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Crossing the Pacific

With the help of a shopper I am able to provision one last time. I am glad to leave Panama, which is in the middle of rainy season with lots of downpours and lightning. After studying wind and current predictions one last time, I decide to sail SW to reach about 3 degrees N of the equator and then head W for as long as the W setting current lasts and only then drop SW heading straight for Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas.

We are a group of boats that leave around the same time but spread out with a distance of 200 to 600 miles. As one skipper notes: The astronauts on the ISS are likely the closest humans! But still, it creates a sense of community, of shared adventure, and reading each others position reports shared via satellite email every day is a lot of fun. Here’s a quote from my log after one week at sea:

 

“The first few days after leaving Panama City were difficult because wind and waves were coming from SW which is where I needed to go. And then there was the current and did I mention thunderstorms and rain? For the first day or two I caught a favourable current pushing me SW. But to get further S sooner or later you have to cross the counter current that sets E. Seeing that the SW wind and consequently the waves would also pick up over the next couple of days, I chose to beat into wind and waves to go S as quickly as possible. This meant a lot of motoring for two days until I got to 3 degrees N with a lot of green water on deck. It was worth it because the wind turned to S and I was able to sail W from there. Closer to the Galapagos I also picked up a favourable NW current - or rather it picked me up!

Yesterday afternoon I arrived at Isla Wolf, one of the remote Galapagos islands, which are closed due to COVID. I looked for a temporary anchorage but there was none to be had. This island consists of two half sunken half-moon shaped volcanic craters that drop steeply into the sea. But I got a glimpse of what the Galapagos are about: Still miles away I was greeted by a bunch of rowdy boobies and as I got closer there must have been a hundred of these large sea birds swirling around my boat. It was quite like the Hitchcock movie! Closer to shore I came upon a few schools of dolphins, obviously very curious and playfully showing off their tricks. Later three sea lions came to check me out as well. I really felt like jumping in with them. Wow, what fantastic wildlife, worthy of all the protection it can get!

Adjusting to life at sea again came quite easily for me as I am not prone to seasickness at all and love being at sea. The most difficult part is getting up many times at night to check. But I can nap during the day to catch up. I truly enjoy being out here on the open ocean. It is a unique and quite indescribable experience. I greatly appreciate being able to do this journey as I please, especially in these difficult times with all the travel restrictions still largely in place.”

 

After the Galapagos the current conveyor belt picks up and the 24h run records keep tumbling with an all time best of 258nm in one day, more than 10kn average! My strategy of staying N of the equator turns out to be very fast and just before crossing the equator at 127W I catch up with my Kiwi friends on Windchase. We decide to stop and exchange gifts mid ocean. Not as easy as it sounds, you cannot just tie up because the boats get rolled wildly by the ocean swell. I float a watertight bag with beers, veggies, and home made tuna dog biscuits on a long line. They pick it up, empty it, and fill it with their goodies. Amongst potato chips and a freshly cooked rice dish (still warm!) I find a furry hat with ear flaps… The text that comes with it reads: “I have been advised to wear this hat, because apparently it is around zero degrees here”. Great sense of humour!

 

Then, at 0606 on the morning of day 16 the big moment… I cross to the other side and a few hours later Windchase must have, too. So congrats! Thanks to Paul I now know I am no longer a polliwog, but a shell bag. I guess that’s on the way to becoming a salty dog. The British are definitely a seafaring nation and it shows in their language!

 

There has not been much wildlife after crossing the equator other than the ubiquitous flying fish. No more squid, boobies or storm petrels but some elegant and solitary shearwaters showed up and since yesterday I saw flocks of white birds that look a bit like tropic birds but without the long thin tail feather. I get up in the middle of the night. Drinking from a water bottle I drop the lid on the cockpit floor. All annoyed I search for it in the dark and instead of the lid I grab something cold, wet, and glibbery… Boy, was I awake!  It is a dead flying fish who flew all the way in here and has been perfectly trapped. Poor fellow.

Another night I have a magical experience, though. A few dolphins come to visit and I notice I can now distinguish the sound of their blow from the sound of the waves splashing to recognise their arrival. There is no moon and I cannnot actually see the dolphins. All I see is the fluorescent plankton being agitated by the dolphins’ motion which leaves these greenish traces behind them that only linger for a second. Like action painting happening before my eyes. It is utterly beautiful!

Then next day a pod of about eight dolphins come to play in the bow wave for 30 min, a long time. I notice these dolphins look different as their noses are short and there is no distinction between nose and head, only a straight line. Are these called porpoises? One of them is badly injured. It looks like he had a rope or cable tied around his tail which cut into his flesh. Maybe he was caught in a fishing net? I hope he makes it as the gash is really deep! 

There is more wildlife of the nasty kind in my cabinets. Now that we are back in the humid tropics the moulds are making a comeback.

 

Overall this passage has a lot of light winds and true to its name, the Pacific shows its peaceful side. My light wind sails Code 0 and asymmetric Spinnaker, aka Mr Pink, come in handy. All day Mr Pink is up and together with the current pulls us W quickly. But a few days before arrival the wind is up and the waves are too. It is nice to see 20kn on the anemometer for the first time on this passage. When we crossed the Atlantic that was pretty much the average! But running downwind wing on wing is quite easy, except for the rolling. Hold on!

 

Other boats have trouble with their transmission, clogged fuel filters, generator not starting, a broken boom, sail damage etc. Luckily my list of mishaps is very short with a tear in the Code 0 and changing fuel filters.

 

On day 23 I can finally call out: “Hooray! I’ve made it!” But it doesn’t quite feel right to say that. I have just as much only been a passenger on this voyage, relying on a well built boat made for such ocean voyages, good gear, a trusty autopilot, the support of my family and - last but not least - my cruiser group! I drop the hook in Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva at 0730 am. The arrival timing works out perfectly with dawn breaking about 10nm away from the island, a mighty, imposing one, dare I say. I feel very grateful to be here!

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