Ocean Crossing Recap
This is a continuation of excerpts from my ocean passage log.
Read Part 1: Pacific Ocean Passage for the section from La Cruz to San Benedicto...
Day 7 - 2,315nm to Hiva Oa
The start of an ocean passage: sleep all day, and sleep all night. It’s difficult to teach our bodies not only to sleep less, but at different times.
Clif and I started routine 3-hour watches last night and we made a whole-hearted attempt at falling asleep during our time off, but with the creaking of the boat and your spouse sitting in the cockpit— even tethered in— it’s hard to relax and allow yourself to sleep. This seems to be pretty common for the first couple nights, until you’re so exhausted that your body sleeps and doesn’t allow you to lie awake for those precious hours. NAPS are a God-send. Naps all day, naps all night.
We were blessed today with some light winds and calm seas after a fairly quick sail yesterday past Socorro Island. I woke up this morning and helped Clif put up the Drifter sail, our light-wind, Rasta colored, thin fabric sail. We’ve now had the drifter up for six solid hours, and still just cruising along at 5 knots, sometime dipping to 3.5. Ah, this is why they call this passage the “Coconut Milk Run!” It is sustained, light wind trades that allow boat to scoot along without much work on our end. Clif calls it “champagne sailing,” although with all this residual swell from yesterday’s weather the rolls remain… it will always remain… I’m convinced, it will be forever rolly on this passage… as long as we’re going downwind. All this rolling back and forth does not categorize this as “champagne sailing” in my books. I think you have to be able to hold a flute of precious bubbly without the worry of spilling , in order to fall into that category.
On the plus side, we haven’t touched the sails since this morning. We have both had chances to take short cat-naps, and spend time down below making lunch. The wind is a little more manageable, allowing us a grace day to get into the swing of things.
Yesterday, I made my first, successful phone patch over the long-range radio to my Mom! It was fun to be able to chat with her, even if it was brief. Since everyone has access to Satellite Phones these days, phone patching is a lost art— many Hams on the maritime mobile said they hadn’t been asked to do a phone patch in a while, or “Here, wait a sec and let’s see if I can find my equipment buried in ther…uh…” But a found a guy who could pick me up in Florida loud and clear, and helped call Mom :) These calls will be especially nice about mid-way through the passage.
Lunch Today… Canned Coho Salmon (from work this past summer!) Sandwiches with cucumber and tomato slices and dijon mustard.
Day 8 - March 18th …and 2,225nm to Hiva Oa.
Sail change, nap, eat, nap, sail change, radio time, nap, eat…repeat.
I am thankful for each day that passes with good wind and manageable seas. Slowly ticking away the miles. The wind has been fairly steady between 10 and 20 knots, increasing in the evening and decreasing in the morning, once the sun is up. The rolling sea swells have been larger than expected. Maybe not larger than expected, but we’re headed more dead down wind which enhances the rolling back and forth from side to side— which makes the seas feel larger down below. I’m coming to realize that this constant movement back and forth is part of the experience, the sea-saw (wait. Is that why it’s called a sea-saw?)… When the movement gets really bad, Clif and I get irritable. But, we’re quick to make sure the other knows it’s not them… it’s the motion of the ocean that’s driving us nuts.
Enough complaining! If it’s like this all the way to the Marquesas, we will be one lucky boat. We have friends now, texting us via satellite, who are motoring through the doldrums. At the same time we scoot along under only our jib, at 5.5 knots, almost directly down wind, in the right direction!
Last night, neither of us slept well, so today is a nap day: taking turns lying in the aft quarter berth, almost always lying on your our stomachs, rolling with the waves to try and fall asleep.
**Brief typing break to strap down crate of potatoes, and garafon (blue plastic jug) of drinking water in the galley…*
Passage Rule #1: If it is not secured, strapped down, or smashed into place… it will move… nay… it will FLY.
Day 10 - Shower day!
Wx - More of the same! Sunny, 40% light fluffy clouds and 12-15 knots of winds from the NE. I haven’t done anything to make the boat move today… It’s like riding on an autopilot space ship for a month. The sails just stay full and we keep going 5+ knots! What a novelty.
A little about hygiene…
Keeping yourself clean on a sailboat can be both easy and difficult— it really depends on how you define clean, and the location of the boat. When anchored in beautiful, clear coves, you can take a quick dip and clean up the sweat and dirt via saltwater bath. On passage, while we’re cruising along in the deep, blue Pacific, that’s not an option. Sailboats, in general, are not known for their fresh water storing capacities. Sedna happens to have a lot of fresh water stored (about 120 total in stainless steel tanks) as well as a water maker. But, the over-use of freshwater is not taken lightly aboard Sedna. If we can take showers on land, we do so, and if not… it’s wet-wipes for you. As a morale booster, and reward for over a week at sea, we both took showers! I even washed my hair! Because of the status of our constant rolling boat home, I had to sit down and brace myself on the shower bench (how convenient… it’s like those builders of HC’s knew what they were doing) and use small amounts of water from our shower spigot to get my hair wet enough for a shampoo. After just one shampoo, my body felt lighter!
Because of how great we felt afterwards, we decided that a once-a-week shower policy bet in place. I’ll do only saltwater dishes for the whole thirty days if it means I can have multiple showers a week!
Day 11- March 21st
Another verse… same as the first!
Guess what?! The weather is exactly the same. The northeast Tradewinds have proven to be very much northeasterly, and very consistent. I mention consistency because we have friends on vessels that left a week after us, and are not experiencing the same. As the days progress, we extremely grateful for the wind, and the constant 5-6knot hull speed, that is helping us speed along in a much more lively fashion. We’ve been telling each other, “If I have to be uncomfortable for a couple days and go 6 knots… I’d rather do that then…” …Then bob around becalmed in the middle of the ocean going backwards (yes, this happens to people, too).
Dinner Tonight: Jibaritos — Trying to replicate a dish I love at a Mexican fusion restaurant in Bend: Fried Plantain Cakes topped with Shredded Pork and cabbage slaw. Usually served with Guacamole, but out avocados all went bad at the same time :(
Day 13- One week (7 days) out of San Benedicto. 1,621nm to Hiva Oa.
Woke up this morning to a wall of clouds in the south. We’re aiming right for them. Yesterday, we passed latitude 10 degrees North, which means we’re nearing the infamous ITCZ, the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone. This space, just above the equator, also known as the doldrums, is the buffer of space between the hemispheres, our transition from northeast Tradewinds to southeast. We’re hoping to have a really small stretch of ITCZ, as it can range anywhere from 60 miles to 300 miles or more. Crossing fingers for an ITCZ that we can motor across quickly and begin the final southern leg to the Marquesas.
The ITCZ can hold anything from flat dead calms, to raging squalls. This is where lightning is more prevalent and storm clouds ebb and flow, growing with ease. Those who sail across the ITCZ have to use the wind of the squalls to their advantage. We plan to dodge them all together.
But for now, we’re sailing straight toward the cloud bank: 7 knots speed over ground, jib and mainsail (reefed). Speeding along until we run out of wind, and that could be any day now.
Today also marks one full week at sea, having left San Benedicto last Friday afternoon. This is a nice mark, but daunting, thinking that we have at least two more weeks. It’s already felt like two solid weeks. The monotony of the swell against the side of the boat and the consistent winds are a blessing, but making us want for something, some change to break the cycle, some landmark to have accomplished. The equator looms in our eyes like a big stretch of yellow tape, ready to break.
Clif is dreaming of fresh flowers wrapped around his neck, and sand between his toes.
Our First Squall! 1900 UTC (or 1:00pm Puerto Vallarta Time) March 24th…
I spoke too soon! At one in the afternoon today, Clif and I experienced our first ocean squall—and then another and another! We were so preoccupied looking at the large cloud bank up in front of us, I didn’t think twice about looking behind, to the northeast, to see the squalls bearing down on us. Within 20 minutes of seeing the grey clouds gather past our stern, the temperature dropped, the wind picked up, and we could physically see the front move over head. The whole squall took about an hour, raining the entire time at varying speeds and in varying amounts. The rain calmed the seas, and made them almost look glassy— like water drops bouncing off a puddle of mercury. The wind lessened and we took the opportunity of heavy rain to bathe ourselves! Both Clif and I stripped down in the cockpit and soaped up head to toe, allowing the rain to wash away the suds. It was a hilarious sight— shampoo suds filling the cockpit drains. The difference in temperature and weather was a welcome one (and can’t complain about a free shower), and I will always remember that first squall as a high on my passage.
Several hours later, after cleaning up, having some lunch, checking out the clean decks and messaging family, another dark cloud came baring down behind us. This one formed much more quickly. I was at the helm and looked behind me, watching the wave crests turn into wave caps, and then large wind wave swell… in the not very far distance. You could actually see the span of the sea state change with the naked eye. I knew this one might have a little more punch, and it did. The second squall was shorter lived, but had the most torrential rain— just beating into our skin for about 15 minutes. The last squall was so fun and bubbly… this one did not inspire bath time. The rain drops hurt my back as I stood at the helm, trying to keep Sedna pointed dead down wind. For both squalls we kept the jib up, and it carried us fast and with the storm. The ridiculous, beating rain was almost comical. How could the first squall seem so sweet, and this one so violent? I actually thought for a moment that we were experiencing hail in the middle of the tropics. But, eventually, it subsided, and left in it’s wake, a nice stiff breeze to sail on for the rest of the evening.
Today was no doubt, a rite of passage! One step closer to crossing the equator and one step closer to being shellbacks!
…. oh yes, so just to confirm. We are most definitely in the ITCZ now.
Day 15-16 (11days out of San Benedicto and 1255nm to Hiva Oa)Over half-way! Finally!
These doldrums are not so very dull…
For the past three days we have been making our way through the Intertropical Convergence Zone, sailing and motoring, while the winds and weather sort themselves out. We’ve experience heavy rains, 15-30 knot wind gusts, and evening lightning, for brief and extended periods of time. Our first squall was just a precursor to a larger front that moved in on us later Saturday night. Thankfully, we had a couple good squalls earlier that day to prepare us for the larger storm that we had to pass in order to break through this crazy place. The foul-weather gear has been lying around, at the ready— although we switch between getting fully done up in rain gear, or just throwing on the lifejacket and harness butt naked… it makes for less wet clothing hanging around, that’s for sure!
Saturday evening we started seeing flashes of lightning appear in the higher clouds— no bolts, just large sections of cloud lit up so you could see their billowing layers. Clif and I have never seen lightening in such a concentration as that night. The bulb-like flashes continue to increase throughout the night, and even got so bright, that we experienced brief blindness, like you would get from someone taking a flash photo in a dark room. We never very few lightning bolts, and those we did see never reached for the water, just adjoining clouds. The winds started to pick up around 10pm at night and sustained themselves between 20-30 knots, maybe gusts to 35 until 3:30am. Rain was not heavy, but rather a Southeast Alaskan spitting rain. I could easily imagine us in Taku Inlet (an infamous Juneau wind/weather funnel) …. Expect 40 degrees warmer.
With all of the squalls we’ve experienced, they’ve arrived from the Northeast, and we ride with them, downwind, with either our staysail solo, or the jib poled out solo. Our smaller yankee jib has been excellent for the squalls. We’ve taken turns hand steering, since the squalls have ranged from 20 minutes to one hour, its’ doable for one skipper to control the boat and all the other to rest.
In honor of our heavier weather, I busted out some Snickers Bars I purchased in La Cruz. On our trip down the California coast, we ran into a gale for several days, and survived off of bite-sized snickers (thanks to our buddy Dave). So to continue the tradition, on Saturday night, we slept a Snickers and watched the fantastic lightning show around us…. Not much else you can do!
This tropical front was nothing like our west coast gale in 2013. In fact, in a squall, the seas lie down the heavier the rain gets. It’s very surreal to feel pelting rain and 25 knots on your face, all with little to no sea swell!
For past two days we have experienced more intermittent squalls— some that zip right through before you can even begin closing windows, and others you watch brewing on the horizon for hours, and they take maybe an hour to pass by.
But most of our squalls have been fairly tame— even fun! Pretty amazing to watch such grandiose amounts of rain water fall from the sky! …And Sedna loves the wash downs.
Day 20, Friday, March 30th:
WE ARE OFFICIALLY SHELLBACKS! Happy Equator Crossing Day! At 2154 UTC, or 3:54pm Puerto Vallarta Time, Sedna sailed across the Equator into the Southern Hemisphere.
This crossing not only marks us over two-thirds of our way through the passage, but also makes Clif and I “Shellbacks,” sailors who have crossed the equator. It is tradition to perform some type of ceremony for the crossing… and when there are several sailors aboard (at least one who is already a shellback) some kind of hazing or manor of ridiculousness is encouraged. WE, however, went with mimosas and pineapple upside-down cake. Clif toasted Poseidon, Sedna and ourselves, drank our champagne, and Clif busted out his tabacoo pipe to look extra salty. The one thing I did to please Neptune, Poseidon (or any matter of sea gods), is I painted our faces with fish scales to look more mer-like for our ceremony. Originally, I had planned to swim across the Equator, but the wind was up and we didn’t want to stop the boat to swim in the chop. Knowing that the wind could be a possibility while crossing, we chose to hop in the water yesterday, in the dead calm of the doldrums! I swam a couple laps around the boat and we spent some time cleaning the prop and the aft part of the keel, that has started collecting some type of sea anemone and small barnacles— no doubt slowing us down. While I didn’t get to swim across the official equator… it was DAME CLOSE! So I’m claiming it… and have photos to prove :)
Day 23 & 24- April 2nd and 3rd — Scootin’ along with the South Equatorial Current…
The past several days have all seemed to blend in together, as the wind and sea state have remained the same. We’ve been cruising in between 6 and 8 knots, which is usually fast, thanks to a nice under current. The sails have remained the same for three days, expect for us putting in and taking out the first reef on the mainsail as the wind makes minor changes. As of now, 5:00pm in the afternoon on the 3rd, it looks like we will make landfall the morning of the 6th! That’s only three more nights at sea! Three more nights of alarm clocks, snooze buttons and midnight snacks to keep us awake.
In these last few days, we’ve become quite lazy and leisure in our activities— it feels reminiscent of a grade-school sleepover: sleeping in late, making pancakes, watching movies, oiling and braiding my hair to stay somewhat clean. The perfect sail trim and the consistent wind has made us lazy! This is what our friend Leiv talked about in Guaymas— “Make sure you have enough to entertain yourself… books, movies, tv…” Clif has been reading like a madman— he’s a remarkably fast reader (which makes sense since his Mom taught so many children to read!). And we’ve continued our reading aloud of the French Polynesia Lonely Planet Guidebook, and other historical references we have for the islands.
Our diets are also mimicking grade school sleepover food as our produce rations diminish! No one is complaining! We’re having mac’n’cheese tonight while watching a movie and no one can stop us! While we are enjoying a little bit of quick-and-easy junk food (or comfort food, as Clif calls it), I know we’re both really looking forward to arriving in Hiva Oa and not cooking for a couple days! Explore what there is to eat on the islands.
Speaking of islands… we are 350 miles away, and closing!
Friday, April 6th, 2018
Day 27 - Landfall in Hiva Oa...
I woke up around sunrise while Clif was on watch and asked if he saw land, quietly through the quarter berth window. He paused, about to say “No, not yet,” and then realized, in the haze, he could barely make out the most eastern point of Hiva Oa. As the hours of daylight progressed, we saw the island emerge. The siting of land was much less emotional that I thought it would be, for both of us. We were ready to be done with the passage and ready to start the land-based explorations. Get that anchor down and get us off the boat! We sailed downwind, with twin head sails all morning long, pulling in close to the green, steep cliff sides that seems to plummet straight into the ocean floor. The trees and rocky mountain ridges were spectacular, especially so close in to shore.
At 1:30pm in the early afternoon, we pulled into the Atuona anchorage, and saw several familiar boats! We made it! We dropped the hook among friends, and immediately began preparing the dinghy to go ashore. The anchorage for Atuona is small, so most boats have two anchors out, making it a cozy bay, easy to dinghy around and say hello/welcome to neighbors! We hopped into the dinghy (after spending some time trying to locate shoes… money… putting on clothes) and took our first step ashore at 4:30pm.
Right at the dinghy dock, there is a high pressured outdoor shower, with water pumped in from a nearby creek, and a spigot for laundry. You can bet that showers and laundry were high on the list for that night and the following day! The bay smells of flowers, over-ripened fruit from all the mango and pistachio trees that surround us, and fresh green jungle leaves. Walking around saying hello to locals, we realized quickly, we were very much out of our element— there was no English, no Spanish (of course), but a mix of Marquesean and French. We have not only one, but two languages to learn! Our “Bonjour”s were met with “Kaoha,” Hello in local Hiva Oa dialect of Marquesean. The lack of our French is gong to make this cruising a much different experience!!
… and for now… we’re staying in Hiva Oa to relax, hike, stretch, enjoy celebratory drinks with friends, eat fresh fruit and prepare ourselves for more journeying ahead!!