Days 15 through 22

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Day 16 (early)
21 April 2004
03 17'N 129 32'W

Hello, all!

Sorry I missed a day but we were, ummm, busy.

Monday night started out innocently enough. A squall broke over the boat at about 9pm and as we so often have, we hove to, waiting it out. We thought it would be over in 10-15 minutes. In reality, it turned out to be the beginnings of a 12 hour ordeal.

QuikScat image
QuikScat plot of wind vectors that friend Robert found for me afterwards. The scale is in meters per second (30 m/s is about 67mph). (Click to enlarge)
Craig zonked out during storm
Craig crashing on the salon sole.  It was the only comfortable place to get some rest.

The winds continued to grow until an hour later they were in the 50+ knot range and stayed there for about 4 hours. We tried lots of different things. Heaving to wasn't working, so we rolled in the genoa and sailed under just the double reefed main. The ride was wild. At this point, I was concerned about the seas building, so CJ and I took the main down (in 50 knots!) and we tried heaving to into the wind, using the motor. This worked quite well for about 2 hours, but then we started smelling something burning. We shut the engine off and just ran before the storm on bare poles. I have no idea how big the seas were at this point, but I would estimate well over 20 feet. Even under bare poles, we were doing 6+ knots through the water. At this point, we realized we were in for a long night, so we started doing 60 minute shifts at the wheel, trying to conserve our energy. Boarding waves were frequent. One of them rolled over my back while I was steering and swamped the cockpit. Others stripped off the horseshoe buoy, and bent the frame for the cockpit cover.

Naturally, these things always happen in the dead of night when it's pitch black. We just kept the boat going straight down wind as indicated by our wind instrument and hoped for the best. You could hear giant rollers behind you, but there wasn't much you could do about it. They would pass under the boat, frequently resulting in the boat sailing off their breaking ledge and dropping a few feet in the dark.

Around 3am the winds dropped into the low 40s. Dawn came around 7am and showed Force 9 seas: 20'+ waves, long streaks, the entire ocean surface covered in foam.

tk steering near the end of the storm
Tom steering in the morning. By this time winds had dropped to about 35 knots, and the sea state was about Force 7.

By noon they were a mere 30 knots.

The boat has done beautifully, but is a mess. There is stuff strewn all over the place. We will have to spend the next couple of days putting things back, repairing the cockpit cover, and generally resting up.

The crew was great too! Everyone pulled together, did their share and more, and morale was high throughout the ordeal.

We are left with wondering "What the hell was that?" It sure doesn't fit the pattern for the Coconut Milk Run, which is known for reliable gentle 20-30 knot trades, not Force 9 storms. Because of its length and intensity, this clearly was not a line squall, but I'm at a loss as to what it was we experienced. The ITCZ sure is a spooky place! There's a lesson to be learned, but until I figure it out, I'm not sure what it is!

Anyway, just to let you know we are healthy, whole, happy!


Day 16 (later)
21 April 2004
02 28'N 130 14'W

Hello, all!

After yesterday's drama, we spent last night sailing very conservatively under just a scrap of the genoa. Because the winds were still in the 25-30 knot range, we managed to do 142nm despite the scant amount of canvas.

Craig and CJ relaxing the day after the storm.
Craig and CJ relaxing in the evening the day after the storm..

During CJ's watch, about 7 in the morning, in the course of an hour the winds shifted from the NE quadrant where they had been for the last 10 days, to the southeast. We were in the Southeast Trades! The ITCZ and its house of horrors was behind us. Despite its reputation as the "Doldrums", we found it a wild, windy, and unpredictable place. The only time we turned on our engine was to keep the bow of the boat into 20+ foot seas driven by 50 knot winds! We have used our engine only 13 hours so far this trip, out of its 80+ hour range.

This afternoon is delightful. Winds out of the SE at 10 knots. We are closehauled, doing about 6 knots, working our way to the Marquesas, still 900nm away. CATS PAW continues to amaze me at her newfound light air prowess!

I baked a couple of loaves of bread this afternoon, heating up the already stifling cabin into a furnace. We all escaped to the deck, lounging under the sails wherever we could find shade.

Next stop: the Equator, about 180 miles away. We should be there late tomorrow or early Friday.


Day 17 (early)
23 April 2004
00 00'N 131 49'W

Hello, all!

Greetings from the equator!

We crossed at 4/23/04 0035 local time, 0735Z. We crossed early on my watch, just after midnight. Everyone got up, toasted King Neptune, made an offering to him, and whooped it up. It reminded me of New Years: it was around midnight, everyone was punch drunk from lack of sleep, and we watched a countdown to zero.

We watched in vain for the dotted line to go under the boat, but didn't see it.

GPS at equator
GPS at the Equator

We crossed starting as lowly Pollywogs, but are now all Shellbacks, members of the realm.

The last couple of days have just been wonderful sailing days. Easy 10-15 knot breezes with calm seas. We've been able to cruise at 130-140nm days with little effort.


Day 19
24 April 2004
03 00'S 133 21'W

Hello, all!

Yesterday afternoon our fair winds of the last two weeks finally died and we ended up motoring through most of the night. But, before we did, we took advantage of the calm weather and lack of boat motion to do a swim call. It was a hot and sticky afternoon, so it was with relief that we stripped off our clothes and dove into the water. Even though it was bathtub warm (about 30C or 86F!), it was still very refreshing. We bobbed around in the ocean, shampooing up and washing, enjoying the unlimited water supply. The swim was finished with a freshwater rinse.

Swim Call!
Swim call!

We turned the engine on at about 6pm and had dinner. I went to sleep at about 7. Thirty minutes later Charlie woke me and said, "I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you have an overheating alarm; the bad news is that it's on." So, I climbed out of bed to diagnose the problem. We quickly discovered that a fan belt had broken. I had a couple spares, so in 30 minutes we were off again.

We were able to shut the engine down at 7:30am, and have been slowly sailing since.

Breakfast of pancakes.


Day 20
25 April 2004
05 30'S 135 03'W

Hello, all!

Another hot, sultry day here on S/V CATS PAW. We didn't do much all day --- just lazed around. We motored until 3pm as there was never more than 5 knots of wind. It's been fine sailing since in 10-15 knot breezes.

Craig at the wheel, eating dinner.
Craig at the wheel with dinner in hand on another hot, sultry evening.

In the late afternoon I finally got the energy up to take a solar shower. It's so hot, I don't even bother heating up the water, preferring a cold (well, it's really a lukewarm 85 degrees coming out of the tanks) shower, then air drying in the breeze au naturel.

We hear through the informal "Puddlejumper" radio net that the harbor in Atuona is full, with only a few spots "in the back" in shallow water. This year does not seem to be an exceptionally busy year, it's just that two groups of "Puddlejumpers" left from Mexico en mass in a fleet totaling about 30 boats, and they are arriving just before us. We're not sure what we're going to do when we get there. We'll figure something out.

San Diego is now 2510 nm miles away; it took us 2654 nm to get here; and we have 335 miles to go! By my best guess, I think we'll arrive Wednesday.


Day 21
26 April 2004
07 09'S 136 28'W

Hello, all!

We spent all night and all day sailing under a fine wind --- no need for the engine today! Mileage was 134 nm, noon-to-noon.

We are consuming the last of our fresh fruits and vegetables. Before we left, we slung four hammocks across the forward berth, then filled them with apples, oranges, onions, cabbage, potatoes, lemons, etc., each individually wrapped in a piece of newspaper to separate them from their neighbors. We also put a piece of cloth across the forward hatch to keep the sun off of them, and to keep temperatures low. We have had very little spoilage. In fact, I wish we had brought more, but we assumed that little would survive for three plus weeks.

Arrrgh! Pirates on board!
Arrrgh!  There be pirates on board!.

One amusing incident is that after the storm last week, the forward berth was covered with newspaper confetti, as if some mad soul had gone up there to retreat from the storm and, wild with fear, had spent the night fretting and tearing up the newspapers and scattering them about. It turned out that the wild motions of the boat ground the newspaper against the hammock netting, which acted like natural graters, producing mounds of confetti!

CJ has gotten frustrated by the lack of whale sightings, so has decided to take matters into his own hands and perform what he figures are whale calls. So, all afternoon we have been treated to various bellows and calls that, to my ear, sound more like elk and so far have not produced any results.

Dinner of pasta with spaghetti squash.


Day 22
27 April 2004
08 59'S 138 03'W

Hello, all!

It is so hot today (water temperature consistently over 30C!), that CJ and I spent most of the afternoon hanging out on the foredeck under the shade of the genoa, enjoying the breeze and crashing waves under CATS PAW's bow. Even though you are less than 42' away from the rest of the boat, it always seems like another world up there to me.

We have had a great run today (148nm), so we are getting very close. Our best guess is that we will be within radar range by 11pm tonight, off the harbor around 5am. Boats have been streaming in to Atuona all week, so the harbor is likely to be very crowded. Ironic. We will heave to until dawn before entering and assessing the situation.

There are a ton of things that have to get done in the next day, everything from digging out a stern anchor from the bottom of the cockpit locker, to assembling the dinghy, to checking in with the local gendarme, so I'm not sure if I will get another log out tomorrow. I will as soon as I can.


Day 23 and the final day
28 April 2004
09 48'S 139 02'W

Hello, all!

We are safely anchored at the town of Atuona, on the island of Hiva Oa, in the Marquesas! We hove to off the island until first dawn, then cautiously poked our way into the anchorage, just as three boats left, leaving some choice spots for us to chose from. Even so, the anchorage is full of swell.

Landfall, Hiva Oa
Landfall at Hiva Oa.

We spent the morning cleaning up the boat, getting the dinghy and outboard ready, and generally resting. We spent the afternoon poking around the town and treating ourselves to the local $5 beer. Because the gendarme is only open in the mornings, we have not checked in yet --- tomorrow's chore.

More later! Gotta catch up on my sleep!


San Diego to Marquesas - Epilogue
30 April 2004
At anchor, Baie Tahauku, town of Atuona, Marquesas

Hello, all!

We've now been at anchor for two nights at Baie Tahauku, the local port for the town of Atuona, on the island of Hiva Oa, Marquesas. It's a rolly, uncomfortable anchorage, despite a breakwater and its orientation away from the winds. The problem seems to be waves that refract around the larger bay outside, then enter the anchorage, quickly increasing in size as they meet the shallow, 12 foot, water inside. We have had many 4 foot rollers passing through.

When we arrived there were about 15 boats anchored here, all with stern anchors. A few boats have arrived, but more have left, so we are down to about a dozen now. It's an unforgiving anchorage and many have dragged anchor or lost control of their stern anchor, but the esprit amongst the cruisers has been great dealing with all the problems. A few bumps and grinds between boats but no serious damage (yet).

To add to the problems, it has been pouring rain the last couple of days, and I mean pouring. The river that empties into the anchorage is a raging flood, bringing down branches, logs, and mud, making the waters a thick, coffee colored soup. No raincoat will help you outside but, fortunately, the water is warm and not at all unpleasant. We put on our swim trunks and go where we will, changing into something dry when we come back to the boat.

The rain also has curious side effects. When I asked at a local store if they had any bread, they said no because of the rain.

As one cruiser said "I've had about enough of Paradise."

We've been forced to hang out here because of all the paperwork that must be done. We had to check in with the local gendarme (only done in the mornings), then post bonds, get reciprocal radio licenses, buy phone cards, etc. Nothing is straightforward and all require several trips to various agencies to get various pieces of paper stamped or approved. Still, it has gone smoothly, if not quickly, and the locals are just plain wonderful in their unflagging cheerfulness and willingness to help.

Our plan is to leave the bay tomorrow morning for what is reported to be a more comfortable anchorage, Baie Hanamoenoa, on the nearby island of Tahuata. We will stay there until 3 May when we will return to Atuona to see Craig and Charlie off at the airport on the 4th, and the arrival of Lee on the 6th. We will probably leave for the island of Fatu Hiva shortly afterwards.

Unfortunately, earlier cruisers bought so much diesel at the local station that they have cut off all cruisers until a new fuel shipment arrives, due in 2 weeks. Same with propane. So, we will have to conserve as we come and go. Fortunately, we had such a fast passage that we used very little fuel (perhaps 50 gallons out of 115), so this is a minor problem for us. Other cruisers had much longer passages (I heard of a 49 day passage from Panama!) and have very little fuel. They do not have many options until more arrives.

Here are some statistics from the passage:

Total time 21d 22h
Total distance 3018nm
Time motoring (incl. storm and idling) 45h
Distance motoring 244nm
Avg speed motoring 5.4kn
Time sailing 481h
Distance sailing 2773nm
Avg speed sailing 5.8kn
Overall avg speed 5.7kn

Comparing notes with other cruisers, we had by far the fastest passage and easiest winds with the notable exception of our Force 9 storm in the ITCZ. Most had 28 to 35 day passages, albeit from various ports in Mexico (Puerto Vallarta most often).

All in all, spirits are high despite the weather and we are having a good time together!


On to the Marquesas>