Pacific Crossing – Lessons Learnt

Final Thoughts and Lessons Learnt.

Our crossing was perhaps not as fast as we had hoped but we sailed conservatively and comfortably. We were hampered by several disappointing days with little wind and low mileage. However, when you are sailing with kids, if you can get there safely, still speaking to the wife and with nothing broken, I’d suggest that you can claim a successful crossing!

Here are a few things I would do differently next time and some comments on aspects that did go well too.

1. Repairs and spares. I wish I had stuck to it and replaced the rudder bearings in the Galapagos. It would have been very difficult to do, particularly to get the placement exactly right but it would have allowed me to get a good nights sleep. Listening to the rudders go bump, bump as they just moved enough to do so made me a worried man for a lot of the crossing. I dislike mechanical noise when I know it should not be there. I deliberately underpowered the boat on reaches to minimise the stress to the rudders. Hauling out, is amazingly, going to be less impractical in the Marquesas as I suspected with the opening of the new yard at Atuona (May 16). Even though the advice I got from two very competent engineers was the bearings were within safe limits and would easily get me to the Marquesas,  which they did, I should have just sucked it up and got it done. Lesson learnt for simple peace of mind.

In regard to spares, don’t expect to find any decent chandleries beyond the Eastern Caribbean. Jamaica had a single store, Cuba  – none, Panama pretended to have one but was very poorly stocked and foully expensive and even Puerto Rico was poor, being more in tune with stink boat types than sail. The cost to ship equipment in to any of these countries (other than to PR) is high in both import duties and time.

Make sure you plan well ahead and don’t stint. I nave been amazed at how difficult it is to find spare oil and fuel filters, impellors and anything engine or generator related since I left St Maarten. Stock up there or have it shipped in at PR and think long term again, which for us means two years. I am carrying spares enough for four impellor changes on each engine and eight for fuel and oil.

You can get through them very quickly. As an example of ill luck, Starcharger, who carried the same quantity of spares, had a problem with a squid up their water outflow pipe, resulting in huge backpressure along the lines. It took them three blown impellors just to find the problem. They ended up stuck in Galapagos waiting for more spares and had to give up their dream of Easter Isle and Pitcairn as they ran out of time.   Occasionally shit happens and you need to be in a position with enough spares to deal with it.

Silly things like spare zincs. Trust me – you won’t find the size or shape you need easily. Carry a spare!

One item I should have added to the spares cabinet was adequate spare rope. I even talked about sharing a 500m drum of 10mm with Almost There which we would have had as a bulk buy for $800 total and would have given me the flexibility to replace halyards as required. We decided not to bother after they made their decision to head back to the USA. So short sighted. As it was, Invictus brought me a 100m of poorer quality line from Panama, the best they could find, after my topping lift broke on me, for $900. Ouch. Note that we have been told that decent rope is a premium in FP and is an excellent item to trade.

2. Sails.  Down hill sailing is the name of the game for this crossing but there has been less light air sailing than I supposed there to be. We had the parasail which was excellent in lighter airs but for much of the time in the first half of the passage, we had too much wind apparent to fly it and ended up with jib only as I dislike trying to goosewing if it is too gusty. We learnt our lesson on that during our passage from Puerto Rico to Cuba – it cost us three new baton points and six weeks wait for parts from France after we got caught by a wind shift. Saying that, whilst Quatsino got caught with 40kts at one point, we never saw more than a single gust of 30kts, sustained, 25kts. As I have used before on monohulls, a small, heavy weight  spinnaker rated to 30kts would have been a godsend to run with from 15-25kts. I’d also add a deep cut asymmetric or code zero if I could, to give me more options on reaching.

Talking to the monohull sailors, although there is a little roll, twin headsail works very well and if you have roller reefing, so easy to sail. Just sit back and do as Vagabond did. They didn’t do anything with their sails other to put a couple of turns in during squalls for three weeks!

3. Crew. If you can, take a crew. We tried and failed to get interest enough from someone at home to join us. Not really surprising, I suppose. Go to the other side of the world, take six to eight weeks off from your job to enjoy sitting on passage seeing very little! Our friends are not at the age where that is easy. We then talked to a few people, one of which sounded like a goer who let us down at the end when he was offered a slot on a super yacht. It was too late to find someone else by that point, other than one wee cocky thing who was determined to be paid for the crossing. I hear she is still waiting for a boat in Panama……..

Although Lou and I’s watch system worked very well for us (see our separate post on this), having a third or fourth person on board would take so much pressure off. Simple things like sailing with the parasail at night becomes easy rather than worrying that you need to sleep up top in case a squall comes through and you need to get it down quickly. The proper watch system becomes possible.

4. Power. I’m glad I serviced the generator before we left and it that it worked flawlessly. I had in my mind endless blue sky, lots of solar  power from my 500W of panel and some wind whilst running downwind. What we got was an awful lot of cloud, wind enough to turn the wind generator but rarely to get good power out of it and the need to run the diesel generator up to three hours a day. Our electronic/hydraulic autohelm sucks power when you are running, as it has to work very hard. Unless you have crew enough for long periods of hand steering, make sure you have a reliable backup power source.

5. Gas. Make sure you have enough. I changed to a new 20lb bottle a week before we left. It would normally last for five weeks. I had to change it after just over three weeks. Food becomes the centre point of a lot of your activities. We have baked cakes, pancakes, bread, scones, brownies, pasta dishes, every evening meal is a hot meal and of course, every watch has to start with at least one cup of coffee. You will go through more than you expect. Plan for a 50% increase to your normal usage.

If you can, take a European adaptor to allow you to change from US to Euro fittings. I did have an adaptor, brought out by my Father as far back as BVI last year, but I gave it up to friends in Panama who broke theirs just before their Pacific crossing and couldn’t find a replacement. I have survived with inverted bottles and  (see the Hauling Out blog for details) plan to last until Tahiti where I will be able to refill my US ones again.

6. Food stocks. It really isn’t that difficult to stock up with a good supply before you leave but you have to think long term, as in months in advance for supplies of your exotics. You have to make sure you do your last stocking in Panama which has good USA type supermarkets, if not before. The Galapagos is not the place to think of loading up. There is so little choice.  We have probably overstocked, what with the enormous store of dried stuff that Almost There generously gave us when they went back to the USA, supplementing our own squirreled supplies. But we won’t be forking out for FP priced goods for the next year. Bear in mind that we started stocking up in the E Caribbean in November. For example, canned pates and jams were bought in Martinique, marmalade in St Maarten, we still over a dozen bottles of HP brown sauce (my favourite) tucked away, picked up in Antigua and we used and abused the US food stores in Puerto Rico for canned goods at Christmas.

You can get good fruit and veg at reasonable prices in the Galapagos. Lou packed carefully, used the “green bags” for veg, changing the paper in them regularly to remove moisture and avoid rotting. We even managed to have a few carrots, onions, cabbage and potatoes left when we reached the FP and we ate well throughout.

On the fruit front, apples, carefully stored and oranges, both lasted very well.  Bananas did not – a few days only – but plantain did and we were still frying them, making them into chips with spicy seasoning, after a couple of weeks.

Eggs, bought just before we left Isabela, lasted about three weeks. We were rotating them daily and all were unrefrigerated. Two eggs only went bad on us out of the seven dozen we started with.

8. Comms. Our HF voice comms worked well throughout the passage and it was great to be able to talk on a net with anything up to another 8 boats (up to 1500miles away) for daily chats, position reports, weather updates, tall tales about your fishing prowess and generally keeping an eye out for each other. You can’t do that by Sat phone. Vagabond, who were within a 100miles of us for most of the passage, have become friends. E-mail worked well up to about 2/3 across the passage but then became problematic through no fault of our own.

Manahi is the Airmail station closest to us in FP and it has been constantly down. It meant that the only email back link that we could establish was either via Honolulu or Niue, both some 2400 miles away. We could hit both but with a weak signal, it took time to upload or download anything. You only get 30mins a month airway time and I have used it all up.

I think that I would look at the Iridium Go package again. Satcom is expensive but it would have been far easier to get GRIBS and mail, with 24hr coverage rather than the typical HF three or four hour decent propagation window. Saying that, my Pactor-4 and Icom HF set have worked great and we have had no real issues, other than airmail linkage, to worry about. There is no way I would give up my HF set though.

NB. We have since found out that the Mahani server has broken down and is waiting for new parts to be able to broadcast again. It explains a lot.

7. On Fishing.  We had a pretty good time with the rod and line on this passage. Not in comparison to Jade or Taranga– wow, did they score big using multiple lines –  but good enough against most of the rest. We fished daylight hours only for about half the days we were out and with one line only. We stopped fishing five days out having filled the freezer.

In the end, if we had heavier line and a better reel, I think we would have caught more. Note, the line I was using had a 60lb breaking strain so sizable!

The final score was

Skylark – Six. Two Mahi and four Black Fin Tuna – one thrown back. Total weight of fish about 70-80lbs.

Fish – Four lures, (a cedar plug, two squid type things and a heavier deep fish type) all with line broken by weight of fish.

For the remainder of the trip, I may look for a better reel and a heavy drag line just to tie off to the back of the boat to give us a second chance. We will see what the reel prices are like in FP but it might have to be a New Zealand purchase at Christmas.

8. Kids.  Our kids, just as most boat kids are, are pretty good at dealing with their own entertainment and were amazingly resilient. They read huge amounts – Eleanor read the entire Harry Potter series in just over a week – and arts and craft gets a good seeing to as well. Endless pictures, cards and bracelets for friends etc etc.

We did do some school too but this was sporadic rather than scheduled.

We have also had them help with boat stuff too. Cleaning their rooms daily (God knows HOW they make so much mess), washing dishes, setting the table for meals, baking and cooking and then helping with watches as well, making sure they feel part of the sailing experience.  They have both got a lot more confident on watch to the point I know I can just let them get on with it without Lou or I looking over their shoulders. Eleanor is developing into a good cook!

In short, keep them busy and don’t be surprised when the step up to the plate and do well.

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