Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pacific Passage

Pacific Passage
Sunday April 10  thru  Saturday May 7, 2016

We left the marina on Saturday after fueling up and went to anchor off the Salinas Yacht Club & marina just 4 miles west.  An hour before we left the dock one of our bow lines broke, and the boat swung into the dock, demolishing the stern sugar scoop bumper.  We were very glad to leave that marina, the worst we've ever seen.  Leaving gave us an easy departure the following morning and gave Steve time to dive on the boat to clean the prop.  He didn't want to do it in the foul oily marina water.  Being a Saturday the beach was packed with people, and water toys = jet skis and big floats being pulled behind small power boats as well as several sailing races from laser size to 50 ft. size boats going on.  Very entertaining. 

Our 28 day passage started at 8 AM on Sunday with us motor sailing south-southwest under overcast skies.  We wanted to get further south in hopes of picking up some favorable winds, so we opted to use the engine to help get us there.  By 8 PM we were able to turn the engine off and sail, sailing to the wind angle, heading more south than on course.  This would turn out to be our situation during most of our time at sea.  Happy to be sailing with just the sound of the wind & waves.

Our knot meter was not working so we would only have our GPS speed and not the speed thru the water for this trip.  Not a good thing to have happen, but it is not crucial to the boats performance, just a useful tool in setting the sails and keeping track of miles logged.  During the trip it would mysteriously start working from time to time but not reliably.  Something to fix at a future date.

On day 3 we went to run the watermaker and it would not pressure up, so we would not be able to make water during this our longest passage !  We carry 250 gallons so we had plenty to make the passage as long as we conserved, which we did and made landfall with 100 gallons still left.   Our watermaker is located in a forward storage area so it was not accessible during the passage to check on repairs underway.  Besides missing nice showers and doing sponge baths we missed washing the cockpit down the most.  The salt air & sea spray coats everything with a fine layer of salt so everything you touched in the cockpit would be sticky.  We did use old dish washing water to help wipe the cockpit down and that helped a little. 

For most of the 28 day passage we had very light winds, 10 knots, directly behind us, our worst point of sail. This also meant, mostly calm seas which was a good thing.  Our biggest challenge was to try to keep the sails full and not flapping NOT an easy task.  We tried wing on wing but just not enough wind to make it worthwhile.  Using our spinnaker pole to keep the 150 genoa sail out was our best option. This took several maneuvers to set up, adding another block to rerun the sheet line thru, running a lead line forward, and both of us up on deck to deploy the pole.  Great once it was done but if the light winds switched sides jibing was not easy, having to roll everything up and redeploy on the other side.  Not something we would want to do a night with a wind shift or wind increase so we would just sail this way during the day. 

There were of course a few exceptions to our calm conditions.  On day 5 the winds were up to 20 knots, great for downwind sailing.  We had rolled up the main and were just sailing with the genoa when the auto pilot went into standby mode.  Luckily we were both in the cockpit as the boat went off the wind and the sail and sheet line started flapping like crazy.  The sheet line got wrapped around the dorade and pulled it off.  I was able to get up on deck and grab it before it went overboard while Steve got the boat back on course.  Conditions over the next 2 days let Steve make the repair and put the dorade back on underway.

Our auto pilot worked beautifully during the passage, either sailing to wind, on track or just in auto.  There were however several times when for whatever reason it would switch off, going into standby mode.  This was something we were aware of and knew to keep a good watch for any change in boat / sail movement.  Once when Steve was asleep I went down to use the bathroom when I came out and looked out the companion way and saw the clouds circling it just took a second to realize it was the boat spinning.  Back into the cockpit quickly getting the boat back on course and the auto pilot reset.  This happened about 10 times, each time the auto pilot would reset and start working again with no problem.  A mystery ?

The first 3 weeks the sea swells were mostly from the south east, so they would hit us broadside or aft, we would ride up the front of the swell and slide down the backside making a sort of corkscrew motion for the boat.  Most days they were in the 4 to 6 foot range, with just 2 days with 8 to 10 foot swells with an occasional 12 footer.  Walking around the boat was “fun” always having to have a handhold and trying to stay balanced.  Our main berth is midships so with the rolling motion we used the aft cabin for sleeping.  The last week when we were becalmed & only 1-2 foot swells it was much easier moving around the boat but we sure were wishing for more wind.

We had very little rain during our trip.  There were many days where we could see the rain forward & aft and off to one or both sides but it was like we were in a bubble and none fell on us.  We were of course hoping for a nice gentle rain to rinse the boat off & maybe even collect some.  A few light short sprinkles hit us but not until day 14 did we get a good short rain to rinse the boat and wash our hair on deck.  Day 21 also brought a nice early morning rain cleaning the boat and washing our hair on deck again.  This was better than having to dodge squalls as many of the boats north of us had to do. 

Communication was difficult this trip, we had trouble sending, receiving and talking on the single side band radio (SSB). Propagation (in addition to the wind) was not working in our favor.  There were several nets to check in with for boats out at sea in the Pacific and specifically for “puddle jump” boats.  Puddle Jump being the phrase coined to refer to boats crossing from the Americas to the South Pacific.  Our connection the first few weeks was very light and scratchy.  The last 2 weeks talking and hearing got much better talking with boats at sea as well as ones already in French Polynesia.  Being unable to send & receive emails was due to a computer glitch that Steve figured out BUT it was & is still not working correctly.  We had our satellite phone so I would call my sister every few days with our update that all was well.  The first 3 days out we were in VHF radio range with 2 other boats that had left the marina on Sunday.  In the first week we saw 2 power boats on different occasions traveling in what appeared to be from the Galapagos to Peru?  And we talked to the only cargo ship we saw traveling from Lima to China on day 7, other than that nothing else was seen.   

On day 10, a day with higher winds and waves, I saw an opening in the bimini connector.  The threads holding the zipper in place had worn out and had caused the material to separate from the zipper.  At first we thought we could just lower that section and Steve could sew it while sitting in the cockpit.  That was very wishful thinking on our part, it was way to windy & rolly so we had to take the whole bimini down and Steve brought it down below to hand sew it back together.  Mission accomplished and bimini back up in place just after sunset.

As I stated earlier keeping the sails full and not flapping was our biggest challenge.  With the light winds it was hard to do, they would stay full for a while but then every 4th or 5th wave the boat would roll in such a way to knock the wind out of the sails.  Back winded the sails would collapse and then would slam back into position with a loud snapping & banging noise.  Causing us to cringe every time, but there was very little to do to stop it completely.  As it was we were sailing more with the wind direction than on course, but we could only do that so much if we ever wanted to reach our destination.  The sails took the abuse very well, the sail cover trim on the foot of the genoa sail not so well.  The threads were torn leaving the trim shredding a little each day.  The sail was fine but it was not something we liked seeing every day and not a crucial thing to have to fix underway.

Another problem that was caused by all the rolling motion was some wear spots on the dinghy cover.  Just enough movement & friction over time to put holes in the cover.  We noticed it in time and were able to put in place protective buffers before any damage to the dinghy.  Another future fixable project.

We don't fish, because I don't eat fish, and cleaning them on the boat is messy.  But we had plenty of free flying fish on the passage.  We'd see them flying all around us during the day, and at night, when they couldn't see the boat, some would run into it and get stranded on the deck, so every morning we'd have to pick up 4-10 on the deck and toss them overboard.  They're small, the size of sardines, but they would have made a tasty treat for a boat cat if we had one.

We had many beautiful sunrises and sunsets and moon rises as well as many gloomy ones.  Wonderful star gazing!!!  It is amazing how just a little moon can light up the sea.  The several days around the full moon we had very little cloud coverage so had full advantage of the moon light all night long.  Then there were nights with no light, just surrounded by black unable to see much beyond the boat.  Just us moving thru the wide open ocean. 
One day kind of morphed into the next.  Our watch schedule was that I would do the 8 PM to midnight, Steve would do the midnight to 4 AM then I would come back on watch at 4 or 5 AM and Steve would get a couple more hours of rest.  Then we would take turns sleeping / napping as needed during the day.  There were a lot of days when neither of us would need more sleep during the day and there were a few when I needed an extra 3-4 extra hours of sleep, especially after a night when I got very little sleep during the midnight to 4 AM time.  All in all it went rather smoothly with both of us getting plenty of sleep when it was needed.  To pass the time we read a lot on our Kindles, and played computer games. 

Since the seas and winds were mostly moderate, cooking below was challenging, but doable.  The menu was driven by what fresh food was about to expire, and we ate well, arriving with almost no fresh food left but cabbage.

The last week the winds and waves died down even more, winds from the east behind us at 5 knots or less the seas only 1 foot swells.  Even keeping the sail full with the pole was difficult.  We started to run the engine a few hours a day, usually during the early morning hours when there was no wind at all that helped get us back on course and make up for having to sail off course with the wind.  It was painfully slow, since the winds had been pushing us south we had decided to head for the island of Fatu Hiva instead of Hiva Oa our original destination.  Days 25 & 26 we were getting so close but with no wind still a long time to go so used the engine even more.  We had plenty of fuel to get there, but knowing no diesel would be available at Fatu Hiva we wanted to still conserve.  Day 27 at 1:30 I sighted land !!!!  So very exciting, when Steve came up from his nap I was able to say Land Ho.   So with our current light wind and slow speed it would put us close to the island at daybreak.  BUT the wind gods were still against us & at midnight the winds picked up and NOW we were going too fast.  We would now be arriving close to the island at dark.  Being new territory, even though the charts all showed plenty of deep water we wanted to be able to see our approach.  We rolled up the genoa as small as we could, still going too fast so we had to bear off course causing it to be a very bumpy 4 hours for me to try to sleep.  In the dawning light we were able to get back on course and let out the sail and of course with the sun rise the winds died down again.  It was still a lovely morning to come around to the west side of the island and anchor in Hanavave Bay by 9 AM.

Link to a few pictures;

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