Meteorology at Mama’s

This morning I opened our last pack of Englsh tea bags, what surer sign could there be that it’s time to return to civilisation for a while. Our passports have been stamped, Raya is full of fuel, five passage meals sit in the freezer, it’s now just down to the weather. Tonight there is going to be a BBQ at Big Mama’s Yacht Club for all the waiting cruisers, as if collectively we can will the weather to suit our plans.

Veranda at Big Mama’s Yacht Club


After a year of relatively stable trade wind sailing, we are venturing back out into less predictable weather. The weather systems that cross over Australia and New Zealand from the Southern Ocean to just below the tropics are on the face of it simple, a high pressure system follows a low pressure system, follows a high pressure, follows a low pressure etc. etc. all travelling west to east. The reality is of course much more complex, firstly we must remember that each system rotates in the opposite direction to those of the northern hemisphere, so for the best departure we wait for the top of a high pressure to bring us SE-E-NE winds to whisk us south west from Tonga. Then the timing becomes crucial because between the high we are using and the following low there is often a trough of high winds and if the systems squash up or travels too quickly you face south winds straight on the nose as you approach your destination. The general advice is to sail a dog leg, going well west of the rhumb line before turning south, the magic waypoint being around 30S 173E. The skill is to know when in the system to leave and then exactly how far west to sail. Add to all that the seemingly infinite other vagaries that affect the weather and the fact that our ‘at sea’ weather forecast app is having a crisis about spanning the dateline, we have decided for the first time, to use the help of a weather router. Bob McDavitt is a weather guru located in New Zealand, he looks at your particular passage requirements – destination, boat type, average passage speed, etc. and with his years of experience analysing the weather patterns he suggests a departure date, best route and updates as necessary along the way. At the moment it is firming up for us to leave on Monday, heading for Opua in Northern New Zealand.

Needless to say the weather is the main topic of conversation in the bar at Big Mama’s Yacht Club, everybody anchored at Pangaimotu, the main stopping off point to take off for New Zealand, is on more or less the same track. However it wasn’t just passage weather that has been the topic of interest, the forecasted low pressure screamed through Tonga last Monday night with gusts in the high thirties and lashings of rain. With plenty of warning everybody had time to prepare and we all sat tight as it past over. 

Stormy morning


By Wednesday all was calm and we could venture out to prepare for our exit. The small boat harbour unfortunately hadn’t weathered the storm as well, the dodgy dock had become completely detached from its link to shore and had lost large sections of its length, the attached small boats sinking and floating out to sea. Getting on to dry land was precarious to say the least. In the heat we then spent 3hrs traipsing between, Nuku’alofa Port Authority, the Customs shed and other official offices in a seemingly random order, filling in numerous forms and collecting countless stamps as we went. The system for checking out has another fundamental problem, to get duty free fuel you need to have custom clearance, to get custom clearance you need a departure time within the next 24hrs. Unfortunately it takes a day to organise the fuel, a day to get it onboard, there is no fuel or custom service at the weekend and the weather windows change almost hourly. We took the decision to check out early and sit hopefully inconspicuously at anchor. 

We were quite pleased we did, it took us all day Thursday to fill the fuel tanks. Firstly it took Rick and Russ, from A Train and also filling up, three trips in the dingy over to the harbour to clear a space at the wharf big enough to fit us on. We then had to wait for the tide to come in a little to give us enough depth, while we waited the delivery truck arrived and finding us not there, left and had to be called back, finally we had to pump 600l of diesel from three large drums into our tank by hand, all in the scorching afternoon sun.


It was an exhausting and frustrating couple of days but now we are prepared and looking forward to casting off. New Zealand here we come, please warm up a bit for us, the current Spring temperature in Opua of 18 degrees is going to seem very cold!

Landfall Tonga

Friday 29th July 2016

Our life afloat has many special moments, I suppose in a way that’s what we are doing it all for. This was not a wow special moment however. No sharks circling the boat, no formation boobies diving a few feet away, no magnicant rock formations towering above us, this was a much more subtle and precious moment.

The last couple of days of our passage were quite intense, pushing hard to keep our speed up to ensure a daylight landfall we were half reefed in 25 gusting 35kt winds. The waves had built and as we headed slightly further south came further on to the beam, sleeping was fitful, normal life hard work. 

Pacific swell loomimg over the stern

Still out of sight of land we picked up chatter on VHF Ch26, the radio net that is boosted to cover the whole of the Tongan Vava’u group and the main means of boat to boat and boat to business communication there. After a week at sea it was good to hear familiar boat names even familiar voices over the airwaves. Then through the haze the two hundred meter high flat chunk of rock that is the eastern shore of  Vava’u came into sight. A sense of excited anticipation ran through us. 

Sunset was at 6.20pm so although we knew from the chart that we were going to make it before dark, we still faced the unknown of our arrival. We had picked Vaiutukakau bay as an anchorage from the chart in the NW of the island where we should in theory be sheltered from the SE winds and swell but you can never be really sure until you get there. The chart showed the bay was deep with just a couple of shallow ledges, would they be sand, coral, rock, would they be suitable to anchor in, would the bay be full of other yachts, fishing bouys or other hazards? We had no time for a plan B.

It is difficult to express the feeling of euphoria of rounding a headland after a period at sea being bashed by the wind and waves to find the calm expanse inside a protected bay. And what a spot this turned out to be, the bay was serene as the sun sank below the horizon. There was not a sign of human intervention any where, not a hut, a fence, a radio tower, even a boat insight, the water was flat and crystal clear. The shore was a vertical limestone cliff covered in trees that somehow clung to every crevice, the air was full of tropical bird song and the shore line was dotted with white sand beaches and caves. After a week at sea this was a special moment indeed.

Enjoying my ‘got here beer’, just got in before sunset.

We warmed up a chilli, drank a glass of red wine and then slept like the dead for twelve hours. We would loved to have stayed but we were yet to check into Tonga and so reluctantly at 9 the next morning we started to raise the anchor. As if in protest to my statement earlier accusing Vaiutukakau Bay of lacking the wow factor, a pod of humpback whales appeared a couple of hundred meters away, they treated us to the full show spouting water, slapping fins and fluking. 

Good start Tonga.

Tomorrow Today

Wednesday 27th July 2016

We sat in the cockpit, morning sun on our backs sipping a cup of tea, it was 9am on Monday 25th July, we were two thirds of the way to Tonga. By the time our cups were empty however, it was 8.10am on Tuesday 26th July, Monday had turned into the day that never was. Tonga may only have a longitude of 174W  but the international date line has been bent around it to keep it in a similar time zone to New Zealand. So we had switched our clocks from -11 UTC Tiahiti time to +13 UTC Togan time. Tomorrow was now today.

A day on we have 260 miles to go and we are pushing hard to try to arrive in Tonga during daylight, it’s on the edge. We have tried to slow Raya down so we arrive the next morning but she is just loving the conditions and even reefed right up we are struggling to get her much below seven knots. With not enough sail to keep her stable in the swell, we were rolling about all over the place. So we now have full sails flying and are trying to keep an average speed as near to eight knots as we can, no mean feat over a few days. We have found an anchorage on the North East of Vava’u Island outside the pass, we should be able to safely slip in there tomorrow evening without having to worrying about the low light and just hope customs don’t discover us anchored without being checked in.

The mismatch in our timings is partly due to having decided, to sadly, give Niue a miss. A weather forecast has gone out for an active trough to go through the Tongan area Sunday/Monday. I’m not precisely sure what an active trough will produce in the way of weather but it sounds like something to avoid, certainly not weather, if can you help it, to be sailing in or moored somewhere as unprotected as Niue. Tonga has a multitude of good anchorages some of which are designated hurricane holes, it feels like the best place to be.

We are finding passage making double handed no problem at all, we are coping with the watch system, as well as we ever do, catching up by napping during the day. The Pacific swell has been generally kind to us with the 2m waves most often behind us and despite frequent showers we have had plenty of sunshine and blue skies. The water temperature has been dropping steadily and is now only 25C, this cools the night air and it has been quite chilly up on deck, trousers, jumpers and even socks have been pulled from the bottom of the wardrobe. On the upside the freezer is at -5C the lowest we’ve seen it for months.

However, Sod’s Law dictates, that we can’t have everything working at once and we have had two equipment failures. On the second day out the generator stopped working, luckily Rick diagnosed the problem quickly, an impeller had gone in the raw water system. A spare was found, put in place, the generator was working again within an hour. The next morning a hose for the hydraulic furlers burst, of course Rick has a spare and again fixed it without any problems. Mopping up the oily fluid covering our decks was another thing altogether. We have done the best we can in a rolly ocean, the rain showers have helped too but there is still a large part of the deck that needs work.
And finally, of course we have to have a passage flying fish story. It’s 5am, Rick is asleep below, the sea is calm, we have risked having the aft cabin hatch open. Suddenly he is awoken by a strange flapping noise, he leaps up to discover a 10inch long, smelly, silver flying fish has dived straight through the hatch and is now sharing his bed.

Bye Bye Bora Bora

Good Bye to Bora Bora


Sirus shines brightly and defiantly off our stern, despite the competing silvery light from an almost full moon and the red glow from the rising sun. We are sailing rather north of our rhumb line in a light northeasterly breeze waiting for the move south as the forecasted wind veers and picks up. The calm sea looks dark and viscous in the low light and the ever present Pacific swell rolls us back and forth. It is the end of our second night at sea, headed for Tonga, possibly if the weather is calm, via a stop in Nuie.

Anyone who has taken a look at a map of the Pacific Ocean will notice that it is very blue with just a few black specks which are the islands. It was with some surprise then, when I drew the line from Bora Bora to Niue, that in all that space I discover that it goes straight through an island and an atoll. Our charts, that we are finding accurate to a few feet, make navigation easy for us. The sailing community here are in total awe of how the Polynesians ever managed to cross this vast ocean in small canoes or how Captain Cook managed to map so many of the Islands all just using the stars.

We had not planned to go to Nuie but having talked with people and read up a little and it looks to make an interesting stop. The book says it is a raised coral atoll, basically a very large lump of limestone, it is said to be full of caves, chasms and arches. We are not really prepared for a visit, we have no curtesy flag (the flag of the country whose waters you are in, flown from the spreaders) and no New Zealand dollars, the currency they use. The country is rumoured to have no ATM’s  and just one bank. Our arrival could be interesting, that is if the weather is good enough for us to arrive. There are no protected bays or coves and it is surrounded by very deep water so the main town has laid a mooring field which is only good in the prevailing winds from the east, winds from the west would make the anchorage untenable.

After nearly four months in Fench Polynesia, it was with a heavy heart that we watched the Gendarme’s stamp decend onto our exit papers. We have had the best time here. The contrasting landscapes, from dramatic peaks and ridges to picture perfect atolls, untamed jungle to coconut groves and pretty tended gardens. The stunning warm, clear, turquoise seas full of coral and fish of all sizes and the welcoming happy people we have met on all of the islands.

In fact we had a  good example of the latter on our last day. We needed a final stock up at the supermarket . We could get the dingy quite near by tying up to a wire fence next to a concrete wall tucked between a small beach and industrial buildings just across the road from the Super U Store. As we returned with our trolley full of bags, hanging out at the corner were a couple of young men, caps low over their eyes, head phones on, rolling cigarettes. The lines from thier boat stretched across the path blocking the route of our trolley, not really a problem the dingy was only ten meters away but we couldn’t quite carry all the bags in one go. In London you probably would have nodded a hello, while subconsciously keeping one hand on your purse. In the Carribean where no one will even look you the eye, we would have probably been worried to walk away from the remaining bags in the trolley or been hassled to pay them for the use of the dock. In stark contrast in Bora Bora we get the ubiquitous bright “bonjour” and the boys jump up apologising and with a smile help carry the bags for us to the dingy.

As we sail away, we reflect that this feeling of welcome and the warm politeness you find everywhere, really has enhanced the natural delights of French Polynesia. Tonga is known as the Friendly Islands so there is hope that this situation will continue.

Waiting for our window

Saturday 16th July

The phrase on everybody’s lips is “weather window”. Bora Bora is the principle place to check out of French Polynesia before sailing on towards Tonga. The winds for the passage have not been great for the past few weeks so a bit of a yacht bottle neck is building up. Obviously all the crews here are individuals with an adventurous streak or they wouldn’t be sitting in a small floating home half way across the Pacific, it is strange observation then, that they clump together so. The word will go out that the weather looks good, people stop looking at there own weather forecasts and there will be a mass exodus. It’s the same with anchoring when we arrived in this bay it was empty except for a couple of charter boats out near the reef, we anchored in deeper water and spent a couple of days in splendid isolation. Then a couple of friends arrived and we created a group of three boats, immediately every boat that entered the bay seemed to stop looking at their own charts and instead just anchored nearby us. At one point there were about ten yachts all anchored on top of each other and the rest of the large bay was empty?! 

Tehou Bay


The weather looks quite good to leave in a couple of days but this window of opportunity has caught us napping and it would mean rushing around for two days and we don’t really fancy competing with every one else for a spot at the fuel dock or that last tomato at the supermarket. So we may well stay a bit longer, hardly a hardship.

We are anchored in Tehou Bay, in the lea of Toopua Island in the SW corner of the Bora Bora lagoon. We are again in clear turquoise water, with green hills to shore and a dramatic white line of surf out to sea. When we arrived on Tuesday, having dropped the anchor carefully to ensure we weren’t going to snag on any coral heads, we jumped into the water and a school of twelve spotted eagle rays glided slowly past our feet. I love them, they are so graceful and have friendly faces a bit like a dogs. Out on the reef the tourist boats come to feed sting rays and black tips and to the south of us is a line of luxury, over the water, Hilton villas. 

Our only real issue is again lack of Internet, the only place we are finding anything is in the restaurants and with the eleven hour time difference back to the UK it is making communication quite difficult. In Tehou bay we don’t even have much of a phone signal.

Luckily Bora Bora is quite small so we can easily run back in to town. Wednesday night we decided to go back for Happy Hour at the yacht club as the guitarist from last week was to be there again. It was only about 2nm if we cut the corner off the main channel, so we took the iPad and recorded our track winding through the coral heads while it was still light and then followed the track back later that evening in the dark. It was quite exciting whizzing blindly through the night, Rick driving, me directing – right a bit, left a bit, LEFT A BIT MORE!

Thursday night Lili and Steve from Liward and Steve, Linda, Karen and Peter from Nina came onboard armed with meat, salad and beer and we had a BBQ. As the sun went down Steve broke out his guitar and we all, loudly, sang the night away, more enthusiasm than talent on the vocals, maybe that will teach people not to anchor quite so close to us. 

The next morning all a little worse for wear we took the dingies around the south of the island to a snorkelling spot. The day was calm, the water so clear and so blue we could see the coral ten meters down as if it was at the surface. There was quite a strong current running over the buoyed bank of coral, the trick was to swim hard against the flow to one side and then drift back over all the fish and repeat until you are exhausted. It amazes me that having been here for over three months, that we are still seeing new types of fish each time we snorkel, the star today was a roundish fish, about the size of a large serving platter, brown with green stripes and a large green stubby nose? Linda had bought the remains of last nights pasta salad, this was very popular with the smaller reef fish and caused a mini feeding frenzy all around us.

Small reef fish enjoying the pasta salad


Perhaps because of the night before or the strength of the current, we all tired quite quickly and we returned to our dingies and went over for lunch at Bloody Mary’s Restaurant. It is famous on Bora Bora, built in Polynesian style with thatched roof and sand floors, it’s been wowing its customers for over forty years. At the entrance they have two boards listing all their famous visitors, it seems everyone has been from Rod Stewart, to Diana Ross, to Cameron Diaz to Buzz Aldrin. The Bloody Mary’s were spicy, the burgers good and the wash basin in the ladies a waterfall, but no famous faces we could recognise.

Lunch at Bloody Mary’s


Between the fun there are still the routine jobs to do. Today one of our least favourite – cleaning the hull. After the fast growth rate in the Galápagos and Marquesas, the hull in the Tuomotu kept surprisingly clean so we have had a bit of a reprieve but it has been gradually getting worse again as we have sailed west. Close up we saw it had grown a whole eco system over the last couple of weeks.  So I cleaned the thick green slime from the waterline, while Rick put on his scuba gear and tackled the fuzz of weed and barnacles that were making our keel and rudder thier home.

With the hull pristine we should fairly fly to Tonga. Until then, here we sit awaiting the next weather window with our name on it.

Moving On

3am Tuesday 3rd May 2016

  

Goodbye to Marquesas

  
  
It was with a twinge of sadness we said a final farewell to the Marquesas. Impressing us to the end, the dramatic scenery continued as we sailed past the final island, Oa Pou, with its 3000ft spires of rock thrusting up into the sky it made a magnificent sight on the horizon. The Marquesas has to be one of the most visually stunning places we have ever been to, add to that the friendly cheerful people, the cleanliness and order of the towns and villages and the incredible flora and fauna and the rest of the Pacific has a lot to live up to.

  
Friday we finally left Anaho bay and returned to the main town Taiohae to stock up the cupboards, top up the petrol in the dingy tank and connect to the Internet. The plan was to leave Nuku Hiva early Monday morning, hopefully catching the promise of wind to take us the 520nm to Tuamotu.There was quite a bit of swell in the bay making the anchorage rolly and uncomfortable so we set to getting everything done as quickly as possible so we could move one bay down to Anse Hakatea or Daniels bay which looked more protected for our final couple of days.

The town dingy dock was full, we pushed ourselves between the crowds of other boats to reach the vertical ladder that takes us up the 6ft of concrete above us and the only way ashore. The supply boat had not been for a couple of weeks so the shelves at the shops were quite bare but our expectations are lower now and we felt happy with our purchases. To escape the rolling in the evening we went back ashore to the only restaurant in town, a pizza place, so used am I to spending evenings on one boat or another, as we approached the dock Rick noticed I wasn’t wearing shoes, to return to Raya would be bouncy and difficult, so in true Polynesian style I went to dinner barefoot.

We were up at six the next morning to see what we could find at the market and then went over to the fuel dock. Flush with tomatoes, Marquesian grapefruits, bananas and baguettes we set off. It was yet another beautiful and dramatic location, on one side of the bay the wall of rock rose vertically thousand of feet straight up from the sea. There was another pretty beach and the guide book tells us a 2-3 hr walk up the valley would bring us to a waterfall – the third highest in the world. Hot and tired from our busy few days we decided trekking could wait until tomorrow, turned on the AC and relaxed below.

Sunday morning however, found us fighting off a swarm of tiny flies, they were everywhere, in our breakfast, up our noses, covering every surface. Time to leave we decided, so instead of going ashore we readied the boat for departure. A manta ray with a 6ft wing span cruised by a few feet away to wish us farewell and by 10.30 the anchor was up.

  
  
It is now 3am on our second night at sea, clouds are building low in the sky making it difficult to identify the horizon, I assume that if another boat appears it lights will be obvious in the blackness. We have seen nothing since leaving Nuku Hiva. We are trying out four hour watches tonight, more difficult for the person on watch but a larger lump of sleep in between might help keep us more rested.

We have had some great sailing with the wind just behind the beam in calm seas. At present we are doing between 7 and 8 kts in sixteen or so kts of wind but with the occasional gust in the middle twenties we have reefed the Genoa. Jupiter our constant bright companion since we entered the Pacific is setting to the west, the moon a wafer thin slither of light is about to rise in the east.

For the past week we have been gathering information and discussing with other cruisers the best time to enter the passes of the coral atolls. The atolls are rings of coral, on top of some areas are sandy islands but mostly the coral barely rises above sea level. Occasionally there is a break in the coral big enough for a boat to pass through. Most of the water that enters into the lagoon also comes in and out of these passes so it is important to go through them at slack tide. We are trying to time our arrival at Kaueli atoll, our first landfall, to between 9 and 11 am on Wednesday morning. With light winds forecast it is going to be touch and go.

Landfall 

Tuesday 5th April

We stand in the Gendarmerie in Atuona, Hiva Oa, clinging to the desk looking blankly at the form in front of us, we must look like a group of drunks brought in to sober up. In fact we have all got a bad case of sea legs, the room sways in front of us and we are so dazed the filling in of the customs form is a real intellectual challenge. The Gendarme must be use to such scences, he smiles at us indulgently as he gently coaxes out of us the required information to check into French Polynesia.

How exciting is that, we have reached French Polynesia. Well deserved “got here beers” were enjoyed by all.

  

The final night had been stormy and the approach to the island quite rough. Our first glimpse of land for seventeen days, far off on the horizon, was of a huge slab of rock clocked in cloud. As we approached the anchorage our hearts dropped the sea didn’t appear to be much calmer and the anchorage was rumoured to be rolly. We craved calm.

Luckily rolly is relative and compared to our last few weeks the bay as we motored past the breakwater was positively tranquil. We looked around us, we were completely enclosed by steep green, green hills. The mountains behind us have dramatic sharp ridges that runs up into the mist. At the head of the bay is, what would be called in a school geography lesson a V shaped valley. Every patch of land is covered by exotic trees and luxurious vegetation. The beach is of black volcanic sand and the sea is brown from the rich soil that has been wash down during the heavy rains of the previous night.

View looking out from the bay

It is steamy hot and heavy downpours are frequent, the undulating road into town from the anchorage is about 2 miles long so we try to time it to pick up a lift with the yachting agent and sorter of all things in Hiva Oa, Sandra. Town is just a couple of roads but there is a bank, a post office and three small supermarkets. This is – French – Polynesia so at a price you can dine on fine wine, cheese and pate all served on crusty baguettes, there is however a distinct lack of fruit and veg. The locals apparently grow so much in their gardens that there is no demand for them in the shops. So for the yachties it is a case of dodgy deals from the backs of vans. 

The Marquesas are famed for thier pamplemousse, these large grapefruits are sweet and delicious and acted as a fitting welcome for our friends on Toothless as they arrived a couple of days after us. As did the squadron of small manta rays that filled the bay that day about eight of them swam around the boats for a couple of hours. It is nice to see familiar faces in far away places and we shared a nice lunch together comparing notes on the crossing.

  

The Marquesian people seem a contented bunch, smiling and helpful. On our first evening we went to one of the few restaurants in town, a pizza place that had a local band playing. The music was a mix of popular French and Polynesian songs, it was all very casual and unpracticed but they were obviously having such fun, it was infectious, the whole place was full of smiling faces, tapping and singing along to the tunes.

Besides being the welcoming first port of call for tired ocean crossing yachts, Atuona has one more claim to fame, it is the last residence and final resting place of Gaugin. There is a small museum and you can visit his house, unfortunately all his paintings were returned to France when he died, the display is full of copies only but the sumptuous gardens alone were worth the visit. Ian walked up the hill to picturesque grave yard where he is buried.

  

Today we plan to sail to a bay on an adjacent island about 10nm away, the bay is of rare white sand and the book says one of the prettiest in Polynesia. I think enjoy it here.

Don’t Buy Bananas

Friday 1st April 2016

It is our final night at sea, I’m doing the 3-6 am watch. It’s quite lively, I’m dressed in waterproof trousers as all the seats are wet from a succession of rain squalls, lightening flashes frighteningly in the distance and we are storming along at about 8kts. We have 52nm to go, the island of Hiva Oa is 4000ft high at its peak so we hope to see land soon after dawn. We are looking forward to getting there, this has been rolly trip.

At the end of our second ocean passage I thought I’d note down a few important things we have learnt.

Don’t buy the traditional large bunches of bananas, they arrive full of spiders and cockroaches and their sap stains the teak decks. However green you buy them and however many different places and conditions you find to store them in they all ripen together on day two and have to be chucked, for fear of banana gas poisoning, overboard by day four.

The satellite link is essential, not just for weather forecasts but for the emails we receive from everyone that, in the absence of whales, brighten up our days.

Weather forecasts are almost always wrong – well should be read as trends rather than truths.

Be prepared for copious amounts of facial hair, it seems it is obligatory for most men to grow as much as they can for the duration of the passage.

Have plenty of spectacle mending kit/spare pairs onboard, Raya seems to be a glasses disaster area.

Develop daily routines to give the day structure, like the morning “what shall we eat today?” conversation, the 4.30pm crossword and the boys afternoon cockpit snooze.

Rotate the watch system, everyone deserves to experience the uplift the dawn brings after a dark night watch.

Yes you can sleep in those sheets for a couple more nights, it is shocking how disgusting the bedding can get without any adverse effects.

Don’t rely on the fishing rods to provide dinner, or the freezer to keep things frozen, enjoy the challenge of what can be created with one green pepper, half a carrot and slightly mouldy lump of cheese.

And finally, beware of flying kettles!

Stars, Scalds and Swordfish

Easter Sunday 27th March 2016

08 55.491 S, 126 05.610 W – 760nm  to go

The stars are fantastic this evening, the sky is almost cloudless and the moon has yet to rise, allowing them to to take centre stage. I was going to start this post by saying that this will not go down as one of our favourite passages but instead find myself marvelling at the fact that I’m sitting here being pushed across an ocean by just the wind, we eat, we sleep, we read but Raya just keeps ploughing on. The night breeze is soft on my skin and the only noise is the occasional flap of the sail and the water rushing past our hull. The swell has finally reduced making everything much more comfortable. It seems churlish to complain.

The roll has been the main issue for most of the way and I am suffering because of it. Almost as the last scab flaked off my grazed shins I had another accident, this one potentially much more serious. While making my morning cup of tea on Thursday we were hit by a wave at a particularly awkward angle the boat lurched over, the kettle flew off the counter and its boiling contents splashed onto my side. Luckily my first aid training took over and I was in a cold shower within thirty seconds, I stayed there for ten minutes before Rick applied a cooling burns dressing. Our quick action seems to have contained the damage, it’s a bit messy but the pain is being controlled by codeine and I seem to be healing fine. The careful planning of the first aid supplies came in to their own, we had everything we needed and easily to hand. It certainly brought home, especially to Rick who was having to manage the situation, how vulnerable we are and how extra careful we have to be.

I loved Rachael’s response ” Mum, you sail half way around the world only to be taken out by a kettle, how English”

The lumpy seas have also curtailed our fishing, we did put the rod out one afternoon and it appears the Pacific is full of fish. Within an hour we had hooked a 5ft long sword fish, there was no way we could land him, luckily he broke the line and got away, but not before giving us a fantastic display, leaping from the water, showing off his power and grace. Half an hour later the line screamed again, this time it was a much more manageable 3ft dorado and supper.

The days slip by blending into each other, nothing but mile after mile of sea, great excitement if we see a bird, even more excitement if we can identify it in our Birds of the Pacific book. The visit of a large pod of dolphins kept us entertained for hours, first watching them then looking them up and finally rerunning the videos and photos we have taken of them. A small sailing boat popping up on the AIS or lights on the horizon are greeted with enthusiasm and emails from home bring a smile to our faces and are read aloud to be shared.

The miles to go counter now reads 750nm and the guides to Marquesas are being studied. Hoping for landfall on the afternoon of the first or the morning of the second, apparently  dramatic cliffs, waterfalls and pamplemousse await us.

Not So Peaceful Pacific

Monday 21st March 2016

Position : 06 46 S, 107 10 W (middle of the Pacific Ocean, a long way from anywhere)

Last night we reached 10,000nm sailed on Raya, almost exactly a year since our first post-refit sail. All that seems a very long time ago now, a lot of water has past under our keel since then. We still get things wrong sometimes but we are gradually moving towards the accolade of Salty Old Sea Dogs. Actually the Salty and Old bits seemed to have come rather too easily, the Sea Dog status is more of a challenge.

It’s been a relatively eventful trip so far. We were given a fitting farewell to the Galapagos by a clutch of penguins dodging and diving, fishing around the boat. This helped to cheer me up as I painfully applied antiseptic to a large graze I had acquired, tripping up a high pavement, returning to the boat with last minute supplies.

As we sailed away we glimpsed a whale and were treated to a final formation fly-past by a flock of blue footed boobies. Alas, down below things were not so good, Rick was up to his elbows in diesel unblocking a fuel pipe to the generator. From the evidence of the filters and now this blockage, it looks like the fuel we picked up in either Panama or Galapagos wasn’t that clean.

The sailing was great however with flattish seas and F4 winds, we made good progress. To top it off on day two we finally properly saw our first whale, a couple of short finned pilot whales swimming with a pod of dolphins.

But the status quo doesn’t last long at sea and we were soon becalmed and the motor was on. The drop in the wind was expected and one of the reason we were sailing south west rather than directly west out of Galapagos. The southeast trade winds were forecast at below about 4 degrees south, the decision was how much to motor using our precious fuel knowing we had nearly 2500nm still to go, to get us down to them. Our patience, especially mine, is not great but after about nine hours of motoring we managed to coax the sails into taking us along at 6kts.

We now, six days in, have good winds and are sailing fast straight for Marquesas, if we keep these sorts of speeds up it should make for a quick trip. We are paying for it however with a 3m swell on our beam, making life, especially below, rather uncomfortable. The skies have been grey for the past few days, with a scattering of showers making the nights dark. On the upside the watch system with three of us on board is working well, after a couple of nights pairing with Rick, Ian is now happy doing a watch on his own which means we are doing 3hrs on, 6hrs off. Six hours of sleep seems like luxury on passage and we are all relatively rested despite the conditions.

The flying fish are again doing their thing and landing on the boat throughout the night. As well as the normal scattering on the deck, we have had one baked in the morning sun stuck to the large salon windows,  a squid (how does a squid fly?…) on the coach roof, one that flew right up onto the Bimini roof and bounced back into the sea and one that like a guided missile came out of the water and hit Rick straight in the eye!
Surprisingly we have seen quite a few boats, yesterday we were checked out by a navy vessel, they didn’t come close enough for me to ascertain their nationality but in away it is comforting to see them around and about and a large tanker slid by on the horizon enroute to South America. More difficult were the five or so vessels from a Japaneese fishing fleet we came across during the night. As they are following the fish, turning this way and that their route it is difficult to judge, especially the one boat that didn’t have AIS. Luckily they were not hard to see being nearly 200ft long and lit up like Christmas trees.
A few days ago getting into the rhythm of the sea we relaxed and were enjoying the ride. Relaxed a bit too much maybe, the winds were freshening and we decided to put a reef in the main before darkness fell. Disaster, a lapse of concentration and a gust of wind popped our super sensitive inmast furling system again. Rick has reefed the mainsail by hand to about two thirds which should be ok for the whole passage but does mean when we get to Hiva Oa the first island we visit in the Marquesas group, we will have to find somewhere safe to detach the boom – probably at anchor?!?

Add to that the fact that I have, fighting with the swell, just managed to tip the omelette egg mix on to the galley flour not once but twice! You see this Sea Dog stuff is not as easy as it sounds.