Day 202, Year 1: End of Windbird’s Wind Bubble–Day 16

Day 202, Year 1: End of Windbird’s Wind Bubble–Day 16
Date: Sunday, May 7, 2006
Weather: Blue Skies Dotted with Puffy White Clouds
Air Temperature: 80 degrees F, minus a degree or two at night
Water Surface Temperature: 81 degrees F and rising
Latitude: 08 degrees 40 minutes S
Longitude: 125 degrees 24 minutes W
Location: Passage from Galapagos to the Marquesas, Day 16
Miles to Go: 800 (~123 miles last 24 hours)
Miles to Date: 2166

Well, today it happened. Our little wind bubble burst. We have had wind when no one else in the fleet has, but today we are flailing along just like the others. The winds vary from 5 knots to 15, but they are directly behind us and the going is slow. Our weather buoy reports indicate that the wind should increase in the next 24 hours. Let’s hope so.

Otherwise, all is well onboard. We saw a flock of birds today which indicates that we are getting closer to land. Otherwise, no signs of life. Gdansk, a boat out of Canada, and Trisha Jean, a US boat, are both very close to us, but we can’t see them. We could see Gdansk for about two days, but last night they dropped out of sight.

It has been a lazy day and we have not had our French lessons. Maybe tomorrow…

Day 201, Year 1: Sailing Wing and Wing–Day 15

Day 201, Year 1: Sailing Wing and Wing–Day 15
Date: Saturday, May 6, 2006
Weather: No Change-Beautiful Blue Skies Dotted with Puffy White Clouds
Air Temperature: 80 degrees F, minus a degree or two at night
Water Surface Temperature: 79.5 degrees F
Latitude: 08 degrees 01 minutes S
Longitude: 123 degrees 33 minutes W
Location: Passage from Galapagos to the Marquesas, Day 15
Miles to Go: 915(~134 miles last 24 hours)
Miles to Date: 2043

During the night we dipped under 1,000 miles to go. Wow! It’s beginning to feel like we are almost there and yet we have more than 900 miles to go. That was the distance from Panama to the Galapagos and I know it will pass quickly. Problem. We were supposed to learn basic French while on this passage. We are, after all, going to French Polynesia. But I don’t think nine days will be nearly enough time. I’m not sure nine years would be enough time for me to learn French. But we will dig in tomorrow and begin an intensive short course. But we also have to practice pronouncing all of the Polynesian names by learning a whole new vowel structure.

‘A’ says the short sound of ‘o’ in the English language-the sound you make when a doctor puts a tongue depressor in your mouth to look down your throat.
‘E’ says the long sound of ‘a’ in the English language.
‘I’ says the long sound of ‘e’ in the English language.
‘O’ says the short sound of ‘uh’, like the ‘u’ sound in umbrella.
‘U’ says the sound you hear in the word ‘too’.

But it is not that clear cut. Just as in the English language, the sounds change sometimes when at the end of a word or in certain combinations. So Fiji sounds like ‘Fee-jee’. Fatu Hiva is pronounced ‘Fah-two-hee-vuh’. Hiva Oa is pronounced ‘Hee-vuh-O-uh’. Just practicing the names of the five islands in the Marquesas is challenging, but then when you get to the Tuamotus (Too-uh-mow-twos), it is REALLY challenging. There are lots of vowels in every word and you say the sound of every vowel. Try the names of these places in the Tuamotus: Fakarava, Tikehau, and Kauehi with the Arikitamiro and Tearavero passes into the lagoon. Or how about Rangiroa with the villages of Tiputa and Avatoru? Remember-say every vowel separately. Mark lived in American Samoa for a couple of years in the 1960’s and he has a handle on how to pronounce these names, but it takes me awhile to practice.

We have been sailing wing and wing since the middle of last night. That means that the headsail is poled out to one side of the boat and the mainsail is out to the other. Usually both sails are out to the same side, but the wind has taken a turn and is coming directly from the east when we want to go directly to the west. So it is dead behind us. We have continued to make good time, but we have really been rockin’ and rollin’. We have been able to head a little north of west and tonight we will go back to a normal sail configuration and sail southwest again. The ride will be much smoother.

Not much else to report today. Mark talked to a doctor with the World Clinic again this morning about his knees. We are still not sure what it is but he is better and that is good. We’ll just have to keep a careful watch to figure this one out. The burn on my thigh is beginning to heal although I still have what looks like a very large birth mark just above my knee. Otherwise, things here are great.

Day 200, Year 1: Thoughts About Email Communication–Day 14

Day 200, Year 1: Thoughts About Email Communication–Day 14
Date: Friday, May 5, 2006
Weather: No Change—Beautiful Blue Skies Dotted with Puffy White Clouds
Air Temperature: 80 degrees F, minus a degree or two at night
Water Surface Temperature: 79.5 degrees F (rising)
Latitude: 07 degrees 49 minutes S
Longitude: 121 degrees 1 minutes W
Location: Passage from Galapagos to the Marquesas, Day 14
Miles to Go: 1042 (~ 138 miles last 24 hours)
Miles to Date: 1909

I love e-mail. Today I have “talked” with my son Justin who is in Africa, my daugther Heather on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, some friends back in the Concord, New Hampshire school district, my sister Patsy in North Carolina, my nephew Tommy in Maryland, Mark’s sister Mary Ellen in Florida, and our new friends Felix and Monica onboard Makani. I can’t even think what it was like in the days of Captain Cook when he was exploring the South Pacific with no communication with anyone “back home” for months, maybe years. This is certainly a different age and instant communication defines the age. Makani, the boat from Germany that went right past us a couple of days ago, is having radio problems. One radio is not working at all and we don’t know if their back-up is working for receiving or not. But they are e-mailing us their position every morning and we are reporting in on the radio net for them. We can’t e-mail them back as they are using a satellite phone for their connection and they have everyone but their son back in Germany blocked. But at least we know where they are and can report that to the fleet headed to Fatu Hiva. I now check e-mail at 0730 before the morning net and again at 1700 just after the evening net. If Makani should have a problem, we can alert others that are closer to them. This morning they e-mailed their position as of 0700, I checked e-mail at 0730, and Mark reported their position and conditions on the net at 0800. And I can communicate with Justin in Africa to know that he is fine and to learn all of the new and exciting things that have happened over the past eight years in the small village where he is staying. He was there in the late 1990’s and there was no internet café in the village. Now there is one a block from where he is staying with his African “family”. I can keep up with my family news through my sister Patsy in North Carolina in the states and through Mark’s sister Mary Ellen in Florida-all from out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Absolutely amazing.

Before the end of Day 14 of this passage we will have less than 1000 miles to go to reach Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas. We did not expect to be this far at this point. Windbird is not a fast boat, but she is steady. Everyday we gain on others who left two and three days before us. We have just kept a steady wind where we are and they have not. Luck of the draw. Things could slow down, but we still think we will arrive in the next seven to nine days. We could have a 21 day passage and that is fantastic.

Some of you who have been e-mailing us are trying to figure out just where we are going. Where and what are the Marquesas? I mentioned in an earlier e-mail that the Marquesas are a group of islands that look like little dots on a world map. If you locate Panama and then head a little southwest, you will see the little dots of the Galapagos islands. If you go south you see the dot representing Easter Island (part of Chile). If you move west and a little south of the Galapagos you will cross a long blank space on the map representing 3,000 miles and come to islands that are politically grouped as French Polynesia. French Polynesia is made up of five different groups or archipelagos: the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, Gambier, the Society Islands, now referred to as Tahiti Nui, and the Australs. We will visit the Marquesas first, head a little south and west of there and visit the Tuamotus, and then head to Papeete, Tahiti to begin our exploration of the Societies. We will not be going further south to visit the Australs or Gambier on this passage. Bora Bora will be the last island we visit in the Societies and then we will head south and west to the Cook Islands, specifically Rarotonga. From there we go north and and west to Niue and further north and west to American Samoa and on to Western Samoa. Finally, we head south again to the Kingdom of Tonga and on to Fiji. In late October or early November we will leave Fiji and head to New Zealand for the summer (summer in the northern hemisphere). I believe it is another 3,000 from the Marquesas to Fiji so we have lots of sailing to do in the next six months . . . and lots of wonderful exploration as well. But this sailing will be broken up into many shorter passages.

The islands of French Polynesia are all emerged underwater volcanoes like the ones you find in Hawaii. There are the youngest islands formed by a volcano erupting until it builds a mountainous island above the ocean surface. These are the Marquesas Islands. The next stage in island development is for the volcano to begin to sink back into the sea. As it does so, the coral reef that has begun to surround the island continues to build itself up to the surface. The space that develops between the volcanic cone and the reef is a lagoon. The Society Islands are of this type. The final stage of island development is for the volcanic cone to continue to sink until it is below the ocean surface. All that is left is the surrounding reef which now may extend a few meters above sea level. The land formed on these exposed reefs are called motus and are actually tiny little islands (islets). These rings of motus that surround a large lagoon are what we will find in the Tuamotus.

So much for the geography lesson for today. There is SO much to learn, so I’m practicing what I am learning by writing it here. Hopefully you find it as interesting as I do, or at least a little interesting. Tomorrow I will focus on the five principal islands that are the Marquesas.

Day 199, Year 1: Still Smooth Sailing–Day 13

Day 199, Year 1: Still Smooth Sailing–Day 13
Date: Thursday, May 4, 2006
Weather: No Change—Beautiful Blue Skies Dotted with Puffy Clouds
Air Temperature: 80 degrees F, minus a degree or two at night
Water Surface Temperature: 79.5 degrees F (rising)
Latitude: 07 degrees 17 minutes S
Longitude: 119 degrees 10 minutes W
Location: Passage from Galapagos to the Marquesas, Day 13
Miles to Go: 1180 (~ 145 miles last 24 hours)
Miles to Date: 1771

Our time has changed once again. We are now in the Pacific Standard Time Zone-same as California-but we are not on Daylight Savings Time. I think that makes us two hours behind the East Coast. We will change one more time before we reach the Marquesas and then when we arrive we understand that we will move the clock ahead one-half hour. Strange. Only the Marquesas has a time zone that is UTC minus 9 ½ hours.

Another good day. The Weather Buoy reports that we receive daily tell us that if we stay on our course we will keep the wind for the next five days. The seas are a little rowdy right now, but they should subside by Saturday. And actually the seas aren’t that bad. It is just that we are running down wind and we roll with the waves. It is something that you get used to, but cooking is always a challenge.

Our watch schedule has become routine. I sleep from 7 to 10 PM and I’m on watch from 10 to 2 AM. Mark comes on from 2 to 6 AM and then he sleeps from 6 to 8 AM. That was 9 AM until today when we had to set the clocks back another hour, so he will have to take a second nap after the morning net or we will just move everything back one hour. That’s probably the best solution. The net now comes up at 8 AM and 4 PM and life revolves around that.

Last night when I was on watch, we passed a fishing boat. It was 6 miles off, but it had very bright lights and a large image on the radar screen. Other boats on the net have reported seeing a fishing boat out here as well. Who knows where the boat is out of but wherever, it is a long way from home. When Mark got up at 2 AM, he had a fever. He has had a sore knee for days and it was very hot last night. We called the World Clinic and they put him on regimen of Keflex. He scratched his knee a week ago, and it was really a tiny little scratch, but the doctor believes that started the infection. The scratch has healed but the doctor is afraid the infection might have gone into the bone. Yikes! You have to be so very careful out here. Every little scratch can turn into a major infection. Mark is better today and we will hope that the antibiotic will work.

No signs of life today other than the flying fish. These little guys glide along the water everywhere you look and often in the morning we will have a few on the deck. Oops! They missed their target. Some boats are collecting and drying them to eat. We have just been throwing them back to the sea. Since we lost our good lure and fishing line, we have not caught anything. We’re using a lure that usually attracts smaller tuna, but no luck so far.

We want to wish our friends Claire MacKellar and Kevin Russell a safe and successful passage from Boston to the Potomac in the Chesapeake. They are scheduled to leave Boston tomorrow. Kevin and Claire lived aboard at Shipyard Quarters when we were there and we become very good friends. They are the age of our daughter and her husband, early thirties, and this is their first solo passage. Claire has just finished her graduate work at Harvard Medical and will be doing her post-doc work in the Washingon, DC area. They liked living aboard so much that they are taking their home with them. Fair winds and following seas!

Day 198, Year 1: Gliding Along on Calm Seas–Day 12

Day 198, Year 1: Gliding Along on Calm Seas–Day 12
Date: Wednesday, May 3, 2006
Weather: Another Blue-Ribbon Beautiful Day
Air Temperature: Daytime 80 degrees F
Latitude: 06 degrees 48 minutes S
Longitude: 116 degrees 48 minutes W
Location: Passage from Galapagos to the Marquesas, Day 12
Miles to Go: 1324 (~ 117 miles last 24 hours)
Miles to Date: 1626

It has been another beautiful day in the neighborhood. The winds died during the night and we had to motor for about 11 hours, but after our radio net this morning the winds increased a little and we set sail again. One incentive was that we found out on the net this morning that diesel is going to cost us $5.00 a gallon in the Marquesas. Wow! I heard from my sister Patsy that gasoline prices are also high back in the states. We sailed along slowly for part of the day, but right now the winds are back up to about 15 knots and we are going along at about 6 knots. The seas have calmed to almost nothing, so we are just gliding along. Mark wrote another Captain’s Ramblings installment today, so I’ll keep this short and share his thoughts for today.

Captain’s Ramblings 4
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Subject: Galapagos to Marquesas Passage

A few nights ago (well, maybe a couple weeks ago) I was telling the story to some fellow sailors of how Judy and I once ended up hitchhiking to California from the Oregon desert just to get an artichoke. We were gathered for a barbecue under a thatched roof cabana (that calls itself a bar and restaurant!!) on a beach in the Galapagos. Of course, in the course of telling the story I had to tell of Jon Greenberg from New Hampshire Pubic Radio recording us telling this story for my retirement party. I have often thought of all my friends at NHPR and that great send-off. And today I had the time to write them and thought I would share some of that note with you.

We are a little over half way from the Galapagos to the Marquesas – the longest ocean passage with no land in between in the world – 3000 miles. We have 1365 to go and with 11 knots of wind and an easy swell we are sailing along at a leisurely pace of about 5 knots. We have now been out on this passage for a little more than 11 days. It is hard to explain what it is like out here. Until yesterday we had seen no one and no other boats for more than a week, even though we are traveling “with” about 15 other boats – all within about 200 miles of us (which seems close out here!). We talk to them twice daily on Ham radio. Most of the boats are not USA boats. We have made great friends from Germany, France, Switzerland, Australia, Great Britain, Denmark, Arkansas . . . and other foreign ports. Anyway, there is nothing to be seen but the endless rolling swell of the ocean and the enormous blue sky with a few (today very few) puffs of cloud on the horizon. Once in a while we see some birds, a lone turtle swimming by, a few dolphins crossing our path. It feels like you are the only people on earth. And then yesterday as I was getting over the shock of some enormous sea creature having taken my fishing lure and run away with it and all my fishing line as well, I see the mast of another sailboat on the horizon behind us. It turns out to be a much lighter boat than Windbird and it is soon pulling along side. We chat for a bit on the VHF radio and then Felix and Monica aboard Makani gradually pull ahead. By nightfall they disappear over the horizon. This boat was from Germany and had not been part of the group that logs in on the Ham radio net twice each day. We didn’t even know they were out here. Since we can only see to the horizon which is about six miles away, it is amazing that we ever see anyone else in this enormous ocean. They could have passed us ten miles away and we would never have known it.

There is a calming peacefulness to this kind of sailing. There is the soft swishing sound of the boat cutting through the water, and a gentle cooling breeze that makes the warmth of the sun feel welcome. Of course, we spend most of our time in the cockpit under the shade of the bimini. As I write, Judy is reading a Nelson DeMille thriller. We have a couple of books by him onboard and they are great reading when you are on watch in the middle of the night – they will really keep you awake!

Anyway, I find myself at a loss for words to describe this passage. Time takes on a whole new dimension. When we arrive in the Marquesas we will have been at sea 22 to 30 days – depending on how much wind we get from here on. You could wonder at what there is to do on a small boat for that long. Well, we never seem to lack for things that eat up our time. In fact, we have too little time for things like writing to friends and reading. Of course, much time is taken in just living. We spell each other sleeping during the night so neither of us gets a full nights rest. That means we each do some catching up with naps during the day. Then there are meals to fix which can take twice as long as at home because you are working on a moving, tilted surface where everything that is not tied down slides away or tips over. And we do have to spend some time each day on the boat – adjusting sails, cleaning, checking engine oil and changing filters, inspecting everything to see if something is working loose or if chafe is wearing through a line or a sail. The days do pass, and though in one way we are anxious to get to the Marquesas so we have as much time to enjoy them as possible, in another way we are simply enjoying the passage. One day melds into another. We simply take each day as it comes and don’t try to hurry it along. And though we seem to always be busy, I don’t mean to say this is anything like being busy at work. We don’t have deadlines. For the most part no one else depends on the work we do, but the success of this passage depends on the careful inspection and maintenance, resting enough to be really alert, making sure that no matter how rough it gets, we have plenty to eat. Out here, it is just Judy, myself, and Windbird sailing long on this endless and beautiful sea of blue.

Day 197, Year 1: Halfway to the Marquesas–Day 11

Day 197, Year 1: Halfway to the Marquesas–Day 11
Date: Tuesday, May 2, 2006
Weather: Blue-Ribbon Beautiful Day
Air Temperature: Daytime 80 degrees F
Latitude: 06 degrees 26 minutes S
Longitude: 114 degrees 54 minutes W
Location: Passage from Galapagos to the Marquesas, Day 11
Miles to Go: 1440 (~ 139 miles last 24 hours)
Miles to Date: 1509

We are halfway there. Hurray! The winds are down to 10 to 15 knots today, but that still allows us to move along nicely. From talking to folks on the net, however, it appears that the winds are even lighter up ahead, but we can’t complain. We have had days of non-stop sailing without having to use the engine. It has been delightful.

I was taking a mid-day nap today when I awoke to the sound of the fishing reel. Some critter was running with our line. By the time I got up into the cockpit, it was too late. Whatever had our line was very large and it actually broke the line. So much for that line and lure and no fish for dinner tonight. At the same time, we saw sails on the horizon just behind us. Were we hallucinating? We had just passed the half-way point and were as far away from land as we can be, and there is sailboat coming up on us. Small world. We got on the VHF radio on Channel 16 and hailed the sailboat. It was Felix and Monica of Makani from Germany. We met them our last night in Puerto Villamil. They left a day after us, but their Bavaria 42 is obviously faster than our Tayana 42. The Bavaria is a lighter boat and they have now passed us and are headed into the sunset. Their HAM radio is not working, so they have no contact with anyone right now other than the close range VHF, thus the reason they have not checked into the net. We alerted the boats in front of us to be on the lookout for them and to contact them on Channel 16 when they can see them. They do have satellite email, but because of the expense they have only given their email address to their son. So, to send them an email we would have to send it to their son and he would forward it to them – complicated. It made me think long and hard about how I would feel without our radio contact. I don’t think I would like that very much.