Friday, June 30, 2006

Pests and pitch-poling

Our stay in Hanamoenoa Bay on the small island of Tahuata was tranquil. There was no settlement, just a beautiful beach, coconut palms and lemon trees. We had a great overnight sail there punctuated by a dolphin visit and something sinisterly large on the fishing line which, having made the winch scream with the speed of the racing line and created an impressive bow wave behind us, thankfully, got away. In the bay we spent a couple of days snorkeling, reading and doing a few 'low-level' jobs. We were 'friendless' in the anchorage when we arrived, with 5 unknown boats there, and it was a good opportunity to meet some new people after the easy security of 'the Net' group. Sadly but inevitably the group has now dispersed but will reconvene at intervals along this 'Coconut Milk Run' route.
We headed for the larger island of Ua Pou overnight on Saturday and had a challenging time anchoring in the roly bay. Several friends had suggested that because of the swell that enters the bay, a good idea would be to put the anchor out and secure a line from the stern to the breakwater to give us more stability during our stay. We don't love Kika for her manoeuvrability - she is famously awful at going astern - so we were apprehensive but nonetheless determined to rise to the challenge. All the other boats in the anchorage had stern anchors out and were rolling, a further inducement to secure to the wall. So we waited for the wind to slacken off and then went for it and Kika behaved impeccably, reversing beautifully and rather haughtily into position when Nick had dropped the anchor. We felt quite smug ('specially me, I was at the helm!)Something we're not so smug about are Kika's 'visitors'. We have an infestation of cockroaches which is quite revolting and upsetting as they are something every cruiser dreads for their sheer numbers and tenacity. In fact, having roaches is quite taboo amongst the cruising fraternity which stops short of flying a flag signalling your shame, but we agreed that the blog should not be censored, and you, as readers have heard plenty of the good stuff, so can share the bad. Anyway, it appears our 'lodgers' are a sort of super-creature whose powers of survival are limitless. They can stowaway as eggs in the gum of cardboard, or under your shoe, or they can simply fly in through a hatch if they fancy emigrating. Once aboard, they are difficult to kill, and when you have managed to do so, their eggs lie dormant for a while and then the new batch begins! So chemical warfare ensued aboard a couple of days ago. Having realised that spraying was having no effect except possibly making them bigger and bolder, we invested in some Aussie stuff with 'Egg Kill' that zaps them and apparently the eggs too. Lockers have been disinfected and 2 types of poison added. All we can do is wait. Nick is not too bothered by them and really, they aren't that harmful, but having 'fessed up to my parents about this current challenge, Dad did a 'Google' search and helpfully informed me that they like to nibble on human eyebrows! Words fail me. Where's that flag, the one with the black cross on it?

Another disaster befell us the afternoon of our arrival. As I said, the anchorage is roly and suffers from cross swells which can make landing a dinghy difficult (you know what's coming, don't you?). Well, we rowed Jordan to shore but were pitch-poled at the last minute in the shallows. It all happened very quickly and was quite dramatic. I was thrown out of Jordan and dragged under the surf, while Nick was completely engulfed by her as she pitched over. I stood up, to see the upturned Jordan and not a sign of Nick. I had images of him unconscious and water filling his lungs which was enough to give me cockroach super-strength and I lifted up the dinghy (no mean feat - she's a big girl!) to find 'no-mercy' Nick unharmed and ready to spring to action. All was salvaged including 4 flip-flops, 2 pairs of sunnies, 2 oars and the plastic dinghy seat which had given me a glancing blow on the cheek as it flew off into the surf. Jordan, however, is now on probation. Brenda is ready and waiting in the forepeak if we have any more nonsense! Thankfully, Nigel was not involved as we had decided to row in. Phew!

Oh well, we have had some fun too; hiking in the hills, relearning how to spend money in shops and bars and, of course, since there seem to be no laundry facilities for yachts in the islands, doing plenty of washing. We knew the pressure cooker was a wise addition to the galley, but it also gets your whites whiter (well, sort of). Our walk was breathtaking and we were accompanied by Patrice who was refreshingly modest about his knowledge and experience of being a guide and encouraged us with our attempts at French, the common language. We came down from the mountains with aching legs, an enhanced French vocabulary and backpacks full of fruit, fruit, fruit.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006


For years I've read about the Pacific islands and always dreamt that one day I'd sail across the Pacific to arrive at one of the exotic destinations I'd imagined. Reality has lived up to the dream. The anchorage in Fatu Hiva is the most spectacular anchorage I've ever woken up in.

Ashore the trees appear overburdened with fruits - I've never seen such enormous or deliciously sweet grapefuits before. We exchanged two lipsticks for six grapefruit and a bunch of bananas.

The next day Andrew and Carolyn on Revision II arrived, followed in the evening by Will and Alyssa on Ragtime. Joan and Sandy on Zefferin invited us all around for a celebration supper, during which we nobly helped them make some inroads into the large wahoo they'd caught just before arriving.

There's no airport on Fatu Hiva, so the only tourists the locals see are passing yachts. It's a small habitation in a valley between vertiginous rocks all carpeted in lush vegetation and coconut palms.

We've taken a couple of hikes, firstly up a winding road to a hill overlooking the anchorage from there we spied a waterfall emerging from a dramatic cliff face in the distance and made our way through dense undergrowth to the pool under the fall.

All the time we had the place to ourselves and used the pool for our first bath for months, avoiding the small clawed shrimps who tried to give us the occasional nip.

The only downsides we can see so far, are the insects, we had a couple of hornets checking us out and the abundant vegetation comes at the price of occasional torrential downpours.

Yesterday was spent with the most pressing boat jobs - the tanks are full of fresh water again, the main sail is repaired and the hull clean after growing some almost edibly large goose-necked barnacles on the passage.

We set off at 8am this morning for Tahuata, a small island 45 miles NW of Fatu-Hiva. We plan to stay a day or two there before heading on to Ua-Pou, a port of entry, where we'll arrive officially.

The sailmail connection in the anchorages is almost impossible; the surrounding mountains shield our signal. On open water, getting a connection is a challenge as well; the coverage in the Pacific isn't great, our nearest station is Hawaii 2210 nautical miles away, or US based stations 3000+ nautical miles away. So our entries might become a little more sporadic from now on. We have lots of photos, just waiting for a fast internet connect to be able to upload them.

Monday, June 19, 2006


Yesterday seemed to drag on for a week in contrast to the rest of the trip. We decided that although there was minimal wind in the afternoon, we'd attempt to sail with just the genoa (we'd taken the main off for repair) and I'd helm while Nick changed the fuel filters as we suspected dirty Panamanian fuel was causing the engine to run erratically. It was impossible to keep the genoa full and it flopped about and flogged against the rigging in a maddening fashion. Also, without the main we were rolling like crazy. In honour of approaching landfall, we both had a saltwater shower in the cockpit earlier in the day, and I had recklessly cast off my 3-day old, manky anti-sickness patch thinking I would manage without one for the last leg - wrong! Consequently I felt sick most of the afternoon.

Nick completed the filter changes despite the roly-poly conditions and we furled the genoa and fired up the engine. According to our GPS we were still about 35 miles from land. We hadn't been able to make out the island amongst the low cloud until then but gradually, Fatu Hiva took shape in exactly the place it should be. I went to sleep in the evening and having slept off the sickness was woken at about 23.30 by an excited but tired Captain. We were about 2 miles north of the island and in the darkness it was difficult to make out anything but the silhouette of the land. Nick then slept and I spent an exciting couple of hours navigating across the north and down the west side of the island. The moon still hadn't risen and at times I felt very unnerved about my proximity to the coast but it was very thrilling and I used the radar to verify what the GPS was telling me. When I headed south to cover the 3 miles to the anchorage, a little white light seemed to be marking our waypoint exactly.

At about 2am it was time to wake Nick and we both struggled to make out our surroundings. The moon was up by now, but it was pretty cloudy and it took us a while to work out the anchorage was surrounded on 3 sides by tall cliffs with strange formations at the peaks. We motored around as slowly as we could and gradually made out the hulls of 5 other boats and with our super-powered torch we picked out the rock faces and were able to find a spot to drop the anchor, which we did at 2.20am. I had followed that little white light all the way into the anchorage. It was an anchor light - Zefferin's!

We woke early this morning in the most extraordinary, dramatic anchorage we have ever seen. Can't describe it adequately but I'll try. The Marquesas are volcanic but there's hardly any rock visible just numerous shades of green. Some of the peaks are long craggy and vaguely reptilian in their spikiness, where others are rounded like sugar loaves and topped with a hat of bushes! The coastal cliffs are indented with deep valleys and ravines. The highest peak on this small island (8miles x 5miles) is continually covered in shifting cloud.

This morning, we decided to complete the 2 most pressing jobs; cleaning behind the oven (after much sponge pudding and custard spillage) and scraping the propeller, which we checked had solved the speed problem with a quick trip around the anchorage this morning. Zefferin have given us a huge local grapefruit for breakfast, and also an enormous fillet of wahoo which they caught on their approach here and which we are having for lunch. There is a small village here with a church and a school and apparently not much else though we shall explore this afternoon. Trading is the way to do business; a t-shirt for some grapefruit and bananas, some fish hooks for flour etc. Apparently a load of washing costs a bottle of rum so looks like we'll be doing it by hand! Oh woe!

Overall passage statistics
Passage time: 20 days, 10 hours, 30 minutes
Charted distance: 2900
Logged distance: 2862
Total engine hours: 12
Distance to go: 0
Landfall: Hanavave Bay, Fatu Hiva, French Polynesia (S10°27.83' W138°40.08')

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Drifting towards the Marquesas

We'd hoped we'd be making landfall today (Sunday), but our speed has been steadily decreasing as the wind has eased over the last few days. As I write this we have 60 miles left to go. At our current rate of progress we'll probably arrive sometime after dark or early morning Monday. We've been trying various combinations of sails to keep the speed up, including rigging the cruising chute as a spinnaker (moderately successful, but required too much concentration from the helm), moving the pole further back to allow us to have more genoa out - our current setup - it's a pain to rig, requiring forward and aft guys to fix the pole, but appears to be the best current option.

In the early morning when the wind had died completely we gave in and ran the engine for an hour. Worryingly, we couldn't make more than 5 knots, which I assume is because our propeller has become heavily fouled on the trip here, and hopefully not something more serious. We decided that the noise and heat wasn't really worth the extra knot so we're currently trying to do as best we can with the little wind there is.

Another successful fishing day yesterday. We'd put the line out after lunch when we'd finished the last of our previous tuna, and by mid-afternoon we had another tuna in the cockpit. A small yellow-fin tuna this time, which we marinaded and ate half for supper, the remainder we'll polish off today.

No sign of land yet, but we should spy the mountainous Marquesas before nightfall.

If you don't hear from us tomorrow it's likely that we'll have made it, but are struggling to send an email out - we believe that the sailmail reception in the anchorage is challenging.

Position @ 21:35 UTC: S10°10' W136°11'
Daily distance run: 130 nm
Distance to go: 148 nm
Cumulative distance: 2708 nm
Engine hours:0
Wind: E 5-10 knots
Weather: moderate/slight sea, 20% cloud cover, 1010 millibars

Friday, June 16, 2006

Stitch in Time

Day 20 and we do have one ratline up which is looking and feeling very sturdy - a good start! As anticipated the wind has died somewhat and we are prepared for the lowest mileage of the passage when noon comes. We do only have 270 miles to go though so should be anchored in the Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva on Sunday.

Tuna is still on the menu with marinated and baked tuna with potato salad for lunch, and tuna curry for supper. We ate our supper sitting at the bow watching the free entertainment which comprised of about 20 of the most acrobatic dolphins we have seen. We watched them leaping, pirouetting and belly flopping with a breathtaking sunset as their backdrop. Nick left after about half an hour, but I thought it would be rude to go before they had finished! Eventually the sun went down and I couldn't see anything so felt it was safe to leave without causing offence.

Drama came yesterday in the form of sail damage. Our main has a rip going almost the entire length of the foot. Fortunately it is below the first reef, so we immediately put one reef in to prevent further damage and enable us to use it on this last leg. Alas, we will have some serious stitching to do when we make landfall.

Position @ 21:03 UTC: S09°48' W134°0'
Daily distance run: 140 nm
Distance to go: 278 nm
Cumulative distance: 2575 nm
Engine hours:0
Wind: E 10 knots
Weather: moderate/slight sea, 40% cloud cover, 1010 millibars

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Fishing success

Great day yesterday. We woke to clear skies, a moderate sea with 15knots of SE wind and good intentions to make progress on the ratlines. However, things don't always turn out as intended...

There was noticeably more excitement on the morning net as boats started working out arrival dates and times. The wind is forecast to ease a little over the next few days so we haven't dared to name our arrival day yet. Our expectations of boat speed have also changed during this passage; now we start to get restless if we're making under 6.5knots, previously we would have been content with anything over 5knots. During breakfast the wind backed to the east, so a good half hour was used up as we changed from a broad-reach back to running down-wind with the genoa poled out.

Then I decided the bimini required some attention, so another hour passed as I attached scavenged lengths of elastic and assorted clips to our new side-shades.

Finally I sat down to study the impenetrable rigging handbook's advice on constructing ratlines, while Ellen set about baking carrot cake. An hour of study, searching for materials and a some dozing later and I was ready for action. Right on cue the fishing-line winch span, indicating a bite. So fish drill - now an orderly efficient process to prepare Kika for the imminent blood bath.

For the first time in days we landed our catch. A beautiful 60cm tuna, who didn't appear to take well to his new surrounding. It's surprising how long it takes to process and clean up after a landing a fish, but there wasn't much time to spare before the afternoon nets, followed by supper, all punctuated by breaks to sample the delicious carrot cake. We've a good few days' tuna in the fridge, but no progress on the ratlines, perhaps tomorrow...

Position @ 20:48 UTC: S09°20' W131°42'
Daily distance run: 162 nm
Distance to go: 418 nm
Cumulative distance: 2435 nm
Engine hours:0
Wind: E/ENE 15 knots
Weather: moderate sea, 20% cloud cover, 1009 millibars

Zefferin take the lead

We spoke to Zefferin early this morning and discovered that our paths had crossed in the night and we were now too far south and east of them. We continued to try to converge during the morning, but our fixes were no closer at midday so we decided that though it would have been fun, a mid-ocean rendez-vous was not meant to be. We should see them pretty soon in Fatu Hiva anyway. We never managed to speak to them on the VHF and we never saw their nav. lights. Hmmm.........are Zefferin really on passage, we ask ourselves or are they still enjoying the Galapagos? We would wonder if it wasn't for Revision II whom Zefferin met up with about a week ago.

Meanwhile we are passing milestones rapidly with under 500 miles to go now. We celebrated this by sharing a cold can of beer at lunchtime. The weather has been perfect all day; a consistent south easterly wind of about 20 knots, big, thrilling sea and a cloudless sky. It's like a different world from the squally mess we were trapped in a couple of days ago. All is well within the flotilla though most of us sound well ready to make landfall. If we keep up our speed and arrive on Sunday/Monday, this passage will have been considerably shorter than the Atlantic crossing despite it being a thousand miles longer - it's amazing what a consistent wind can do.

Fishing update - several bites but all got away AND we lost another lure! Reckon a) we're going too fast and b)we're hooking some big fish which are too strong for our equipment. We don't want to catch anything too big because it would be difficult to dispatch and the meat would be wasted as we don't have a freezer, so we're reluctant to upgrade the line.

Position @ 20:35 UTC: S08°39' W129° 03'
Daily distance run: 151
Distance to go: 580
Cumulative distance: 2269
Engine hours:0
Wind: SE 15-20 knots
Weather: moderate sea, 0% cloud cover, 1010 millibars

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Return of blue skies

We woke up to blue sky this morning, our first for three days and the weather made good its early promise with sun and clear skies all day. The wind has remained fresh, 20-25 knots with occasional gusts up to 30 knots. We're making good progress on a broad-reach under heavily reefed main and genoa. We've thoroughly tested the cockpit and deck drains with some big waves breaking onto us - they work, with Kika taking it in her stride, initially laden with water, but quickly shaking it off and continuing on her way. Given the size of the sea it's surprising how few waves we've taken over the side. That said the sailing hasn't been too taxing, with George in control all day and working well under trying conditions; bringing us back onto course after being pushed off by a passing monster wave.

Zefferin continue to close on us and as of last night was 7 miles behind us. We still haven't actually seen them, but we thought at nightfall we'd be able to see each other's mast head lights, but no sign of them yet - a bit concerning because I've always assumed the mast-head light would be clearly visible to others, perhaps not in a large sea. We've talked to Zefferin a couple of times today, the conversation punctuated by "oh my God, that was a big one", "hang on, oh ah, yes, um, back again, self steering just lost control" and other stronger expletives. Either our conversations happen to coincide with Zefferin passing through some especially rough water, or they appear to be having a wetter time of it than we are. Schadenfreude? maybe a little.

Despite the rolly conditions we've been working on the bimini to try to improve the water catching system. After spending an hour extracting the sewing machine from its locker and tying it securely to the saloon table, I discovered that it's too feeble to sew through five layers of Sunbrella material. So untie, restow and out with the patented hand-stitcher, which when we first bought it, seemed to be a marvel of design simplicity. However after a couple of rows of meandering stitches, I now see it for what it is - nothing more that a handle containing a needle. Eventually the bimini work was postponed when I broke the needle. Hopefully it will resume tomorrow when the glue sets the remaining half needle into the handle.

It's now the middle of the night, the sea has calmed down a lot, but still no sign of Zefferin. It's eery scanning the horizon, knowing there's another boat out there, but not being able to see it. We're hoping for some good photo opportunities tomorrow.
Position @ 21:20 UTC: S08°10' W126°53'
Daily distance run: 158 nm (estimated)
Distance to go: 731 nm
Cumulative distance: 2118 nm
Engine hours:0
Wind: SE/ 20-25 knots
Weather: rough sea, 50% cloud cover, 1010 millibars

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Wet play

Another day of squalls and thick grey skies devoid of the promise of better weather to come. I woke with a 'wet play' sinking of the heart. As a teacher, days like today are dreaded because the playground will be off the menu due to inclement weather, and there will be no respite from the children throughout the whole school day! What does one do on days like that? Find solace in the form of food of course. Chocolate fudge brownies for breakfast, hot, wholesome soup for lunch and a big bowl of pasta for supper.

The one redeeming feature of the day was the fact that it was Andrew's (Revision II) birthday and sad though it may seem, we were a little excited because we had prepared a ditty on the trumpet and a poem for him which we broadcast over the SSB during our early 'chat time' with the flotilla. Poor Andrew had just woken up and sounded a bit groggy but very appreciative. George has done another stirling job today, managing to keep us on our rhumb line without too much tweaking. We are now on a port tack and hoping to converge with Zefferin sometime tomorrow though they are taking longer to catch up than we had anticipated. We are going to try talking to them on the VHF as they should soon come into range.

We tried catching some fish earlier in the day and had 4 bites but lost all 4 and 2 lures which was very annoying. Let's hope we have better luck tomorrow. Only 900 miles to go which is about 6 days a this rate, so we could be anchored in the Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva, this time next week. Can't wait!

Position @ 20:50 UTC: S07°43' W123°52'
Daily distance run: 158 nm(estimated)
Distance to go: 892 nm
Cumulative distance: 1951 nm
Engine hours:0
Wind: SE/E 8-25 knots
Weather: mod/rough sea, 100% cloud cover, showers, 1011 millibars,
frequent squalls.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Less than 1000 nm to go

As of 6am we have 933 miles to go. The weather hasn't improved and we're still sailing under heavily reefed sails in strong squally winds. Compared with the effortless 150+ mile days we achieved in the first half of the trip, it now feels as though we've more than earned every mile we make west, with frequent adjustments to the sails and attention to the helm required as we hand-steer through the squalls and lulls. We've tried different strategies; initially we'd reef at the onset of a squall then increase the sail when the squall passed. Inevitably as we became tired we tended to reef too late and ended up slopping around with too little sail up in the lulls. So the next strategy was to sail under reefed sail, but with sufficient sail to keep us sailing through the lulls and hand-steer through the squalls when George (our wind-vane) struggled to keep the course. This worked well, and gave us something purposeful to do but was tiring.

The huge southern ocean swells of yesterday have diminished, leaving a confused sea in the cross-swell, but resulting in more easily steerable seas. So after much trail and error, we've managed to sufficiently balance the sails to allow George to steer through the squalls and lulls. It's a revelation, we're getting good rest, we're racing along in a reasonably straight line without too much rolling and we can marvel at the atrocious scene around us from the relative dryness of the spray hood. Despite the wetness it's thrilling sailing. The large seas of yesterday also brought their own excitement; on occasions we registered 10knots on the log while surfing and hand-steering down the waves. At these moments Kika came alive, feeling as responsive as a high-performance sailing dinghy.

Before the huge swell had subsided life down-below was difficult, the motion of the boat was erratic with extremely violent rolls. Yesterday I cooked one of my infamous treacle sponge puddings and for lunch we decided to have spanish omelette and treacle sponge and custard. What a mess. The poor gimbals on the stove couldn't keep up with the erratic motion with a third of the omelette ending up in a 50cm radius around the stove. The non-slip surface couldn't contain the custard mixing jug which deposited its contents in the condiments locker. Still the end result, although somewhat diminished, was worth the effort.

We spied our first boat of the crossing yesterday, a large fishing boat about 1 mile to our stern, they didn't respond to our friendly VHF calls, perhaps we weren't such a novelty to them.

As of last night Zefferin were 37 miles behind us, they are catching us up, but at a slower rate. Positively, it's proving useful to have someone close who is experiencing the same weather. We compared strategies and wetness - they've given up using their wind-vane and have switched to their electronic autopilot and hand-steering through the squalls.

We're not sure how much longer this weather will last, but while it does we can make the most of it. Tomorrow we're going to perfect the water catching system, Currently the pipe from the bimini leaks, with the leak strategically placed to pour water down the helm's neck.
Position @ 22:15 UTC: S07°20' W121° 23'
Daily distance run: 160 nm (estimated)
Distance to go: 1024 nm
Cumulative distance: 1809 nm
Engine hours:0
Wind: SE/E/ENE 10-30 knots
Weather: rough sea, 100% cloud cover, frequent showers, 1009 millibars,
gusts up to 35 knots

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Taxing times

The Pacific has certainly not been living up to it's name today. We have had the first 'wet' day of the trip - almost total grey cloud cover and sustained downpours with all the gusty winds to match. It's the roughest sea and the most taxing passage that I have ever encountered. We are hoping this is not how it will be from now until the Marquesas, but if it is, at least it'll be quick!. Nick woke me at 10pm for my watch and I was greeted by (more) torrential rain, a howling gale and monstrous waves. George the wind-vane was doing his best to keep control, and I reefed the genoa considerably to give him a helping hand (Nick had already put 3 reefs in the mainsail). Our speed dropped 3 knots and peace of a kind was restored.

The whole day has been wet and devoid of any sun apart from an hour at sunset. Heavy rain has prohibited us from sitting in the cockpit so we have been nerding down below and doing the occasional bowt of helming when George has struggled. In conditions like today, I find that there is a fine line between exhilaration and fear, and knowing the right time to reduce sail is imperative as things can so quickly get to a point where reefing becomes dangerous and difficult. The wind is one hazard but the waves are another. They come at us from port aft and can knock us for six making the helmsman's job harder (be it George or us)! Most of the time though, we just get carried along the crest of the wave like a toy boat in a bath, and it's quite good fun. One second we're on top of the world and the next we're in a deep dark trough with a wall of water bearing down on us. It's like a rollercoaster!

We're hoping for a break in the cloud and some more consistent wind tomorrow. Our one consolation is that Zefferin are also experiencing this challenging weather. We are not alone!

Position @ 19:55 UTC: S07°14' W118°27'
Daily distance run: 143 nm
Distance to go: 1214 nm
Cumulative distance: 1638 nm
Engine hours:0
Wind: S/SE/E/ENE 15-30 knots
Weather: rough sea, 90% cloud cover, 1010 millibars, gusts up to

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Surfing downwind

Last night was more roly than normal, with all the attendant crashes and bangs from the lockers, with the result that the lockers became progressively more stuffed with tea-towels and rags during the night in a vain attempt to calm their excitable contents. Consequently sleep was harder than normal, I'd try to blank out the roll-roll-crash, roll-roll-crash that was keeping me awake, eventually giving in and drag myself out of my berth to locate the culprit. No sooner was I settled down again when the periphery of my hearing would start to tune in to some other loose item crashing around. It must have been noisy as the crashes even penetrated Ellen's ear-plugs. We both managed some sleep, but were definitely a few hours down at dawn.

On my middle watch, I found George the wind-vane, performing a valiant job trying to keep Kika running down-wind as she surfed down the waves. It was impressive watching as the vane turned the wheel one way then the other, as we yawed and rolled through the large sea. I decided to try to improve on George's performance and my tiredness vanished with the exhilaration of hand-steering as we surfed through the seas, often accelerating to over nine knots. Spent a great hour with one eye on the wind-angle, the other tracking the compass and the speed, while attempting to keep a fairly steady course and minimise the rolling. Ultimately I succumbed to my tiredness and let George take over with a much reduced head-sail.

I've completed a little program which animates the courses of our group of boats crossing the Pacific. A by-product is that it's been straight-forward to calculate average daily distances for each of the boats. I'm beginning to understand Peter Snow's fascination with his swing-o-meter, as I compared averages, maximum daily runs and anticipated arrival dates. I'm sorry to disappoint our supporters, but I wouldn't rush out to Ladbrokes and place any sizable sum of money on Kika keeping the lead to Fatu Hiva, or if you do at least make sure you've got great odds. It looks inevitable that our colonial cousins on Zefferin will over-take us in the next few days, despite our valiant efforts. They are averaging 175 nm days and are only 55 nm away. Still we'll hold them off as long as we can and look-forward to a mid ocean rendezvous in a few days time.

It's been a beautiful clear, sunny day with perfect sailing conditions and consequently fairly uneventful. We've been making good progress under full sails down-wind, while lounging around and catching up on sleep. Around 4pm we thought we try to catch a fish for supper, and although we've been lucky before at this time, tonight we ended up with beef, peas and mash; two of the three from a can.
Position @ 19:50 UTC:S06°38' W116°07'
Daily distance run: 160 nm
Distance to go: 1357 nm
Cumulative distance: 1488 nm
Engine hours:0
Wind: SE 15-30 knots
Weather: moderate/rough sea, variable cloud cover, 1012 millibars,
gusts upto 30knots

Friday, June 09, 2006

Half-way there!

We reached the half-way point of our longest passage this evening and to celebrate, we toasted the trip so far and the trip to come with a small rum and coke each. Oh yes, we know how to party on Kika! It feels fantastic to have come so far and actually it doesn't seem like an interminably long time that we've been at sea. We have both enjoyed it far more than the Atlantic crossing, mainly due to the fact that in general, the wind has been favourable and I haven't been seasick. We are still in first place (not that we are competitive at all) but Zefferin will probably take the lead in about 5 days' time. We are swapping positions with the 5 other boats in our 'flotilla' twice daily, and everyone is feverishly working out ETAs and potential changes to the order of boats, but it's all very good natured. Nick has taken the time to write a program which graphically displays all the boats' courses (based on their daily positions) since departure from the Galapagos. It's interesting to compare progress.

We broke the record again for highest daily run (160 miles) which has further boosted our morale. Currently we are bowling along at 7 knots with a poled out genoa and 2 reefs in the main. It has been yet another 24 hours devoid of other vessels. Activities today have included: salt water shower (Nick), making hummus (Ellen), nerding on computer (Nick and Ellen), nerding with a book (Ellen), making felafels (Nick), turning eggs (Ellen), admiring George the wind-vane (Nick), adjusting baggy-wrinkles (Nick) oh, and a bit of sail trimming (Nick and Ellen). It doesn't sound like we do much, but with our speed consistently high, and the sea being moderate to rough, it's quite a mission to achieve simple tasks aboard, and I seem to be acquiring more bruises by the hour.

Those of us in the flotilla are all getting a little bored with the passage by now, and our chat times on the SSB are becoming more and more lengthy and silly. Topics of discussion include books read, meals enjoyed, making landfall, sail configuration, and, top of the bill, what have you managed to scrape off your deck to eat! It has become a ritual to go out at first light and collect anything edible which may have landed on the topsides in the night. I never thought I would eat flying fish (they look so boney and dry) but they are delicious fried in a little flour. Nick did the deck rounds this morning and came back with such a small squid that I thought he'd merely sneezed on his hand! He'd been spared the gutting of it because when he prized it from the deck, it left its guts behind - delightful! Anyway, we fried this tiny snot-like thing and after cooking it was the size of a safety pin! I think it was pretty good, though I'm not sure my miniscule portion qualified me to make a judgment. I wonder what delicacies tomorrow will bring?


Position @ 19:25 UTC: S06° 27' W113° 25'
Daily distance run: 160 nm
Distance to go: 1517 nm
Cumulative distance: 1329 nm
Engine hours:0
Wind: SE 15-20 knots
Weather: moderate/rough sea, 20% cloud cover, 1011 millibars

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Freshening winds

The days of not touching the sails for days on end appear to be over. The wind has veered from the E to the SE and strengthened. We're back on a broad-reach with the pole stowed up the mast once again. After some experimentation we're sailing with double-reefed main and nearly full genoa. The wind has freshened to around 20-25 knots gusting to 30 knots and with this configuration we're happily sailing along at around 7 knots. With less genoa we appear to pitch more; the current motion is surprisingly smooth; writing this down-below it barely feels like we're sailing above 4 knots. Kika can be quite deceptive in this respect - earlier this evening we were chatting on the SSB when we noticed the speed edging up to 7.5, 8 then 8.5. There was little change down-below, but when we escaped from the SSB and poked our heads out of the companionway, we couldn't believe the contrast. Down below was the familiar snug world of the cabin, outside the full-fury of the ocean seemed to have been unleashed. It was only a passing squall, for which we quickly reduced sail, but it would have almost gone unnoticed had we remained down below.

We had some fun earlier today trying to retrieve the towing generator. This and our solar panel have been supplying us with all the energy we need; we haven't touched the engine since we left. The towing generator pivots from the stern into the water and normally has a line attached which is used to retrieve it. We use the tow generator for around four hours each day to ensure the batteries are recharged. The shackle fixing the line to the generator had fallen off and with the retrieval line mocking us as it streamed out from the stern, it looked as though we might end up towing the generator all the way to Fatu Hiva. However after some thought, and ruling out going for a swim, we ended up hanging over the stern-rail, I manoeuvred a rope on the end of the broom, lashed to another pole between the generator shaft and the vane support while Ellen hung off the other side with the boat hook trying to catch the loop. Eventually we had the two ends of the rope back on board and a loop around the generator. It worked! We quickly brought the generator out of the water and reattached it to the push-pit. With other such minor accomplishments, sail changes, reading, cooking and eating, the days pass surprisingly rapidly.

As predicted there's been a change in order of the boats in our little group. Zefferin have overtaken Revision II and are now hot on our tail. They are around 100 nm NE of us and closing, but we're hoping that if this stronger wind continues we'll be able to give them a decent race to the Marquesas.
Position @ 19:25 UTC S06° 00' W110° 46'
Daily distance run: 141 nm
Distance to go: 1677 nm
Cumulative distance: 1173 nm
Engine hours: 0
Wind: SE 15-20 knots
Weather: Moderate/rough sea, 10% cloud cover, 1011 millibars

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Alone in the Pacific

We had more flying fish land on the deck during the night, but they were quite big and I could hear them flapping wildly and basically I couldn't listen to them die so I had to rescue them with the result that there were none for breakfast. We did have the dorado to eat though and that's been polished off so the line will go back out soon.

The seascape has been different today; smaller waves and an altogether choppier sea. No 2 days are alike it seems. Once again, we have not laid eyes on another vessel and we both decided that this is the most solitary situation we have ever been in - experiencing no evidence of another human being for 9 days (except each other, of course!) This must be what Big Brother feels like (sort of)! In fact we are thinking of converting the stern heads into a Diary Room for an outlet when cabin fever strikes, though fortunately, the occasion has not arisen as yet! A fellow sailor with whom we did a Panama canal transit, Mike, has been on this passage now for 40 days and he is single-handed. He should make landfall by day 44! I'd love to be able to see his face when he arrives.

Within our little sailing pod, we are still up front (we were the first to leave) but we have Zefferin hot on our heels. Their daily runs are up in the 170s and 180s! Despite this, we are very pleased with our performance so far. Kika is maintaining her speed while keeping us relatively comfortable which is ideal.

Our conditions have changed a little since yesterday; as I said, the sea isn't as big, though the interval between waves has shortened, so it's quite choppy and confused - not as comfortable as it was. Also, the wind is less consistent in direction and speed. On my first watch, I saw as little as 4 and as much as 24 knots of wind. As you can imagine, this makes for high maintenance sailing involving little adjustments to the sails and wind-vane. It's strange how in certain conditions, we can be hurtling along at 7.5 knots and the boat is so comfortable it feels like 4, and conversely 4 can feel like 7.5. We've definitely had a touch of the latter through the night. It could, of course, be something to do with my rather arbitrary setting of the sails. For me, I'm finding it hard to get past the 'too much wind, less sail, too little wind, more sail' stage and into the more subtle realms of fine tuning the canvas. My excuse is it's hard to see on a moonless night. There is also the added concern that the radar detector is picking up another vessel and although we can't see it, we have to be vigilant as it's there somewhere.

Well, dawn is breaking now (it's 6am) and we're finally sailing comfortably at 6 knots. Time to put the kettle on. More tomorrow.

Position @ 19:25 UTC: S05° 48' W108° 25'
Daily distance run: 149
Distance to go: 1818
Cumulative distance: 1040
Engine hours:0
Wind: ESE 10-15knots
Weather: moderate sea, 30%cloud cover, 1011 millibars

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Third of the way to the Marquesas

Another great day's sailing, with a pleasant 10-15 knots of wind and moderate sea. We've changed from a broad-reach to downwind sailing, with the Genoa polled out on the opposite side to the main. This is the first sail change for two days, quite different from the Atlantic, when we seemed to have little free time between sail-changes in response to passing squalls.

We've been making use of the spare time to catch up on some boat jobs. Ellen spent the day cleaning; firstly treating herself to a cockpit shower, then some vital laundry (I'm writing this in clean pants) and finally cleaning the cockpit. I continued my campaign to eradicate creaks which are especially noticeable on downwind passages as Kika rolls in the swell. I also did some cartography. We miss having a usable scale chart to plot our progress. We have a chart which covers the Americas to Australia and results in depressing little difference between each day's noon plot. So, today I made our own Galapagos to the Marquesas chart with an enlarged scale. The cartography is straight-forward; it's all sea apart from a small blob representing Fatu Hiva - our destination in the Marquesas. I chose 1cm = 1degree for the longitude scale. For a Mercator projection chart the latitude scale is the secant (reciprocal of cos) of the degrees of latitude multiplied by the longitude scale, however as we're at the equator 1deg latitude is equal to 1deg longitude. The chart works well; we now make at least 2cm each day, much more satisfying than the 5mm progress we made on the old chart.

Encouraged by the old sailing hands on Zefferin we tucked into flying fish for breakfast - fresh from the nightly crop which land on our deck. Unfortunately last night we only found one, so although it was delicious it wasn't particularly filling. I confidently put our fishing line out around 11am, anticipating fresh fish for lunch. Sure enough 11.30am the clicking winch alerted us to a bite, but by the time we'd organised ourselves, we'd lost the fish and lure. So canned tuna salad for lunch. I put a new stronger line back in this evening and within half an hour we had a beautiful 25inch dorado in the cockpit and fresh filleted fish for supper.

Another difference between the Atlantic and this crossing is the lack of physical milestones; for the Atlantic we had clearing the Canaries, reaching the Cape Verde Islands, arriving at the trade wind belt, Christmas etc. Here we need to create our own, so today's milestone: we have less than 2000 miles to go; we're a third of the way there already.

Position @ 19:30 UTC: S05°39' W105°04'
Daily distance run: 159
Distance to go: 1957
Cumulative distance: 902
Engine hours:0
Wind: ESE 10-15knots
Weather: moderate sea, clear skies, 1012 millibars

Monday, June 05, 2006

Best Daily Run

Another great sail! Beautiful day with consistent wind and a moderate sea although the wave height has increased significantly. Fortunately the interval between waves is sufficient to keep us relatively comfortable. Having some variety to the seascape in the form of peaks and troughs is much more interesting to watch than a flat calm surface. It's mesmerising the way they merge and peak and the effect they have on the hull (or perhaps I should just get out more!) No wildlife to speak of except flocks of fleeing flying fish and some hardy storm petrels, 800 miles from land, but we are ever hopeful of spotting less plentiful sea creatures.

Currently we are on a course which will take us south of the Marquesas, but we are hoping that the wind will veer to the south enabling us to sail on a broad-reach on the rhumb line direct to our waypoint just south of Fatu Hiva.

Position @ 18:58 UTC: S04°41' W103°33'
Daily distance run: 156
Distance to go: 2116
Cumulative distance: 749
Engine hours:0
Wind: SE 10-15knots
Weather: moderate sea, clear skies, 1011 millibars

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Pacific birthday

Life doesn't get much better than this - delicious freshly caught fish, cake, birthday poetry, and great sailing on a smooth sea.

A poem from Kika's first mate read out on our morning net by Carolyn on Revision II:

A long, long time ago
Nickster's life was very different
He had a flat, a scooter and a job in management
He wore a tie, washed his clothes, showered every day
Visited All Bar One, Sainsbury's and the cinema on Sunday
Sometimes he'd talk with passion about circumnavigation
But he didn't really mean it, was just his imagination.

Then one happy day, he saw an amazing chance
'forget summer sailing in the Solent and in France!
Let's do it', he said excitedly 'Let's go for it now
Before it's too late and you realise just how...
Seasick you will get, how sunburnt and smelly,
Break out of your shackles Ellen, turn off that telly!'

So we did, and here we are, and doesn't it feel great
He's worked so hard to do it and I'm lucky I'm first mate.
He's handy with a spanner, clever with epoxy,
Understands the weather and when it comes to charts, he...
Uses good seamanship, plotting waypoints, taking bearings,
And as for his computer skills, he's not averse to sharing.

Kika's been a challenge, and Nick likes nothing more
Than sitting in her cockpit remembering her before...
He made the many changes to help us on our way
Generator, wind vane and a fridge that works ok.
In the galley he tries hard, not just opening a tin
and I don't mind being reminded lest I forget who's the Captain.

Nickster works hard and he deserves to have fun
He's made many friends in these latitudes of sun
And I know you'll all wish him safe sailing all the way
Till we get the the Marquesas where we can all celebrate his birthday.

From Will and Alyssa on Ragtime:

There was a young man named Nick
fixing things was his favorite trick,
On Kika his boat
he learnt how to float,
And fixed all that broke
with a big wad of notes.

Ellen, his first mate
he decided to date,
And impressed her no end
with his cruising friends,
So with Pedro in tow
they decided to go,
And sailed away
in the month of May,
With a dream of wind on the beam.

Their life in the sun
is so much fun,
Spending loads of notes
and getting broke,
But drinking beer and wine
makes everything fine,
They wouldn't go home
even if they were given the throne.

Nick's birthday's at sea
and if it were me,
I'd get drunk as a skunk
and pass out in my bunk,
We hope you get cake
and gifts poor Ellen has to make,
All aboard Ragtime
think you'll have a fine time,
So with your first mate
go celebrate!

Finally from Carolyn and Andrew on Revision II

Hi ya you two - finally got around to typing this up for you - not sure
it is really worthy of your blog but here you go!

We first met Nicholas Ager,
many moons ago in Graciosa,
with Ellen, Mark and Natalia in tow,
off to the bars they did go

But twas improvements to the good ship Kika
that joined the Nickster and the Neighbour!!
Nigel Calder was regaled,
while the new solar panal was unveiled.

Friendship followed with R2's crew and Cap't,
through regular emails and occasional chat,
we monitored the blog with eyes of green,
as Kika ventured off to places unseen.

Panama brought us back together,
and by now Nick is a real pro skipper.
Always one to lend and share,
even when a treasured tape meets disrepair! (sorry)

Often impressed by a trumpet performance,
although the cycling of clothes made us glance.
First principle cooking always the key,
to the jolly, smiley computer geek that's he!

So on your Birthday Nicholas,
lets raise a cheer and have a glass.
We feel honored to have you as our friend,
well beyond this journey's end.

x x

Position @ 18:30 UTC: S04° 04' W101° 01'
Daily distance run: 144
Distance to go: 2272
Cumulative distance: 610
Engine hours:0
Wind: SE/S 10-15knots
Weather: moderate sea, clear skies, 1012 millibars

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Cetacean Sightings

We've made really good progress over the last 24 hours and Kika is still steaming along at 6.5 knots. We are 'goose-winging' west now and the wind is directly behind us resulting in a motion not unlike the Atlantic crossing - rolling back and forth like a pendulum. It's quite wearing and even Kika protests when it's like this with her many squeaks and groans. Yesterday was a great day though: cloudless sky, moderate sea and a consistent wind. We found a tiny squid on the deck in the morning and a flying fish. We put the fishing line out at about 10.30 and caught another beautiful dorado (mahi-mahi) within the hour. They are extraordinary looking fish, and such a vibrant green it has to be seen to be believed. We had a delicious lunch of a fillet each with rice and homemade coleslaw. We are really eating well on this passage!

At about 3pm yesterday, Nick was having a snooze and I was pottering in the galley fixing a snack. I started up the companionway and caught sight of something big, black and shiny submerging just beyond Kika's stern. It was no more than 10 feet behind us and I was a little ruffled. You hear very mixed stories about whales and their interaction with boats and this one was interacting. I called Nick (we have a rule that if I need him urgently when he's asleep, I just say what I need him for without beating about the bush, so I just said 'whale!) and he climbed out to have a look. We counted 8 pilot whales though there were probably more, and some of them were mothers and calves. They were swimming all around the boat, almost like they were escorting us. A particularly large one swam just under the surface almost touching the starboard side. It was 15 feet at least.

We had a great time just watching their huge, graceful bodies and we were very lucky to see them up so close. They surfaced regularly but even below the surface we could see them really clearly due to the excellent light conditions. They stayed with us for about 20 minutes and strangely, their pod was joined by some enormous, acrobatic dolphins. We didn't know where to look. Each dolphin was over 2 metres long and they were racing through the water at lightening speed, crossing Kika's bow with inches to spare. It was a wonderful sight and thankfully Nick managed to catch it on video just incase we thought it was all a dream.

Gradually we watched the whales pull away from Kika one by one. The dolphins too did their disappearing act. It's amazing how desolate you feel after a short visit from them. You can never have enough dolphin in your life. It made us wonder what the they and the whales think of us. Do they see the boat as a living thing, perhaps a potential threat, or are they just nosey? It has been speculated that dolphins just enjoy the slipstream a large vessel makes. Whatever their reasons for spending time with us, we felt very privileged to have witnessed them.

Position @ 18:50 UTC: S02°36' W94°07.0'
Daily distance run: 150
Distance to go: 2416
Cumulative distance: 476
Engine hours:0
Wind: SE/S 10-15knots
Weather: moderate sea, clear skies, 1011 millibars

Friday, June 02, 2006

Clear skies, great sailing

A great day's sailing - we've been making 6-7 knots on a broad reach and in more comfort than the roly Atlantic sailing we experienced. The wind is becoming more consistent, although it hasn't completely settled down yet - a couple of times today I reefed the main, only for the wind to die away 15 minutes later. It's frustrating when the wind vanishes and leaves the rig crashing around in the swell, but we've decided it's preferable to using the engine. When the wind dies we've taken to securing the wheel with the rudder dead ahead and let the trim of the sails determine the course, with the occasional nudge and sail adjustment from ourselves.

When we left Isabela there was little or no light at night - just our tiny mast-head light doing its best to penetrate the darkness. Tonight the sky is clear, with stars filling the skies and the moon becoming brighter by the day.

We've yet to see any other shipping and our radar detector has been silent - a complete contrast to the Atlantic when there were only a couple of days during the crossing when we were out of sight of other ship's radar. It all adds to the feeling that it's a vast ocean with nothing between us and the Marquesas.

No fishing today as we've had the tow generator out to replenish the charge in our batteries.


Position @ 18:22 UTC: S03deg 15' W96deg 11'
Daily distance run: 130
Distance to go: 2566
Cumulative distance: 338
Engine hours:0
Wind: SE/S 10-15knots
Weather: moderate sea, clear skies, 1011 millibars