines out all day but no luck – where are all the fishies??
Not a very relaxing night watch (2030-2330) as the wind was varying from 8-14 kts and the angles were also changing, meaning constant adjustments. Saw a shooting star, my first in a long while! Then the cloud cover came in and it was a dark moonless night.
Did the 0530-0830 watch this morning, still a lot of cloud cover about so not a very exciting dawn. Had a pod of small dolphins on the bow, about 10 of them. I always thought they just liked accompanying boats, but I think they like to feed off the flying fish we flush out. Not such a romantic notion really! The seas remain lumpy and uncomfortable. Certainly nothing like the sort of Pacific sailing I was expecting.
It’s starting to get a little bit monotonous now.
Daily run 176NM
Day 11 Fri/Sat 22/5
Came on watch at 1430 to discover that our silver spoon lure had been taken by something large. There was some compensation at 1730 when we hooked a small mahi mahi – very welcome. The chilli got postponed till tomorrow and we had pan-fried fish with chips. Delicious.
This has been one of the more uncomfortable days on passage so far – big lumpy seas with swells up to 4 m at times. On my watch at 0200 a big squall came through of 25-30 kts. Had to get Bruce up to put a second reef in the main, the jib just down to a handkerchief. Not a restful watch at all, very glad to come off and go to bed.
This morning no better, lots of rain squalls and heavy clouds around and still big seas. My watch from 0830-1130 I spent glued to the wheel, adjusting course as the squalls came through. This definitely wasn’t in the brochure. What happened to the ‘coconut milk run’ tropical sailing lark???
Tinkerbelle are now anchored in Hiva Oa, and Bladerunner should get in tomorrow barring any further problems.
After my watch I went to sleep for 4 hrs, the longest stint of sleep I think I’ve had this whole passage. When I woke the seas were still big and lumpy, steel grey monsters pummelling us this way and that, with grey skies full of rain that doesn’t amount to much. We’re now out of the favourable current area, but there’s no let up in the sea state. But, the good news is we’re almost down to our last 1000NM, maybe another week of this before we get to Fatu Hiva…
Day 12 Sat/Sun 23/5
Today’s the day that our son Rob leaves Sydney for Austin, Texas. Thinking of him so much and hoping all good things come his way.
Had a shower this afternoon, which always makes me feel better. We’re having to charge the batteries with the motors every day (seeing as our wind generator isn’t working) so we make water from the watermaker every second or third day and ration ourselves to showers every 3rd day. On watch from 1730-2030. Put a 2nd reef in the main as still a fair bit of cloud cover around and wind is anywhere from 15 -25 kts. Decided to put our clocks back another hour so we get closer to Marquesas time. The sea state better and the wind has dropped to 15 kts. We now have about 970NM left to go!
We powered up the boat by letting out more jib and before long we were alongside Rehua. They went to shake out their reef in the main and their reefing line blocks collapsed. Arghh, we’d just got such good speeds and were racing along at 8-9 kts! Instead we furled the jib in and jogged along to keep them company while they tried to fix the problem. In the interim did some washing and made fish tacos for lunch out of the leftover Mahi Mahi – they were delicious! Four hours later, we were finally on our way again, and Rehua had fixed their reefing lines.
Our daily run was still 187NM – not bad!
Day 13 Sun/Mon 24/5
Wind continues to vary from 14-20 kts. My watch was 2030-2330. A nice half-moon lighting up the sea, Toucan surfing down the big swells.
Had a good sleep until my next watch at 0530 – the boys managed to hold Rehua off, but they’re now only 2NM behind! The seas have become more lumpy – we have counter-current from the NW against the SE sea making for big, nasty, seas. Wind is still quite strong, anywhere up to 25 kts at times. Just a little bit over it all now….
Bruce got out some new lures this morning as we keep losing them to the big fish. We put one on that was a ‘diving’ lure and within half an hour we’d hooked a HUGE tuna! Bruce had quite a lot of trouble hauling him in, as it was on the monofilament line, not the braid. Finally got him on board – what a big fat fish he was, he must’ve weighed close to 5-6kg! Then of course the challenge was to fillet him – not easy. Bruce did half the job on the back step, and then I brought the remainder inside and did the rest in the galley. What a mess! And what a lot of fish – I bagged up 8 meals for the freezer and then made sushi rolls and sashimi for lunch. Felt a bit exhausted as it took all of 2 hours to get the fish in the freezer and lunch done. Don’t think we’ll need to put the fishing lines out again for a while!
Daily run only 157NM
Day 14 Mon/Tues 25/5
Had a beer to celebrate the catch of the day, and discovered they weren’t very cold. Investigated and found the fridge was on the blink again. So the afternoon was spent trying to hunt down the cause. The obvious first step was blowing the lines through again. Got a bit more water flow but not much. Then Bruce changed the pump – now we were getting better water flow but still the compressors weren’t working. Argghh. Moved what food I could to the freezer in the interim. Geoff and I took Bruce’s watch so he could continue to work on the problem. The plans for pan-fried tuna for dinner were shelved, instead Geoff cooked ham and cheese toasties – very welcome. Feel absolutely shattered as very little rest time today. Bruce managed to get half of the fridge working, thinks it’s a faulty sensor but too late to investigate further tonight. Slept from 8.30-11.30 and then on watch till 0230. Another lovely moonlit night, but the sailing still requires concentration because of the poor angles and shifty wind. Rehua ahead of us now by about 2NM.
This morning I was on from 0830-1130. Rehua keen to put their spinnaker up, but the wind is still a bit strong for Luigi – gusting up to 18kts with big seas, so we held off and will see how it looks later. In the meantime Bruce went back to work on the fridge compressor and managed to short-circuit the sensor so it looks like we’re back in business! What a clever boy. My job then was to clean out the fridge of all the sludgy squishy mess in the bottom, and then repack everything back in. Another busy morning….
Daily run 138NM – getting worse
Day 15 Tues/Wed 26/5
Not a good 24 hrs – sea state still very lumpy and difficult to keep on rhumb line with the angle as we’re having to run quite square. Wind is also shifting and gusting from 12 -20 kts making it challenging to keep George (our autopilot) on the job.
During Bruce’s watch a rain squall came through, the wind shifted from SE to NE and we gybed, breaking the preventer strop, bending a stanchion and the flagpole. All very stressful. Got going again and then on my watch needed to constantly adjust course – we had full main up and ½ jib but should have been reefed as we were corkscrewing all over the place. Horrible watch.
At daylight decided to put a reef in the main, and discovered the main halyard winch on the mast had come apart – The screw-on cap end had worked itself loose and now we’ve lost the cap and collets so no self-tailer anymore, and nothing holding the body of the winch onto the shaft except the halyard. Bloody hell! Tried bastardising the spinnaker winch bits, but they seem to be a different size so nothing to be done until we can get spare parts. Everyone very stressed. To cap it off, the fridge fix didn’t work so Bruce has spent most of the morning under the saloon seat trying to work out how to re-wire the relay on the compressor.
This last leg is proving to be very challenging. Can’t get over the size of the seas and how confused and lumpy they are. There’s nothing pacific about this ocean. We have about 500NM to go, maybe another 3 days if we’re lucky and it won’t come too soon.
Day 16 Wed/Thurs 27/5
We’re all getting very tired and a just a little bit cranky. Every now and then when I sit in the saloon I can see the top of a breaking wave at the height of our dinghy davits – the seas are still big and unpleasant.
Too tired to do anything fancy for dinner, so made pasta arriabiata with salami, mushrooms and olives.
My watch from 0830-1130 – was quite pleasant for the first couple of hours, but then the wind and seas picked up and it was very gusty, up to 26 kts so lots of course adjustment needed. Went to bed and slept for an hour or so, but then woke feeling the boat careering along – got up to help Geoff reef the jib almost all the way in and that seemed to help a bit, getting gusts up to 30kts. Went back to bed and then woke again hearing something small drop on the deck above our cabin – we both heard it and got up to investigate, dreading that it was a pin or nut off something critical on the boom or rig. We couldn’t find anything obviously wrong. (we later discovered it was a screw in our cabin ceiling that fell on the floor). By now it was 5am and I was due on watch at 5.30 so I stayed up and got on the HF radio for the Magellan net – very difficult to hear today. The seas are still huge and hard to get the angle for the rhumb line without running square. Rolled the jib in completely as the constant thwacking of the block on the cabin top was driving me crazy. The swells are coming from 2 directions, slewing the boat around like a cork. Rehua have raced ahead and are now 15NM from us – Seathan wants to get in, says the boys and Audrie have had enough so we told them not to wait for us. Our tentative ETA could be Saturday pm if we’re lucky. It can’t come soon enough.
Day 17 Thurs/Fri 28/5
More of the same. Put a second reef in the main before dark – I had to head up into the wind and big seas, all got a bit stressful without the main winch working properly. Anyway, we got the reef in without losing the main winch which was something. Much more comfortable ride now. Geoff cooked chicken in hickory sauce with couscous for dinner. I was on watch 1130-0230 – wind constantly around 20-24 kts, still very difficult to stay low enough on our course as the wind shifts more to the east. Wind continued to build during the night – Bruce had one squall of 35 kts for about ½ hr and Geoff was consistently getting 25-28 kts, A wild night. Still blowing hard this morning when I got up for my watch at 0830. Spoke to Seathan on the HF, they’re 27 NM ahead now but are going to have to slow down otherwise they’ll arrive in the dark.
Sitting on our helm seat is like riding a mechanical bull as we corkscrew over the waves.
Shook the second reef out to give us a bit more speed – the wind has dropped to about 20kts. We’ve got about 165 NM to go, so the challenge is to get in before dark tomorrow. We’re having to run below our rhumb line because the wind is almost dead east now, so at some point we’ll either have to gybe or pull the jib in and try running more downwind. Why is it always so hard to get the right wind and the right angle???
Day 18 Fri/Sat 29/5
We were being pushed further away from our rhumb line so we decided to wing and wing it at the start of my watch at 1730 – the seas have come down a little so it was a reasonable ride although ever mindful of gybing.
The wind is shifting everywhere – caused a gybe on Geoff’s watch which bent another stanchion. The poor boat is battered and bruised. Couldn’t get back to sleep again afterwards. My shift was horrible – the wind was gusting up to 24 kts with big seas still, and shifting everywhere. We’d had a good line straight to the island but the wind then shifted more NE so once again we were running south. I had to concentrate so hard on not gybing that I couldn’t take my eyes off the instruments for a second. Not helped by George going AWOL at one point. Bruce got up to do the Magellan Net login and I was just about to hand over to him when we had a huge wind shift to the N and I couldn’t adjust course quickly enough to prevent the gybe (again). So over this shit, it’s really really unpleasant. Had a bit of a meltdown, made a cup of tea and went to bed for an hour or two.
Woke up at 0800 and made egg and bacon wraps for everyone – we’re now about 35NM from the anchorage and we can see Fatu Hiva rising majestically out of the sea, wreathed in clouds. Amazing sight! What a difference 12 hours makes!
Still a battle to get in, Bruce had two more gybes, now running square again until we reach the bottom of the island and can harden up to get into the anchorage. We think Rehua must be there already but we can’t raise them on HF.
After what seemed like an eternity we finally rounded the bottom of Fatu Hiva, for the first time this trip using some motor assist to get us in. What a spectacular island with sheer mountains covered in greenery. So many shades of green!
We motored sailed up to the anchorage at Bay de Vierges (Bay of Virgins, although the original name was bay of penises until the missionaries decided to change it. I think the original name is more appropriate don’t you?).
And there were our buddies Rehua and 6 other boats. What a welcome sight. We dropped the anchor and were lucky that it set first time – several other boats have had a lot of difficulty getting their anchors to set on the rocky bottom here. Then it was over to Rehua for some celebratory drinks (quite a few actually) before we wobbled back to Toucan, had some fish curry from the freezer and fell into bed for a deep, deep sleep! We made it!!!!