July 4 - July 23, 2006

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HIGHLIGHTS - Our Longest Passage Ever

The passage to the Marquesas will likely be the longest passage we will ever do. We had terrific conditions and had a great 17 day run. If sailing were always like this, it would be really crowded out here!

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July 4, 2006

Boobie Fireworks

Our last day at Isabela Island in the Galapagos happened to coincide with the 4th of July. As we were wondering how to celebrate, we were startled by a rapid succession of "thunk, thunk, thunk" sounds. It sounded just like the rocket launchers at a fireworks display!

Large flock of boobies chasing bait ball

We quickly ran up on deck and were amazed to see hundreds of blue-footed boobies diving into the water all around us. We were mesmerized.

 

 

Boobies making their approach The boobies fold their wings and assume a very streamlined position just before they hit the water. They slice below the surface with incredible speed -- we could even see contrails spiraling down below the surface. Boobies making like a rocket before hitting the water

This display went on for hours. As soon as a couple of boobies headed for some newly spotted fish, the whole flock came screaming over and dove in rapid succession in the same spot. As each boobie popped back to the surface, they immediately took off, in search of another meal. We were amazed they didn't spear our boat, or each other.

July 5 - July 22, 2006

Destination Marquesas: 3000 Miles

Sun shining through sail Conditions were light for our departure from Isabela and we motored for the first five hours. But once we turned off the engine, we didn't turn it back on for 16 days! Good thing -- diesel was rumored to be over $5/gal in the Marquesas.

 

We had plenty of time to contemplate how to use all of those bananas hanging on the rail (all 132 of them). Leaving the Galapagos

 

Flying along with reacher and main Once the wind piped up a little, we had perfect sailing conditions and we flew along at 8-10 knots, sometimes hitting almost 15 knots! The water temperature when we left the Galapagos was 73 degrees. It would steadily climb to 82 degrees over the next two weeks. The air temperatures were very pleasant. We had days and days of some of the finest sailing we've ever done.

 

Big waves off our stern The waves looked big (left) but they slid under the boat with no problem. We had never sustained 12 knots before (right). We consistently hit over 10 knots when the wind angle was just right

 

Sun just dipping below horizon The skies were partly cloudy for much of the trip, which made for pleasant temperatures and gorgeous sunsets. Breathtaking sunset at sea

Banacopia

Shriveling stalk puts ripening bananas at risk We spent a great deal of energy managing our rapidly ripening bananas. We had suspended the bananas from the bimini but very quickly we noticed the stalk shriveling where the string bit into it. We worried that the whole bunch would go overboard if the branch broke. The bunch only cost us $4 but we didn't want to lose it. Might be hard to find another grocery market for the next 3000 miles!

Ken put on his thinking hat and began experimenting with various incarnations of his "patented banana branch holder ©".

First incarnation of banana branch holder © Ken's first attempt (left) required him to chop off part of the stalk so he could fit a cup holder underneath to support the bunch. He later improved matters by substituting a can (left) which provided better support. First and second generation banana branch holders. ©

The bananas quickly ripened and we harvested them as fast as we could. Eventually they overwhelmed us and started dropping on their own. Ken modified his original design and added the "optional banana catcher ©" (below right) . We didn't lose a single banana!

Many bananas ripening all at once Dwindling banana bunch Optional accessory - net to hold bananas as they drop off the stalk

Ken was very proud of his invention and dreamed of the riches awaiting when he brings his "patented banana branch holder ©" to market. Ken figured that since the two of us needed one, and since there are about 6 billion people on earth, the potential market was about 3 billion. Beth burst his bubble and advised "Don't quit your day job", to which he replied "I already did!"

On the 10th day, the remaining bananas decided it was time to call it quits -- they all fell into the catcher at once. Banana bonanza

Over the course of the 1 1/2 weeks that we had an abundance of bananas, we made good use of our windfall. We had banana smoothies (below left), banana bread and fried bananas (below middle), and just plain bananas (below right). Even Ken was glad we had Cusinart on board for the smoothies.

Who knew that a Cusinart would be an essential piece of gear! Fried bananas may look icky but they were delicious. So was the banana bread. Ken munches on the last banana

Fishing Adventures

Try as we might, we didn't catch any fish the conventional way for the first few days. We kept getting bites but mostly the fish made off with a large collection of lures.

Even though we weren't catching any fish on our lines, we knew the sea was full of life. Here's one day's take of squid -- which we collected from our deck. Presumably they levitated out of the water and onto our boat when a predator got too close. The squid make an inky mess on the deck where they land. Squid which met their demise on board

The white dots in the picture below are flying fish. We saw TONS of flying fish so we KNEW there were big fish chasing them.

Hundreds of flying fish zooming through the air  

 

Flying fish were only fish we caught for a while Ken was getting a little disgusted catching nothing but flying fish (left). We even had a flying fish sail right through the galley hatch and onto the galley floor -- just missing the pan sitting on the stove by inches! Now if we could train a mahi-mahi to jump through the window and into a frying pan we'd be all set! Large flying fish jumped right through galley hatch and onto the galley floor

FINALLY, on the fifth day, we caught our first fish -- a lovely mahi-mahi.

Ken with our first real catch of the trip Mahi-mahi is our favorite fish to eat underway and this 35" fish gave us five delicious dinners. After Ken tied the fish (left), he bled it by dragging it in the water for a few minutes. Dragging the fish behind the boat gets rid of all the blood

Our first fish dinner of the trip was scrumptious: Mahi-Mahi sauteed in cajun spices, served with a currant-wine sauce; rice with raisins and macademia nuts; spinach sauteed in olive oil with sundried tomatoes, garlic, and pine nuts; bananas sauteed in oil; and fried bread. Yum! The nice conditions made it easy to cook underway. Ken says he never ate this well at home.

One evening we got a strike and we knew we had REALLY BIG fish on the line. It almost made off with all of our line (the fish hit on the smaller starboard reel, which holds 400 yards). We just couldn't make any progress reeling him in so Ken resorted to pulling the line in by hand. We spent a full hour trying to land this fish. Just when we thought he might be tiring -- WHIZZZZ... out went the line again. The fish may not have been tired out but WE sure were. Finally he got the better of us and the line snapped. It was full dark by the time he escaped and we never got a look at him.

Giant tangle of our main fishing reel Ken was so desperate to catch fish that he instructed Beth to put out the line even when he was sleeping. He soon remembered why that was probably not a good idea. A little back-spinning action caused a hopeless tangle when Beth was checking for a possible strike on the line. The lure (our last big one) also disappeared by the time she got the line in. She fessed up the whole incident -- even saving the tangled line to show him when he woke up. Ken wasn't too happy, but the same thing had happened to him so he couldn't get too upset.

 

Celebrating the half-way mark On our ninth day out, we passed the half-way point of the trip. Only 1500 miles to go! We celebrated by eating 15 M&M's apiece -- one for every hundred miles. We also celebrated by landing the first wahoo (right) we'd ever caught. Ken with 30 inch wahoo

 

Fileting wahoo on fish cleaning station

Ken uses our old liferaft holder as a fish cleaning station. It works just great and all the mess from fish cleaning goes right on the stern extension and gets washed overboard when a wave hits. We put the filets on ice immediately (right) to keep the fish as fresh as possible.

Using ice to keep filets fresh

We have a pretty efficient assembly line going where Ken cleans the fish and Beth vacuum seals it. The sealed packets go right into the freezer. We've been able to keep fish for months stored this way.

With a trip of this length, we expected to be overwhelmed with fish. We had LOTS of bites and most of our lures disappeared, but we caught way fewer fish than we expected. We had tried to run two lines at the same time, but they kept getting tangled, so we put out just one line. But Ken finally decided he really needed to put out two lines if we were going to improve our take.

Beth puzzling over Ken's latest invention So one morning he presented Beth (left) with a challenge: "Guess what this pole is for and you get my daily ration of cookies". Wow, with an incentive like that, Beth racked her brain to come up with a solution. Ken at work on his invention

Miraculously, Beth guessed what it was -- an outrigger for the fishing line. She was really pleased with the payoff -- two additional chocolate chip cookies for lunch.

(Ken notes that Beth didn't actually guess the purpose until he was finally attaching the outrigger to hang off the boat. So we compromised -- Beth got extra cookies, but Ken didn't have to give up his.)

Outrigger installed off starboard side of boat

Ken fashioned the pole with a clip at the end. The fishing line could be kept well outboard on the starboard side of the boat so it wouldn't tangle with the other fishing line running off the port side. The line would release from the clip if we got a strike.

Extra monofilament acts as a shim to reduce jaw pressure of clip

 

Ken in his battle face holding mahi-mahi We caught more fish with the new setup. The mahi-mahi (left) and twin skip jacks (right) made welcome additions to our freezer. We landed skip jacks on both lines at once!

Natural Wonders

When you are underway and look around, you see a vast emptiness of water and sky. Occasionally we'd see a bird, like this tern. Usually it was just us. Tern flying near boat

But you know the water is teeming with life. We like to keep a sharp eye out for dolphins -- they seem to gravitate toward the boat and love to swim alongside.

Here they come! Several times we had large pods with 50 or more dolphins swimming with us. They'd come up from behind in waves and surround the boat. One pod had little babies swimming with their Moms. Dolphins gliding just below the surface near our boat

 

Dolphins leaping in tandem Dolphins are the most graceful, athletic creatures imaginable. They would make little whistling noises, communicating with each other. Dolphin displaying acrobatic talent

 

Dolphin breaking the surface

We never tired of watching these magnificent animals. They seemed totally connected to each other and the world around them. We almost felt as though they were looking after us. (We suspect the same pod came back to visit us repeatedly.)

We'd get a warm, contented feeling when they were swimming with us. Several times Ken saw a pod swimming next to the boat during his night watch while the water glowed with phosphoresence as they glided by.

Weather Underway

On a trip covering 3000 miles, you expect to encounter a wide variety of weather and sea conditions. But we were sailing in the trade winds and the conditions were remarkably pleasant for the most part.

Squalls chasing us from astern Sometimes a set of squalls would move through and we'd get winds over 30 knots. Usually they would pass us by without much fuss. The storms sometimes looked really scary (left). We'd try to dodge them when we could, but sometimes a bigger system would move through (right) and we couldn't escape it. This storm has us cornered

 

Rainbow lighting up the sky We welcomed the rain as the boat was getting encrusted with salt. Sometimes we'd see a beautiful rainbow reflecting through the rain (left and upper right). Rainbow peaking through storm clouds

Mechanical Challenges

We've sailed long enough to realize that we WOULD encounter problems of some sort along the way. The constant motion of the boat and a salt water environment are very hard on equipment. But we only had a few problems during our passage.

Broken snubber for preventer Sailing downwind day after day puts strain on certain parts of the rig. We were using preventers to hold the big main in place, eliminating the possibility of a dangerous accidental jibe. One of the rubber snubbers we used as a shock absorber on the preventer line snapped in two after the repeated jerking of the line. We made a simple change to the setup (reduced the number of turns of line around the snubber so it wouldn't stretch as much) and our remaining snubbers lasted the rest of the trip.

 

We had a puzzling failure when the monitor crush tube broke again (this time Beth was not the culprit). The hinge assembly also was bent and cracked. We think the release line may have caught on something and bent the mechanism. (Ken later removed the release line to prevent a repetition.) We had to switch to the electric autopilot for the rest of the trip. It turned out we had a spare latch in our emergency rudder kit, but we didn't know that at the time. We used our satellite phone to order four additional latches to meet us in the Marquesas, along with more crush tubes. Broken monitor bracket

 

Algae making its way up the stern platform We couldn't believe how fertile the water was. Each day we could see the steady march of algae up our (very wet) stern platform. The sides of the boat were also a mess, with thick mats of algae hanging at the waterline. We weren't looking forward to the boat scrubbing project that lay ahead when we made landfall.

The fertile water also caused clogs in our intakes. One day our refrigerator stopped working and Ken discovered there was a restriction of the water inflow. He cleared what he could from inside the boat, but felt he really needed to take a look underneath to make sure something big wasn't stuck in the intake. We hove to, stopping the boat so he could dive.

Ken getting ready to dive to check strainer

Ken donned his wetsuit gear (left) for a dive under the boat.

Afterwards, we took advantage of the nice conditions to dry his suit by hanging it from the whisker pole (right).

Wetsuit drying on whisker pole

Even though we were "hove to" when Ken did his dive, the wind was a little too strong to get the boat to stop completely. With the boat moving, Ken could just barely hold his position at the stern. But this was enough to let him see underneath and satisfy himself that nothing was stuck in an intake. He wore a harness and tether for this operation so he wouldn't get separated from the boat. Kind of weird swimming when you're 1000 miles away from land in 14,000 feet of water!

We had a persistent problem underway with getting good water flows from some of our water intakes. We have large manifold that distributes water to several different systems and when we are underway, some of the systems (like the refrigeration) can't get water quickly enough so they shut down to avoid overheating. The intake scoop faces backwards -- proper for an intake that also feeds an engine -- but we go so fast that the water gets sucked out of the scoop and creates an airlock. We came up with a temporary solution -- pump the aft head (which also takes its water from the manifold) about 20 times to get the manifold primed before starting the reefer! Works every time. Ken plans to drill some holes in the front of the scoop when we get to land.

We also noticed that when we are moving, bubbles get sucked into the intake for the watermaker system. Bubbles are bad for the watermaker pump so we're planning to install a hose to vent the intake, hoping that will bleed off the bubbles.

All in all, we had very few problems to deal with on the passage. Of course, things usually even out, so we held our breath lest something major break.

Passing Time

With days and days of beautiful conditions, we were able to do some projects that were helped by a stable boat.

For the first time since we left the midwest, we hauled out our sextant and brushed up on taking sights and doing the reductions. We developed a new appreciation for the skill of sailors past -- it is really HARD to get an accurate position off of a noon sight. Closest we came was about 12 miles off. Taking a noon sight with our sextant

 

Bread making disaster number 1 Beth had trouble with the breadmaker and in honor of the places we were going to visit, she inadvertently made "volcano" bread (left) and "atoll" bread (right). Must be something wrong with the yeast. Bread making disaster number 2

 

Beth checking in with daily SSB net Even though we were in the middle of nowhere, there were other cruisers also making the trip who were within a few hundred miles of us. Each morning we'd all check in on an informal SSB net we set up before we left the Galapagos. It was fun to hear about other people's adventures.

Sail Combinations

Sailing wing and wing with jib and main   We mostly sailed wing and wing -- either with the jib (left and right) or big reacher (pictured below left) pulled out with the whisker pole. The whisker pole allows us to pull the sail out to the side so we can catch the wind when it is behind us. Lots of control lines rigged for whisker pole setup

 

Wing and wing with main and reacher The reacher has more than twice the sail area of the jib and the bigger sail really helps our speed.

 

The reacher is rigged on a flexible (rope) furler and Ken climbs out onto the anchor platform to fasten the furling drum to the end of the anchor roller. When we are done with the sail, we furl it, drop it, and stow it away below. This has been a great sail for downwind, though the line sometimes jams in the drum when we're trying to furl the sail. We plan to look at continuous line furlers when we're in New Zealand.

Reacher with furling drum

 

View up the forestay with the reacher poled out

With a nice wind and the sails drawing well, we moved effortlessly -- it really felt like we could go on forever. This was our most enjoyable passage yet. Guess there really IS a reason they call this the (coconut) milk run!

LAND HO!

As we approached the Marquesas, squalls increased and the wind kept shifting around. We had gotten so spoiled by days and days of letting the boat sail itself. Now we actually had to be more involved. We also started catching more fish -- one was a very strange, long, skinny fish with teeth. It was about three feet long and about two inches in diameter. We think it was a Pacific cutlassfish and it didn't look appetizing at all, so we released it. We also caught more skip jacks for the freezer. Masked and red-footed boobies also began to appear. Our excitement increased when we detected radar targets of land off in the distance.

We finally spotted by eye the island of Fatu Hiva, one of the southernmost islands in the Marquesas chain. This is reputed to be one of the most beautiful places on earth and we wanted to check it out. We planned to anchor there overnight before moving north up the chain. Our plans didn't quite work out, as we'll explain later.

Land was a welcomed sight after more than two weeks at sea

As we approached and rounded the southern side of Fatu Hiva, we were stunned by the mystery and forbidding beauty of the place. This was our first sight of land in weeks and we immersed ourselves in the visual feast.

Fatu Hiva shrouded in clouds

The landscape was totally foreign to anything we'd ever seen. The Marquesas are quite young in geologic terms and the sharp, angular landscape has not been worn down by eons of surf, wind, and rain.

We were awestruck by the magnificence of the island.

Wsipy clouds lend air of mystery to Fatu Hiva

Dramatic landscape of Fatu Hiva It looked like someone had hacked faces right off the mountains

 

Magnificent landscape of Fatu Hiva

There was such power and enchantment to the place. Of course, we also let our imaginations run wild, contemplating its terrifying history of human sacrifice and cannabalism. Jagged peaks and abrupt dropoffs took our breath away

The southern and eastern sides of the island are totally uninhabited and we could see why. The land dropped steeply right at the water's edge. We couldn't possibly have approached from the sea.

We didn't see any evidence of life until we rounded the south part of the island and sailed up the west side. We passed a small settlement (right) and arrived at our intended anchorage soon after.

Rumor has it that the bay where we planned to anchor was dubbed "Bay des Verges" (Bay of the Phalli) by the early explorers because of the suggestive volcanic formations. The missionaries later doctored the name by inserting an "i", turning it into "Bay des Vierges" (Bay of the Virgins).

Those guys had no sense of humor.

Sleepy village on Fatu Hiva

The Bay was just too small for our boat. It took us quite a while to find a good spot and night had fallen by the time we got the anchor down. The anchorage was deeper (55 feet) than what we were used to and we were too close to shore on three sides to let out adequate scope.

While we were mulling how uncomfortable we felt with our anchoring job, three guys came up in a motorboat. They didn't speak any English and our French was very lacking. The guys seemed to indicate that we couldn't stay where we were and we THINK they were trying to tell us that fishermen were going to net the bay the next morning (to catch fish). It also appeared that one of the guys was a local policeman and he tried to tell us we would have to go to the island of Hiva Oa the next day to check in. We had heard from other cruisers that they spent time in Fatu Hiva without checking in. Hiva Oa, an official port of entry, is northwest of Fatu Hiva. You'd have to sail upwind to get back to Fatu Hiva, so most people stop for a few days before doing an official check in. But we seem to get noticed by police more than other people do, so the short cuts never seem to work for us.

Given that we weren't super comfortable to begin with, we decided to pick up our anchor and head to Ua Pou, further north up the chain, which is also an official port. The guys in the boat were appalled when they saw us raising anchor -- they hadn't meant to chase us out that night and tried vigorously to get us to stay until morning. But we felt it was probably for the best. Our big regret is that we didn't get any pictures of the dramatic bay before we left. We also missed getting our first full night of sleep after 17 days at sea!

July 22 - July 23, 2006

Two headsails up on trip to Ua Pou

The wind was dead behind us for our trip up to the northwest so we decided to try two headsails (jib to port and reacher to starboard with the whisker pole). We decided we want to check into getting another whisker pole so we can fly two headsails at once more effectively. Dead downwind is probably our worst point of sail and we were very SLOW -- partly because we didn't have a way to pole out the jib.

As we approached Ua Pou, we landed another skip jack and Ken was happy to have ended the trip catching a fish!

A squall chased us into the anchorage at Ua Pou. The landscape was just as dramatic as Fatu Hiva and we resolved to spend some time exploring after we got settled.

Ua Pou looking ominous for our approach

Given that we were not proficient in French, we decided to hire an agent (based in Tahiti) to help with the check in process for French Polynesia. Some other cruiser friend had used the agent and were happy with the service. We had emailed the agent through our SSB radio, telling him we would go to Ua Pou for our check in.

Even before we had the anchor down at Ua Pou, the local police called to us from the pier, saying they had received all of our paperwork from the agent for our check in! Wow, that sure was efficient! It is amazing what modern communications have done to make even the most remote place very connected to the rest of the world.

We knew as soon as we got to the Marquesas that we'd want to spend some time in these islands. We will probably never come here again -- it's a difficult upwind sail to get back once you move west. A longer stay in the Marquesas means we can't stay as long in Tahiti and other islands further west before jumping down to New Zealand. But we COULD return to Tahiti and the other islands next year....

At anchor in Ua Pou after long passage

Finally.

Eagle's Wings (left most boat) anchored in Ua Pou, Marquesas, South Pacific.