Posted by John

We enjoyed our stay at the new downtown marina in Papeete, but like our previous marina stays, it was over much too soon. We attempted to divide our time between boat work and fun, but there is always so much boat work.

There is one main highway that circles the island of Tahiti. This highway is also the main drag through the city of Papeete (Pape’ete—four syllables.) Our marina slip was about fifty yards from this main drag. Morning and evening traffic was heavy, and emergency vehicles with the not-unpleasant sound of European-type sirens went up and down the street all day. As a city, Papeete is very French. Between us and the street, all along the shore, was an over-water walking/bicycling/skate boarding/roller blading path. Underwater lights beneath the path gave the water a blue glow at night with the surreal sense that our boat was floating in a swimming pool.

Our first priority was to repair the jib and the jib roller furler. The problem with the furler was easy to figure out. Three screws had come loose and fallen out. It turns out that those three little screws were highly important in making the sail roll up when the furler drum was turned. Without them—as we learned after arriving from the Marquesas—the connection between the drum and the sail was lost. So, we’d just have to find some 1/4 inch x 20 stainless steel screws about a half-inch long. However, it turned out that many hardware store clerks in metric system-using, French speaking Tahiti didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Finally, I found what I was looking for (almost) in a fishing tackle shop. Seems like an odd combination, but when I found out this shop had a large selection of screws, I nearly ran to get there before they closed. About half the shop was drawers of screws, the other half plastic squid and hooks. The owner did, indeed, have some 1/4 x 20 stainless bolts, although a little long. Once I screwed them into the furler, I wrapped around it with self-fusing rescue tape. They won’t come loose again without us noticing.

It took a few days of asking around, but we ended up taking the jib on a taxi ride several miles out to Tahiti Sails. They’re located in a large barn-like building with a sleek, black, raised floor. Sewing machines are recessed down into the floor so an entire sail can be slid across the floor and through a sewing machine. The operator sits in a pit at the machine. When I mentioned this to Evan from Sweetpea, he said that was a standard setup. Well, okay, I guess the only other sail loft I’ve seen is in funky Port Townsend. Anyway, they did a great job with our jib and brought the sail back to us the day before we left, delivering it all the way to the boat.

When we had first taken the jib off the boat and folded it up, we loaded it onto a little wheeled luggage carrier we have and wheeled it down the dock. We only got as far as the boat in the next slip before the thing tipped over. The boat in the next slip was a charter catamaran and the woman working to get it ready for the next client offered to help us. First she cleaned out a dock cart that she was using, then helped put the heavy sail into the cart. Then she insisted on pushing the cart down the dock and up to the marina access from the street. Then she helped us call a taxi, and waited until it came. While we were waiting she told us the proper way to pronounce the island of Taha’a and told us not to miss stopping there. The street access to the marina is gated, so she got her brother, who she was working with, to go get his access card to open the gate for the taxi. Then she helped to lift the sail into the taxi. We’ve found a lot of this kind of helpfulness here. We found a lot of help in Mexico as well, but there everyone wanted a tip for helping. Here, the custom is to not tip for anything (although we did tip a waiter who was extra helpful). It feels weird sometimes, but it sure makes everything easier.

Besides such fun little adventures as buying a new cell phone, finding new dinghy oars and getting lost finding my way back to the medical clinic for a follow up visit (no additional charge), our water pressure pump failed. This pump is what makes the water come out of the faucet when we turn it on. Finding the marine store with water pumps, and then installing the new pump, was an unexpected project (and expense), as well as another experience of wandering the back streets of Papeete with sketchy directions drawn on a napkin. Note: Calling Papeete a very French city could also mean that street names are not always obviously visible, if there is even a sign at all; and streets are not necessarily straight, making the concept of “going around the block” sometimes interesting. But I finally found the store I was looking for—Oceans 2000—with additional directions from someone in the nearby outboard motor shop, as well as a guy looking over a fence from his back yard, calling to me when he saw me looking lost. Yes, he knew that place, after I showed him my napkin.

The highlight of our Papeete stay was the last night. A few days prior to our last night we saw more and more boats we knew come into the marina, or heard them on the radio clearing a passage past the airport runway to go to the other marina or anchorage. We also started getting visits from people asking if we were part of the Puddle Jump and if we were participating in the Moorea Rendezvous, or if we were planning to head to New Zealand for the cyclone season, or even if we were going to Raiatea and needed electrical work done once we got there. We were given brochures and business cards by all of them. In other words, there was a sense that, once again, we were getting ready for something; that we had not actually made the trip from the Marquesas to Tahiti alone (we saw no one the entire way), and that all of this was gearing up to continue on.

On our last night in Papeete we went to the Puddle Jump event, held down the street, which began the celebration of the fact that we had all made it thousands of miles across the ocean to French Polynesia. But there was also a feeling of another beginning, with more places to go. Representatives from New Zealand and Fiji made presentations inviting us to come. We shared stories with many of the cruisers we had met along the way but hadn’t seen in a while. The Tahitian Minister of Tourism gave a speech telling us how important we were to their culture because we were the modern version of seafarers crossing the ocean just as their ancestors had done to originally settle in the islands (well, actually, they had canoes and we have GPS, but it was a nice speech). Then the gut-moving drums started and the Marquesas dancers put on a show. It was dark, the drums were loud, the lights harsh, the bodies sweaty, the costumes skimpy, the women mesmerizing, and the men downright scary. It didn’t take much imagination to see these guys as cannibals.

The next morning, with the drums still echoing in my head, we sailed out of Papeete harbor to participate in a no-pressure race to Cook’s Bay on the island of Moorea. A few boats were experienced racers and took the race seriously, but most of us just made an attempt in the light wind. We were racing our houses, after all. By the time enough wind came up to actually make some decent progress, we all started to figure out that we wouldn’t make it by dark if we didn’t rev up our engines. One by one, boats fired up and motored toward Moorea.

The party continued that evening and the following day at the Club Bali Hai hotel with more presentations, food, canoe races (Robyn joined a team), activities and events, and two more shows of Polynesian dancing, the most spectacular of which was a Saturday night fire dance. Impressive. And all with gut-rattling drums.

We’re on our own from here on, planning to continue west for a few months, then turn south. Although there are no more organized sailing rallies, we aren’t really alone. We know boatloads of people in this ocean, and they’ll be out there, all around us, somewhere.

The streets of Papeete were deserted on Sunday morning…
…but jammed during the week. There is a mix of Tahitian, French and English languages.
Waiting around for the start of the “race” to Moorea.
Fast inter-island car ferry.
Mid-race, the Canadian boat “Music” behind a swell.
This does not look real. Not part of our group, but also going to Moorea, this is a huge, obviously unique boat. I put any sailboat that requires a mast top aircraft clearance light when in the harbor into the Super Yacht category.
Entering Cook’s Bay on the island of Moorea.
They’re like human fireworks.
Early Sunday morning we all got fresh bagettes delivered to our boats.
Almost a photo finish. Robyn is second from front in middle boat.
It was not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
It really doesn’t get much better than this.

Marquesas to Tahiti

Posted by John

Most definitions of the word “Adventure” specify an element of risk and uncertain outcome. To that I’d add exhaustion. An adventure then, cannot possibly be just relaxing poolside. Something else must happen. And so it is true that we have not relaxed poolside since leaving Mexico. We certainly did not get much rest in the crowded anchorage at Hiva Oa. Even if it hadn’t been so crazy with crashing waves, gusting winds and heavy showers, the work on the wharf reconstruction, with its jack hammering and pile driving, was enough to keep us on edge all day.

We did, however, meet Evan and his dad Kevin traveling together on Sweetpea, a boat that Kevin had rescued from the mud of Morro Bay and spent a period of years restoring. They helped us get our stern anchor set (so we wouldn’t swing into them), showed us a “secret” canoe launching ramp that they had found which made dinghy landings on shore less risky, loaned us their jerry jugs and helped with getting fuel out to our boat. When Kevin and Evan learned that the only place they could fill their drinking water jugs was in town two miles away, and the only taxi on the island was already booked up for the day, they came out to our boat. After we filled their jugs from our tank, we all sat in the cockpit and talked for the rest of the day. We talked about race car construction (or how to take a $100,000 Porsche, put another $100,000 into it, and then have it end up being worth $50,000), boat restoration (similar deal, maybe), the aerospace industry, Boeing, Microsoft, Elon Musk, Space X, and huge, elaborate, one-of-a-kind 3-D printers. We forgot, for a few hours, the hazards around us, went lax on the normal evening routines, never secured the dinghy properly, and because it bashed against the boat all night, by morning we had lost a dinghy oar. That was depressing, and all my fault.

From Hiva Oa we went back to Tahuata, and the flatest, quietest bay we had found in the Marquesas. Sweetpea was already there. One day they came over in the dinghy, picked up Robyn, and took her to the village in another bay a couple of miles away. I’m sure she enjoyed getting away from us for a while, and they even bought her lunch.

Despite the fact that this was where we had hauled up the rock with the anchor, we managed to spend a few days relaxing and mentally working up to crossing the 770 miles of ocean that still lay between us and Tahiti.

Adventure does not always have to mean that bad things happen. Our first day out of Tahuata was excellent sailing. The weather report had said “MER PEU AGITEE,” or that the sea was only a little bit agitated (we think). It doesn’t really matter because it was easy going, yet speedy.

That evening at dusk we were suddenly surrounded by dozens and dozens dolphins. At first they just swam along with us, diving under the boat and passing from one side to the other. Then they started doing acrobatics, including a Rockettes-type move where several leaped out of the water simultaneously, all in a row. Later, after dark, we were caught off guard and overtaken by a squall with rapidly increasing winds and torrential rain. When the wind went from ten knots to more than thirty in less than two minutes, I was a little uncertain of the outcome. After the squall passed we were treated to a moonbow—a pale rainbow created by moonlight. Certainly, this all adds up to an adventure by anyone’s definition. And it was still the first day.

Once we had threaded our way through the reefs and atolls of the Tuamotu Archipelago, we came to what we had expected to be the best sailing of the trip—a beam reach the rest of the way to Tahiti. But alas, no. A weather disturbance farther south had altered the normal flow of the trade winds into a feeble five knots from the north. We had sailed this far without using the engine, and we were determined to sail the entire way, even if it added a couple of extra days to the trip and our speed dropped to two knots, or less.

By the time that Robyn had spotted the distant lights of Papeete on the evening of our last day, we already knew that the jib sail was coming apart, the cell phone had died, and we needed to find a new set of dinghy oars, among other things. By sunrise, when we tried to furl up the jib and motor into the harbor, we learned that our jib furler was broken as well. We needed to get out on the bowsprit and drop the jib onto the deck and tie it down so it wouldn’t blow into the water. Adventures are always full of the unexpected. And by this time it was also clear that a painful hole in the back of my leg, which had not healed after more than a month, would likely need some medical attention.

Because of the narrow channel through the reef, and the commercial ship traffic, as well as low flying aircraft coming into and out of the airport, entering Papeete harbor requires contacting the Port Control and receiving permission to enter. Once that was done, we were able to get a real slip (not Med-moor) at the new “International” marina. Sadly, the marina lacks “American” 115 volt electrical shore power. Everything here is 220 volt.

Papeete is lights, traffic, sirens and people. I spent much of our first full day waiting for my name to be called at a medial clinic staffed by French doctors. I knew we had found the clinic when we noticed lots of people sitting around outside, some even with infants in bassinets. We squeezed into a tiny waiting room inside. Once my turn came, the hole—an insect bite gone bad, perhaps—was quickly cleaned out and re-bandaged. Even though a nurse did the cleaning, the doctor stayed the whole time, watching and talking to me. How often do you see that in the U.S? The doctor was concerned with the depth of the hole. I said, I was too. He then wrote me a prescription for antibiotics and special bandages, and asked me to come back in five days to make sure it was healing. The bill for the doctor visit was the equivalent of $36. So far, however, everything else here is phenomenally expensive.

Papeete is the official end of the Pacific Puddle Jump, the loosely organized sailing rally from the Americas to French Polynesia with no set starting place or schedule. There will be a party here in Papeete, then a group sail over to the island of Moorea about 15 miles away. The party will continue there, including a dinner. Once it is all over, we’ll continue out the Society Island chain until we leave French Polynesia from Bora Bora for whatever comes next. Hopefully, we’ll find some time to relax along the way.

The anchorage at Atuona on Hiva Oa.
There is a boat yard at Atuona, but no travel lift. Some kind of hydraulic lifting trailer is used to haul boats up the ramp, pulled by a tractor.
Approaching Tahiti and the city of Papeete.
Outrigger racing canoes in storage.
There is a public park all along the waterfront.
Mysticeti is starting to look beat up after 6,000 miles.

Photos from The Marquesas

Posted by John

The island of Nuku Hiva. Our first view of land after 33 days. It’s a little blurry, but so were we.
Outside Kevin’s Yacht Services. Kevin can help with anything that might be needed, from formal check-in to tattoos.
Free Wi-Fi under this awning for the price of a cold drink or, better yet, lunch.
View of the boats in the bay from the Taiohae waterfront.
Another colorful view.
One picture is worth a thousand words. The maintenance guys had all the latest required safety equipment—and a horse.
Supply ship/passenger ferry, as well as a couple boats from the Oyster Yacht World Rally. Plenty of room for supply ship and visiting boats at Nuku Hiva, not so much at Ua Pou and Hiva Oa.
This is the sailing vessel Shakedown, from Useless Bay, WA. They left from Banderas Bay, Mexico but had mechanical problems, including engine failure. Their crossing took 49 days. The small yellow flag just below the first spreader arm indicates that they have not yet formally checked-in to the country.
Once checked-in, the protocol is to fly the French flag above the French Polynesian flag. We also added the Marquesas flag just for fun.
From Nuku Hiva we crossed to Ua Pou. As we got closer, the mountains seen in the distance became rock spires.
Mysticeti at Ua Pou.
Robyn’s nice evening view of the spires.
To buy bread you usually need to be out very early. It also helps if you know where the store or bakery is. We spent a lot of time looking.
We finally found a store. It’s off the street, and has no sign. It also had no bread.
From Ua Pou we made our way to this bay on Tahuata. We got there late at night.
Julie scraping barnacles off the hull.
Diving off the boat into warm water is something we can’t do at home.

Hiva Oa, and the Ups and Downs of Anchoring

Posted by John

May 30th turned out to be a day devoted to the ups and downs of anchoring. Here’s a little story to explain.

When we had gone into the bay on Tahuata, we were happy that the anchor had grabbed so solidly. We were tired, and the solid anchor meant we were done for the night. But something was different. It had never made a sound like that before. It had never dug in so quickly, either. Usually it drags across the bottom before sinking in and holding.

Over the next couple of days I had a nagging unease about it that wouldn’t go away. Our anchor watch showed that we were staying within one of the tightest circles I had seen us stay in. The anchor was just not moving. It was not dragging, or flipping and resetting. Nothing. Another boat came into the bay and asked us how deep we were because their depth sounder was not working. We told them, then added, “Great holding.” They ended up anchoring near us.

When the other boat left a few days later, we watched with curiosity as they spent a lot of time looking down in the water toward their anchor. My uneasy feeling continued, but they eventually got their anchor up and were on their way.

We were enjoying a nice Memorial Day (which, at the time, we didn’t realize was Memorial Day), when a voice—“Hey, Mysticeti!”—called up from the water. Looking over the side, we saw a snorkeler. He told us that our anchor was jammed into a crack under a rock and looked like it might not come out. Well, that was it, I guess. My uneasiness was now validated. Not that that made me feel any better.

In the conversation that followed, we told him that we were off in the morning for Atuona on Hiva Oa before taking off for Tahiti. He’d been to Atuona and said we’d need to use both bow and stern anchors there. Wonderful, I thought. Now I have two new things to worry about. We had tried to use a stern anchor at Ua Pou and failed. We asked about the fuel dock. He said we’d have to use jerry cans.

The anchor windlass that came with our boat is a nice one. At the time it was originally purchased in the 1990’s it cost as much as a compact car. It is almost guaranteed to bring up your anchor, or so the brochure seems to say. I decided to trust it, so I could get some sleep.

I woke up before sunrise and couldn’t wait to get the day over with. By 7:15 the engine was running, and by 7:30 the windlass was pulling chain up off the bottom. We were in 40 feet of water with 120 feet of chain out. Two years ago Robyn and I had laid all the chain out on the dock at Port Ludlow and attached markers (colored plastic zip ties) at 50 foot intervals. Now I knew that once the 50 foot marker was down the hole and into the chain locker the anchor would be well off the bottom.

Looking down over the bow I could watch the chain coming from quite a way down. It looked too tight to not have a heavy weight on it. I was pretty sure that the anchor had not been broken off and left behind on the bottom. I was optimistic, just looking for the first confirmation. But as the chain kept coming up, I saw what looked like a big ol’ sack of something draped across the anchor. It had brought the rock up with it. This, I was not prepared for.

With the windlass stopped and the rock just breaking the surface, I stared at it. It was an old piece of dead coral, covered with patches of brightly colored algae. (At least that’s my story.) I tried to push it off with a boat hook. Nope. I tried to pull up on it and flip it off with the boat hook. Nope. It was wedged tightly between the plow part of the anchor and the shank. The boat hook wouldn’t do a thing, we needed some ideas.

The first idea was to get a loop of rope around it and try to lift it off the anchor. That did nothing. The next idea was to get a big hammer, raise the rock up closer to deck level, and whack at it with the hammer until it broke off. We’d have to think about that idea a little longer. Next idea was to send someone into the water to run a rope through the lifting ring on the top of the plow part of the anchor, then winch that up higher than the chain end. That would both flip the anchor over, and change the forces on the anchor and maybe open the gap a little and let the rock fall out.

Since Robyn is the strongest swimmer of the three of us, she got the job. It was early still, before she normally gets up, so maybe she wouldn’t be clear headed enough to protest too much. She did a great job. Perfect. And not only that, the plan worked. The rock silently returned to the bay before I even noticed it was gone. We were off for Hiva Oa and the sun was barely up.

Hiva Oa and Tahuata are next to each other across a channel a few miles wide. We didn’t have far to go, but we don’t fall for that idea anymore. We were ready for just about anything. Then we went around the end of the island and saw a gray funnel cloud—a water spout. That was a new one. We weren’t expecting that. It was several miles ahead of us, and possibly on the other side of a ridge, maybe even in the bay we were headed to. We watched it dissipate, and thought sure we’d had enough excitement for one day. Of course, we were wrong.

The bay at Atuona is pretty small. It is a potato patch of water; shallow, muddy, choppy and rolly, with a river flowing into it at the end of the bay. The edges are solid rock with the occasional blowhole shooting water high into the air with a “boom” when the surge hits. It is also packed with boats trying to get at least a little shelter from the swells. Lovely. But there is a fuel station there. We’d have to jerry-jug it. There is no dock except for the supply ship wharf, which is not fit for a recreational boat. We knew the supply ship had just been there and so shouldn’t be back for a while. That meant we should be able to anchor just about anywhere.

We decided on a spot next to another boat about our size. We set our bow anchor, but to keep from swinging into the boat next to us we’d definitely need a stern anchor too. We learned from our last attempt that we can’t just drop a stern anchor on a chain. First, the anchor has to be set; and second, a chain scraping along the rudder is not a good thing.

Julie’s plan was to remove the chain from the anchor and attach a long rope rode instead. Then the dinghy would be launched and rowed around to the stern, where the anchor would be lowered into the dinghy. The the anchor would be rowed out in the dinghy, at an angle behind the boat, and lowered to the bottom. Then it would be winched back toward the boat until it set, and then the stern would be pulled so that we were parallel to the boat next to us.

Okay, first, launch the dinghy the fastest way by hoisting it up by a sail halyard and swinging it over the side of the boat. Since the dinghy was upside down on deck, we’d just attach the halyard to the tow rope already fastened to the bow of the dinghy. We’d raise it to a vertical position, twirl it around so it was right side up, then push it out over the water and lower it in. We’d done this many times before. Apparently, this time was one time too many.

The tow ring on the dinghy is held by a hypalon patch glued to the front of the dinghy. This was the day that the glue decided to let go. Down came the dinghy on top of me. Okay, okay, I’m okay, but it’s time for another plan.

Julie can make this big, old full keel Westsail turn around in its own length. It’s taken a lot of practice, but people notice. When we left the La Cruz Marina in Banderas Bay, a local marina employee in mirrored sunglasses watched her turn the boat 180 degrees completely around in the fairway between the docks. When I looked at him, he smiled, gave a thumbs up, and said, “Bueno.” Now, while Robyn and I were getting the dinghy in the water, she was using these skills to keep us, with the bow already anchored, from swinging into the boat next to us. It took two tries, but she also got the anchor, long rope rode attached, rowed out and onto the bottom, while I winched the stern straight. It seemed to hold on the second attempt.

As the afternoon wore on, we watched as more, and bigger boats came in to join the crowd. This takes the record for the closest and biggest crowd of boats we’ve ever been squeezed into. I hope it works out. Definitely enough fun and excitement for one day.

Over the Rainbow – Arrival in French Polynesia

Posted by John

Approaching Baie de Taiohae, Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia. May 7, 2017

It was most likely 1962, the year of the Seattle World’s Fair, when my parents took me to tour a visiting sailing yacht tied up on the Seattle waterfront.
I didn’t expect much.  It was just another thing I got dragged along to see.  That happened a lot with my dad.  But once onboard the boat, there was something about the coils of rope and the rigging, the blocks and pulleys and all the lines angling up toward the top of the masts that stuck with me. 

When we went down into the cabin below I recall the three of us sort of standing in a corner waiting for our eyes to adjust to the dim light.  Looking back now, I think my parents probably felt a little out of place, like being at a party where you know no one.  There were many people—not so much gawkers such as ourselves, but men and women somehow more knowing of each other and of that particular boat.  They were sitting and standing around a table, many drinking from bottles.  I remember it clearly, I think.  There was something about the way they laughed and told stories in the dimly lit and smoky space that made them seem extraordinary to me.  It was as if they had been somewhere beyond the horizon, over the edge of the earth, and were somehow on a different plane than the rest of us.  They not only knew what was beyond the edge, but they had been there and back.
I can trace my desire to sail off beyond the horizon to places unknown all the way back to that day and that moment more than fifty years ago.  My interests went in many different directions over the following years, but somewhere in the background that desire was always there as a “someday.”
In the pre-dawn hours of May 7, 2017 we arrived at the Marquesas Islands in the vicinity of Nuku Hiva and Ua Huka after sailing 33 days and 2,894 nautical miles non-stop from Banderas Bay, Mexico.  My first view of these islands was not as dark protrusions slowly rising on the distant horizon as I had always imagined, but as small smudges on a radar screen in the middle of the night, thought at first to be rain showers. 
The trip wasn’t easy.  A 42-foot boat can be a confining space for three people.  Even though the boat was moving, the scenery didn’t change.  The horizon looked the same in all directions, and no matter which way we pointed the boat, we never got any closer to it.  The sun went down and came up again, over and over, and the horizon was still out there in the distance. 
The ocean is never flat.  Even when it was calm with no wind waves the surface still undulated.  We went up and down on these constant undulations.  When up, we got a view; sometimes looking across the swells was almost like looking across the rolling hills of wheat country.  Other times we just got slammed by the force of an energy that had traveled a great distance, it seemed, just to whack, roll and spin us before passing under the boat, laughing as it came out the other side.
The sky was full of fluffy cotton ball clouds that constantly morphed into whimsical shapes, faces and animals.  The clouds were very good at it.  They didn’t expect anyone to be watching and so they didn’t care, trying as many new shapes as they wanted.  The rising and setting sun colored these shapes, sometimes spectacularly.  But again, they didn’t care.  Who was this show for?  Just us? We were a thousand miles from the nearest land and hadn’t seen another human in days. 

The birds would sometimes hitch rides with us, even spending the night. Did they have a clue where we were taking them? One poor guy got a little too complacent. A big swell knocked us, and he fell off into the water, bouncing through the bowsprit as he went down.
The stars were there at night.  When there was no moon, Jupiter and Venus were the brightest objects.  They reflected off the water like moonlight.  Once Venus came up behind a cloud and it was so bright its light lit the edges from behind.  The glow of the Milky Way was startling to see when looking up from the cockpit while alone at night. More than once I mistook a star just rising above the horizon for the light of a distant ship. But no, it was a star.
It is hard to think of Nuku Hiva as just another stop in our tour.  I think we truly went over the rainbow.

After weeks of blue—suddenly green.
The moment we crossed the equator.
Distant rain.
Taiohae anchorage, with boats from all over the world.
The dinghy dock is a little rough. The concrete stairs are the easiest way to get in and out, but there can be surge forcefully tossing the boats up and sucking them back out. Timing is everything.
You never know, someday we just might find that little house at the end of the road that calls out “Live here forever.”

Note: with all the things that broke, ripped, shredded or fell apart on this trip, one victim was the computer (and related software) used to create these blog posts. We are hoping it is just a humidity issue, but could mean new laptop time. Another was our Wi-Fi extender that allows us to leisurely do these posts from the boat at our convenience. We are currently making do, but perhaps more slowly than we’d like.

The Crossing – Week Four

Posted at Sea

If this is a marathon (and it is) then in week four we hit the wall.

The sun comes up; the sun goes down. Every day could be any other day. Sometimes the wind is up, and sometimes the swells are up. Sometimes both the wind and the swells are up. Huge forces are constantly acting on the boat. We hear them and feel them, and we see the results in the things that break; the screws that haven’t moved in years that now unscrew themselves; the head door that unlatches itself and swings open at the most inopportune of times. But we know that if we just keep putting one foot in front of the other (so to speak) the miles remaining will eventually reach zero.

We are hand steering the boat. The Saye’s Rig doesn’t work well (or at all) when sailing downwind in swells. The autopilot is also acting up. Either it can’t handle the heat (constant 90 degrees inside the boat), or the swells, or both. We do not have a good downwind sail. We’ve sort of poofed out the jib in front and are using that to pull us along. We’re not the fastest boat in fleet, but we are doing all right.

The mood became a bit more animated a few nights ago when a flying fish flew into the cockpit and right into Robyn, who was steering at the time. She calmly picked up the flopping fish and tossed it back into the ocean. Things were more lively and upbeat for a while after that.

The Crossing – Week Three

Posted at Sea

We crossed the equator under sail a few minutes after midnight GMT on Thursday, April 27, 2017 (4 PM PDT Wednesday).

The week was characterized by some frustration at the lack of steady wind, especially since a current was doing its best to push us back north. Since we had run the center fuel tank dry unexpectedly the last time out, and had not determined the exact reason why yet, we were a little reluctant to run the engine for any length of time. Doing so would require switching to the center tank, and if we had a clog in the fuel line, we would run the risk of going through the whole Mazatlan-to-Banderas Bay exercise again. Since the center tank was refilled in La Cruz with almost the exact amount of fuel we thought we had used, it should not have been empty yet.

Finally, we spent a good part of last Monday disassembling things and determining that we could not suck any fuel (or air) from the center tank-the only reasonable explanation being that the fuel line to the tank was clogged. Once we got a bicycle pump (every boat needs one?) inserted into the end of the fuel line and gave a couple pumps, whatever was in there popped right out and is now floating around somewhere inside the tank. But, we were able to run the engine for 36 hours until the wind picked up some.

I woke up on Monday morning with the realization that we were a thousand miles from anywhere. This is an odd feeling. We check in on the Puddle Jump net every night, but otherwise have not seen or heard anything manmade for days; not even a contrail in the sky-except for a helicopter. Out of nowhere one evening, an unmarked helicopter came and circled us at close range a few times, once at a very low level, lingering around our stern, and then flew off. The whole thing was kind of creepy. One of the other Puddle Jump boats reported they also had a helicopter encounter, and assumed it was a spotter for a nearby factory trawler.

We are anxious to get to shore and walk on solid ground, but we still have several hundred miles to go.

The Crossing – Week Two

Posted at Sea

We had a good couple of days of wind, and then got almost too much. It wasn’t so much the wind, as the swells. The word swells doesn’t always describe undulating water so well; sometimes swells are like pyramids. Going across them tips the boat in all directions, slamming things, and people, first in one direction and then another, like gravity gone berserk. We don’t as much go across them as they move under us. We lost a package of eggs purchased at the La Cruz farmer’s market-completely crushed. We lost a bag of rice-ripped open and spilled down the cracks. We lost the plastic jug of distilled water for topping off the boat’s batteries-punctured and drained.

The combination of wind and relentless slamming also caused damage on deck. The mainsail topping lift, needed for reducing sail and keeping the boom from landing on our new solar panels, failed due to an unsecured shackle pin (how’d that happen?). The mizzen sail topping lift, needed to keep the mizzen boom off of our self-steering gear, failed due to extreme chafe somewhere inside the boom. Our mainsail lazy-jacks, for keeping the sail from flying away when it is lowered, failed due to being old and neglected. And in all this, my knee failed, somehow. It swelled up and could not hold weight for a day or two. It still hurts to bend it too much.

Then things changed. The wind went away. The swells got less confused. The Spanish chatter on the radio faded away to wondering if the radio was still turned on. We found flying fish on our deck every morning (What kind of games do they play in the dark?), and nervously watched lightning at night. With slow progress it will take longer than planned to get to Nuku Hiva, but that really doesn’t matter.

The Crossing – Week One

Posted at Sea

We checked out of Mexico in Nuevo Vallarta. Three officials boarded the boat-two Customs and one Immigration-and a fourth stayed on the dock looking important. One Customs inspector looked quite young, with braces on her teeth. Forms were filled out, documents signed and stamped, hands shaken, and then we were off. Our time in Mexico was over.

We started off in good wind, looking for our sea legs again. But then the wind died. We had a really nice wind on our third day and made 126 miles, but otherwise, with mostly light winds, we’ve been getting around 50 miles per day. That’s not good enough.

Our electrical power consumption has been higher than our power generation. That’s not good either. It’s also been difficult to make and hold a SailMail connection long enough to empty the outbox and download the inbox, so not as much communication as we would like.

On the sixth day we had both improved wind, and got our self-system working adequately. That let us turn off the electronic autopilot, improving on the power consumption.

Preparation for French Polynesia

Posted by John

Note: since we are leaving Mexico soon after this is posted and will be away from civilization for a while, we have set up a new tracking option with map. Please see our “Where are we Now” page for a map and details.

Once we were settled into the marina at La Cruz there was a strong sense of one thing ending and another thing beginning. Many of the boats that we’d met on the Baja Ha-Ha, and others whose paths we’d crossed the last few months, were here. Robyn ran into some of her friends from Turtle Bay and Cabo San Lucas. The owner of the Westsail 42 “Danika,” who we’d met at the Westsail 2008 Pacific Northwest Rendezvous in Port Townsend, stopped by to say hello. All up and down the docks, boats were preparing to cross the Pacific to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.

At the same time, with winter over and the summer approaching, many other boats were leaving to go back home up north or at least going northward into the Sea of Cortez. Some were preparing to be hauled out and put into storage for the season. There were many good-byes and see-you-next-years taking place. It all added up to a sense of change; an ending and a beginning, like a kind of graduation, maybe.

We had a long list of things to do while here, including figuring out how to leave Mexico. That sounds easy, but there is paperwork. Besides how to get us and the boat out of Mexico, we had to figure out how to enter French Polynesia. We signed up with the Pacific Puddle Jump for help with that. We are using an agent in Tahiti to process the documents and make our entry easier.

We also had several shopping trips to make before we left. The places we needed to go were spread along Banderas Bay and so to make it easier to get around, we decided to rent a car—if we could find one. We ended up taking a sweaty bus out to Punta de Mita at the north entrance to the bay to pick up a car. Once we were in the office, we had to sit around and wait for the car to be driven out from Puerto Vallarta. Why we weren’t directed to rent it there instead, well… we don’t even question those kinds of things anymore. In fact, we’ve been in Mexico long enough now that we usually don’t even notice.

We got the new solar panels installed that we had bought from Carlos in the laundry room of the El Cid Marina in Mazatlan. The two new panels produce more power than the four old ones. They work great with the wind generator, but the wind generator requires a shunt-type battery charger rather than a series-type, and that has led to some new electrical hiccups to work out because the engine alternator and AC shore power charger are series-type and the two types don’t work well together. It is always something.

Another project is to make new “stack-pack” sail covers for the main and mizzen sails. Instead of putting these covers over the lowered sails when they aren’t in use, the covers are attached to the booms and open at the top rather than the bottom. The sails are raised out of them and lowered back into them. For rigidity, we are sewing PVC pipe into the upper edges along the opening. It took a while to find the pipe and have it delivered to the marina (didn’t fit in the car). Now we are looking for an 18-foot zipper.

All of these searches, shopping trips and driving around are quite the little adventures. There are a number of stories to tell. I’m not going to go into them all now but, for example, we went to Home Depot (they call it Home Depot Mexico for a reason) and then took what we thought would be a shortcut to get us back toward Costco (which is freakishly identical to all other Costcos, right down to the free samples, and pizza slices you can eat while sitting at red and white tables under umbrellas). The word “shortcut” should say it all, but you’d also have to include ruts, potholes, mud, chickens and cattle. A few days later, after we drove all the way out to Punta de Mita to return the rental car, we flagged down a sweaty bus to take us back to La Cruz. The driver blasted loud music the whole way, while driving with his arm hanging out the window. You won’t see that very often on a public bus in the US.

A short list of things we’ll remember about Mexico:
1) The sometimes bizarre and stunning topography of Baja California
2) Boating among dry hills covered with cactus
3) A serious lack of rain
4) Watching Seahawks games on TV with Spanish play-by-play
5) Live Banda Music
6) Random fireworks displays popping up without explanation
7) Ever-present (and rarely landing) frigate birds and their nearly bat-like wing silhouettes
8) Dog sitting Rover in La Paz
9) The creepy birds that lurk around the docks at night
10) Mazatlan Pulmonias
11) “Mysticeti, Mysticeti; Slainte—got a copy?” Joe’s voice on the radio
12) Free outdoor movie nights at El Cid and La Cruz marinas
13) The daily radio nets and the information and assistance you can get from them, including ideas on who might have an 18-foot zipper

And of course, all the people we’ve met, boat names we’ve come to know, and the voices and faces we associate with them.

One big surprise in Mexico, for me anyway, was the number of Americans who live here either full time or part time, the communities they’ve built and the fact that many of them originally arrived on their own boats. Kind of gives some irony to the term “boat people.”

Highway signs in English are a sure indicator of Americans nearby.
Driving in Puerto Vallarta after buying a piece of wood from Home Depot and with a Costco run loaded in the trunk.
Some stores just call out to come inside, assuming it is a store.
A ubiquitous sight in Mexico: black plastic water tanks on rooftops.
Typical side street in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle with very rough stone paving. It’s usually just called La Cruz because, I assume, no one knows how to pronounce Huanacaxtle.
On the bus to Punta de Mita.
The Sunday market in La Cruz extends along the shore near the marina.
More of the Sunday market.
And even more of the Sunday market.