Archive for July, 2009

Tres Bien

Ca va tres bien (it is going very well) in Hiva Oa thus far. After sleeping for a good eight hours straight (a first since we left the Galapagos), we awoke on Saturday to the sounds of the waves breaking on the rocks surrounding the bay. If that didn’t suffice, I was quickly reminded of my whereabouts upon stepping out into the cockpit and setting my sights on the face of the majestic volcanic cliff that dwarfs our cozy anchorage. 

We spent Saturday morning checking three weeks worth of emails. Fortunately we were able to do so on the boat using a reasonably priced wireless connection. Dallas had other business to take care of online, so Wes, Tiffany, and I trekked the two miles into town around 2 p.m. We had learned that there was a surf competition going on at the beach and thought that would be a good opportunity to meet some locals. Indeed it was. There were many young Marquesans hanging out in small groups on the rocks along the beach or sitting on the beds of small pick-up trucks that most people here drive. One guy approached where we were sitting and began to look for the key that he had lost. We tried  to help him find it among the leaves, brush, and broken glass that was strewn around a large plateau of volcanic rock. Afterward Wes pointed out that the pile of rock was a marae, an altar on which traditional ceremonies such as human sacrifices were once conducted!

We returned to watching the young surfers and overheard a group of young men nearby who seemed to be having a good time. One of them offered to share his Pastise, and we accepted in order to break the ice. While I found the anise (black licorice) liqueur to be palatable, Wes and Tiff could not hide their grimaces, and the Marquesans were amused.

I tried to build up my confidence in speaking French by making some small talk. However, the most talkative of the group was clearly drunk, to which I attributed the fact that I couldn’t understand him whatsoever. However, Alec, who had invited us over, spoke slowly and clearly, and I found myself starting to form sentences. Alec informed us that he gives 3-hour tours of the archaeological ruins nearby via water taxi for 1,000 colonial francs (about 120 US dollars for 4 people). We began to consider it, but thought it would be preferable to find an English speaking guide. 

After the competition we went up to the grocery store to pick up some produce and cheese for dinner on the boat. There wasn’t too much produce to speak of–some apples, a couple of cucumbers, potatos, and onions, but we were told by the Swedish couple that they were given some pampelmouse (similar to grapefruit) upon walking by a local on his lawn. We are hoping for similar luck.

Speaking of luck, we saw Alec coming into the store as we were leaving, and he offered to give us a ride back to the boat. Once there, we invited him to come aboard and offered him a drink. He declined our wine but brought out a bottle of Cuervo tequila from his backpack. I teased him that he was a “fete marchant” (walking party). My French became more fluent after a bit of wine, and we began to bombard him with questions. We learned that Alex’s day job is tending to a large garden on the hillside. He agreed to give us a tour of the garden while we are here.

In terms of the political scene on the islands, Alec indicated that while most people in the Marquesas do not mind being under the colonial rule of France, Alec and a number of other young people want independence. Alec stated that France does nothing for them except for taxing their income, purchases, etc. and providing an unnecessary police force. He informed us that while the Marquesas officially flies the French flag, he flies a “drapeau d’independence” (flag of independence) that has two stripes of blue to represent the color of the sky and the sea with a stripe of white in the middle, on top of which are depicted the five island groups of French Polynesia (Marquesas, Society Islands, Tuamotus, Australs, and Gambier). Alec stated that France gets more in income from places like Tahiti than they provide but acknowledged that the reverse is true for the smaller island groups. We wished him “bonne chance” (good luck) in his endeavors for independence.

I offered Alec something to eat repeatedly during his visit, but he declined, so we just passed around a baguette and cheese to tide us over until we could have dinner. Around 10 p.m., Alec suggested that we return to town to eat at the restaurant by the beach. We thought it implausible that they would still be serving food, but Alec insisted that they were. Indeed, when we arrived, the restaurant was fairly full. The salad was the highlight–a whole plate full of fresh produce! The restaurant was adjacent to a dance club playing modern, international dance music. I thought the music and the atmosphere to be very alluring, but I didn’t feel like paying the 1,000 franc ($12) entry fee. Apparently the Marquesans are willing to pay to party!

We have been trying to decide whether or not to stay here or move on to Nuku Hiva for Bastille Day (Tuesday, July 14), France’s independence day. After talking to Alec, we’ve decided to stick around, as there will be traditional dancing, drum-playing, etc. If it is anything like today, it promises to be very memorable!


Here are some great questions we got from Rusty (first several questions) & Margo (last question).  Wes just setup our big Wi-Fi and antenna and the internet is faster now, so there are now new photos on the Photos link.


Q:  Does the person on the night watch tether themselves to the boat or wear a life vest or a whistle?

A:  Not generally.  We have Revere inflatable PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices) with integrated harnesses. Each has a whistle and light although Wes’s was delivered without the CO2 cartridge for inflation (manual inflation is possible).  We also have tethers for connected the harness to the boat or jacklines.  In practice, we tend to only use them in rough weather, or when going forward.

According to multihull designer Chris White, the number one cause of death offshore is man overboard (MOB), as opposed to boats sinking or capsizing, the crew having a medical emergency, etc.  If you’ve ever been on a monohull in rough weather or even moderate seas (4-6 ft), you’ll understand what a challenging task it is to remain in one place, let alone move and work above or below deck.  I’ve seen some pretty large bruises as a result of just one day passages from Florida to the Bahamas.  One of the inherent safety features of a catamaran is that it is much, much easier to move around and remain on the deck than it is in a monohull, even in rough weather because of the reduced heeling angles and generally less pronounced motion.  That safety consideration and the associated reduced seasickness and improved quality of life was one of the big factors in our choosing a catamaran over a monohull.

There’s an old rule on boats — “One hand for you, one hand for the ship” that captures the importance of always holding on to or bracing yourself against something to keep yourself aboard no matter how important the task at hand seems to be.  We follow that rule, try to avoid leaving the cockpit at night when no one else is on board to watch you, and wear our harnesses/PFDs when the seas are rough or we’re doing something more dangerous than reading a book and stopping to look up every 15 minutes.

Q:  Have you fished yet?

A:  We’ve had a line out a couple of times but haven’t caught anything yet.  For those who don’t know, I’m a vegetarian (the only one in the crew) so I’m a little bit indifferent, but I’ve promised to try something if we catch and cook it.  So far no one in the crew has turned out to be a talented or particularly committed fisherperson, but I think things will change once we catch the first fish.

Q:  I read Adrift by Steven Callahan and he mentioned that Dorado followed him for most of his life raft journey. Do any fish schools follow the boat?

A:  We haven’t noticed any schools of fish following us.  There are flying fish everywhere, but they seem to be more interested in getting away from the boat. I have been told by a friend who used to supply helicopters to New Zealand tuna fisherman that large floating objects in the water will attract small fish, which attracts larger fish feeding on them, and so on.  I think because we’re sailing at a reasonable pace instead of drifting that the small fish that would eat off of the bottom or be attracted to the shade of the boat are not able to keep up with us and there’s no reason for the larger fish to follow us.  It would be interesting to research a bit more.

Q:  When did Polaris disappear from your view?

A:  The short answer is we didn’t notice.  I’m slowly working my way into the celestial navigation and hadn’t been paying attention.  We also had a lot of cloudy nights offshore from the western tip of Cuba until we were more than halfway to the Galapagos.  The night we saw the Southern Cross at the beginning of the passage to the Marquesas was one of the first really clear and moonless nights we had seen since we were crossing the Gulfstream from Florida to Cuba.

Q:  Do you bathe in salt water, then rinse with fresh? I imagine with four of you on board, cleanliness is closely monitored.

A:  People work showers at sea in a variety of ways.  We’re currently washing and rinsing in fresh water using a hand-pumped 2 gallon bug sprayer from Lowe’s.  It provides a reasonable amount of water pressure but is very frugal with water as well (seems to be less than 1 gallon for two people to shower).  We spray down, soap up, and then rinse off.  Other people use bucket showers of salt water and then some sort of fresh water to rinse.  We’ve been told by a guy we met in Panama who was on his 5th circumnavigation that you can do without the fresh water as long as you towel off before the salt water evaporates off of your skin.  We don’t shower as frequently as we did on land, but we do shower more than I’ve been told many rural people in our grandparents generation did (weekly warm bath with stove-heated water the day before going to church).

Q:  You mention that the spinnaker can be hard on the boat in heavy seas. Is the main stress on the mast? Is the boat smashing into the upside of the wave?

A:  I’m always worried about the standing rigging whether I should be or not. Everybody has things they worry about offshore and mine is some sort of rigging failure.  The spinnaker is a pretty large sail designed to keep the boat moving in light wind conditions.  Our spinnaker has done really well in moderate wind conditions as well (say around 15 knots), but when the relative wind gusts to more than 25 or 30 knots, you can be sure there’s a lot of strain on the rig.  The way I think of it is that a sailboat like ours has a maximum hull speed because it has a displacement hull.  For us, this is something like 8-9 knots.  Once that speed has been reached, additional force in the sails is just strain on the rig.  There were cases when we were surfing down steep 10-foot seas and reaching speeds of more than 12 knots.  The stern of the boat was being lifted fairly high, and the leeward bow didn’t have a lot of the hull above water.  In conditions like that, we could drop the spinnaker and replace it with just the jib, which has maybe 1/3 the effective sail area or so, and still be moving along at over 6-7 knots, which is more comfortable and lets me sleep better.  We had following or quartering seas (waves coming from directly behind or off of the stern quarter), so we didn’t really smash into them, although occasionally you get a wave at an angle that will slam into the bottom of the bridgedeck or toss you a round a little.

I do have to add here that Ray (our Raymarine autopilot) has done an incredible job steering the boat in all these conditions.  If I remember correctly, we have an ST6002 control unit, an X-30 computer unit, and a Type 2 Long mechanical linear drive unit.  Once we got the installation and calibration sorted out it’s really been incredible.  We take the wheel ourselves to raise and drop the anchor but that’s about it.

Q:  What does “Trimming the sails” mean?

A:  “Trimming the sails” just means adjusting the sails for the best speed.  The sheet is the line tied to the aft corner of a sail that allows you to adjust the sail either farther inboard (sheeting in the sail) or farther outboard (easing the sail).  Generally, sailing into the wind (close-hauled at about a 45 degree angle to the wind) means the sail needs to be as far inboard as it can go and sailing directly downwind means the sail need to be as far outboard (as close to perpendicular to the boat) as possible.  Whenever the wind changes direction or the boat needs to change course, you can adjust the sails in or out to get the maximum possible speed for that relative wind direction.  Sailboat racers are pretty fanatical about an extra quarter knot or less and there’s a lot of physics involved in sail shape, center of effort, etc. but cruisers like us generally aren’t as concerned about having the sails set perfectly.

Land Ho!

I had the good fortune yesterday of being on the last night watch that ended at dawn.  We had flown the spinnaker for the last day to make sure we would make it to Hiva Oa in time to check-in with the authorities (more on that later) and get into town for the evening, so we were only about 15-20 miles from the island when the sunlight started to seep over the horizon and I could make out a large, high island ahead on the last minute of my shift.  Land Ho!

What a landfall it was.  You can imagine that it was special for us due to the long time at sea, even though with GPS and modern charts there were no doubts for us about where we were or where land would be. The colors were amazing.  Hiva Oa is a massive, rugged, volcanic island that rises over 3000 feet from the sea.  The cape that we were approaching from the east-northeast had relatively little vegetation, and was connected to the mainland by a narrow but high ridge or isthmus.  The island behind it was majestic.  At first, we could see primarily the outline of Hiva Oa itself, dark on the horizon.  The sun coming up in the east gave the western sky a pink glow, while the sky above the island was filled with white, puffy cumulus clouds that started at the highest peak and spread over the island and high up into the sky.  Higher yet in the sky, a bright Gibbous moon hung over the island as we approached. Because we were from coming in from the east-northeast and were headed for the southwest corner of the island, we had a chance to see the north side of the island on our way in, including a large rock islet off of the northeast tip of the island called Motu Taboo.

As the sun rose higher in the eastern sky, the western sky turned a pale blue and the clouds above the island took on brilliant pastel shades of pink and orange, while the rugged, brown volcanic folds of the eastern cape of Hiva Oa started to come into view.  With the full onset of daybreak, we could see Hiva Oa ahead, with its smaller sister island Tahuata just to the south.  Farther to port was Mohotani and off to starboard was the small island of Fatu Huku.  As we sailed along the south coast of the island, towards the village of Atuona and about a mile and a half from the rocky shore, we could see a light rain shower envelope the cliffs and peaks of the island beside us as the moist tradewinds had their journey across the Pacific interrupted by Hiva Oa’s steep rise from the sea.  The rising air cooled and dropped a light shower over the increasingly verdant mountainsides.  We snapped some photos, but I don’t think there is any way they can capture the sight.

I’ve nearly finished Guns, Germs, and Steel, and learned about the settlement of virtually every Pacific island, as far apart as Easter Island and Hawaii, by Polynesians that ultimately began their journey many centuries before from what is today Taiwan. They were here in large numbers awaiting the Europeans that “discovered” the Pacific and its islands.  Theirs are the voyages and discoveries that are truly amazing.  It’s hard to imagine the feeling they would have had when sighting land or to think of how many must have died on their voyages of discovery spread over many centuries.

After anchoring in the breakwater-protected Taa Huku Bay, Lauren and I headed ashore.  While I was preparing, a dinghy with a French family stopped by to let me know that I shouldn’t bother myself too much.  They’d been here a week and hadn’t seen authorities.  As the husband put it, “Don’t be too busy, the gendarme, they are not so busy you know.”  We would learn later what he meant.  The walk into the village from the bay is about 2 miles, about half of it uphill, and takes about half an hour.  We arrived during the lunch-time break, which here can begin as early as 11:00 am and take till as late as 2:30 pm, so we found most places closed. (On a side note, the Marquesas are 9:30 hours slow on GMT instead of a full hour like most time zones, which is a bit odd, but is apparently done on many islands at the edge of a time zone as well as in Iran and India).  We decided to wait out the lunch break with a baguette and a couple of beers from a small food store where numerous locals seemed to be coming and going.  After returning the two bottles for our $1.25 deposit, we didn’t come out too badly.  The large baguette was $0.80 (by far the cheapest thing on the island) and the half-liter bottles of Hinano made in neighboring Tahiti (700 miles away) were less than $3.50 each.

While we were occupied with our lunch on the front porch of the store, a Swedish couple stopped by to chat with us.  Paul and his wife (with a long name I can’t pronounce) are about our age and are anchored in a ketch right behind us. Paul took a year and a half off of his job to buy a cheap monohull in Ventura, California, fix it up himself, and try to sail it to New Zealand.  The passage from the Channel Islands to Hiva Oa took them 31 days and included a couple of typical adventures — lightning storms in the ITCZ, a sheet wrapped around the prop, and lots of leaks. They’ve “missed” check-in 3 times and gave us the scoop.  The gendarmerie is closed at lunch, but we could pick up the paperwork in the afternoon.  Boats are checked in only from 7am to 11am, and only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Before clearing in, we have to pay a bond of $1500 for each person on the boat to the bank, but the bank doesn’t do bonds from Friday afternoon to Monday at 8am we learned, only after a half-hour wait at the bank.  Evidently the bond (99% is returned when we leave) has two origins.  One is our long-haired American and European ancestors of the 60’s and 70’s, who crewed on sailboats coming to French Polynesia and liked it so much that some of them took up living on the beach, helping themselves to coconuts & local fruits, etc.  The other seems to be the socialized health-care system that will care for anyone here who is ill.  Hence, there is an alternative to the bond that is essentially the same price — a pre-paid, one-way ticket back to your country of citizenship. 

Among the interesting locals that visited the store while we were outside was a French military man who stopped and ran in while his wife waited in the truck. The priceless thing about him was the uniform. It was typical light camouflage cloth and boots, with a notable exception — shorts that were so short the made you think that the camouflage material had been stolen before the pants were finished.  They were significantly shorter than the basketball shorts of the 70’s.  We’re going to try to sneak a pic if we get a chance, but if we don’t, you’ll have to trust me that it’s not a trivial thing for today’s American to avoid staring and laughing at a French soldier running into a store in what are essentially loose-fitting Daisy Dukes plus 10% or so.

For a three week passage, our boat list isn’t too bad. The port navigation light went out again (we have power-efficient and durable LED lights, but we’ve had some challenges with salt water and old wiring), the spinnaker had a trim piece tear at the very top of the sail on our last day (probably due to chafe with the hoop at the end of the sock), and the sock itself is unstitched in a couple of places.  The starboard engine had been hard to start, although it seems like it may just be an electrical problem.  I need to go back up the stick while we’re in a reasonably calm anchorage and put the main halyard back up on the block.  We may not be able to reef it without chafing, but at least we can fly the full main without having to worry about chafe now that we have a wire rope with an eye spliced into the halyard.  There are a few other items that are small or not anything we’re going to try to fix immediately, but overall not too bad.  The other casualty is the bottom of the boat.  It’s pretty nasty and sooner or later I’ve got to jump in to clean it.  We already got one tip from cruisers on a very quiet bay that would otherwise make a good place to clean it, but apparently the water clouded up and coral died after Survivor was filmed there and the sharks are numerous.

The islands here are absolutely beautiful, but the Internet is very slow an expensive.  The Internet cafe is the post office, where you can bring your own computer for $10/hr.  Wes found Wi-Fi here on the boat for closer to $5/hr, but it’s pretty slow, so we won’t be able to do much in the way of uploading pictures until we get to Tahiti.  If you’d like to see what we’re seeing, you could try Googling “Hiva Oa” or even using Google’s image search instead of a general Internet search.

Lat: 9 28.973′ S
Lon: 137 26.799′ W

94 miles to go…

We are almost there. It’s almost hard to imagine being on land at this point, but we spend a lot of time trying. We will undoubtedly be thrilled to glimpse the volcanic island of Hiva Oa emerging from the sea, and we are curious as to who will be on watch at the time to make the announcement. After clearing in with the local gendarme, the fun will begin! Needless to say, we can’t wait to take in some sights, sounds, smells, and tastes other than those that we have grown accustomed to over the last three weeks. We are especially excited to try to communicate with the Marquesans, sample the local cuisine (especially the fresh produce), and have a COLD drink.

It has been slightly more challenging over the last few days to come up with unique activities, foods, and topics of conversation, but we are getting it done. We had a really good time the other night playing Taboo, and I think I will break out the playing cards tonight. Also, Tiff and I have been using her power-conserving computer to watch movies at night on our respective watches, which we then discuss the next morning. In terms of foods, I dug out a box of chocolates that we’d been carrying around since the states, making for a surprise treat. Also, Tiff popped some popcorn yesterday which I have a feeling will become a common boat snack.

Today’s highlight (thus far) has been documenting the gradual removal of Dallas’ facial hair. Those of you who know him will be surprised to learn that he has managed to grow a fairly full (minus the patchy spots) beard over the last few weeks, and we have the pictures to prove it! In fact, we have pictures at various stages of the removal process including the goatee and, my personal favorite, the mustache. With any luck we’ll be able to post the pics online from the Marquesas.

The sailing has been consistent since our last blog except that we put the spinnaker back up early this morning when the wind died. Today the wind clocked around to the north. This is very uncommon in this area according to the pilot charts, but I would guess that the odds are pretty good that one will experience more statistically uncommon events during three weeks at sea.

I just did the weekly check of the water tanks. The method is simple. It’s a long shoe string with a clevis pin on the end that is dropped down into the tank until it hits bottom. It is not so scientific in that we have yet to mark the levels on the string that correspond to specific measurements, but it allows us to estimate water consumption and determine if we should be concerned. I was surprised at the result of today’s check. It looks as though we only consumed about 10 gallons over the last week and have over 30 left in the tanks, not to mention the 12 or so gallons left in the jerry jugs. We were joking that we should just skip the Marquesas and head on to Tahiti…you should have seen the look on Tiffany’s face! Just for her, I guess we will go ahead and stop. At our current speed, we should be there sometime tomorrow afternoon!

Lat: 8 10.203′ S
Lon: 131 10.317′ W

475 miles to go…

The days are definitely blending together now. Some days the wind is a little stronger or the seas bigger, but it’s generally more of the same every day. It’s hard to remember whether something happened yesterday or a few days ago. The one change over the last few nights is that the moon is now full, which makes an incredible difference at sea in terms of the ambient light. It seems as though you can see for miles with just the moonlight. When we left the Galapagos there was a waning moon, but I was glad to notice that we should have a good amount of moonlight when we approach the Marquesas. We’ve been running with just the jib most of the time and making close to 6 knots. Sail and autopilot adjustments are generally twice a day at the most and today we didn’t need to adjust either.

We decided on a traditional 4th of July celebration, at least as traditional as you can come up with on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Lauren made bread and we fried hot dogs & potatoes, using the bread like buns, with ketchup, pickle relish, onion, & mustard. After eating, we were ready for “fireworks”. We pulled out some extra, expired flares and each had a go with the 12-gauge flare revolver that has a break-open breech like a shotgun. Only one of the expired flares was a dud. Lauren and Tiffany then tried a couple of expired handheld flares, which are like big, red, 3-minute sparklers.

The boat has been pretty quiet the last few days as everyone has their nose in a book. We thought we had a lot of books when we left, but if anything I wish we’d picked up some more good non-fiction. There was an incredible used book store in Jacksonville near our sailmaker, West Marine, and the Yanmar distributor. The maze of bookshelves from floor to ceiling was so big that Lauren actually got lost in it, and we’ve enjoyed the results of our visits there. Almost all the yacht clubs, marinas, or boating places where sailors stop have a book exchange where sailors leave books they’ve finished and are free to pick up the books left by others, but so far we haven’t been that impressed with the selection. I’m not sure we’re going to find very many good exchanges in the Pacific. Maybe we can trade with other boats if we start to run out of good material. Luckily that shouldn’t be anytime soon, as I still have at least a several thousand pages worth on my to-read list on-board.

If the things we’ve heard about the South Pacific islands turn out to be true, it’s sort of fitting that the distance to get here is so great. It certainly contributes to the cost and difficultly of reaching the them, which can be the only thing responsible for them still retaining the character they’re reputed to have. The time spent on the passage also does a good job of distancing you from the hustle and bustle of the US and Panama and readying you for a new experience and culture.