Crossing the Pacific–Part I

When we first looked at crossing the Pacific, many years ago, it was a romantic dream. Now we are at the point of leaving, it has suddenly becomes a huge and slightly worrying distance. 

We think we have got everything ready.

Boat  – prepared as much as we can. Sails ok. Rigging checked and we have balanced the boat. Bottom cleaned. Steering gear ok. Through hulls checked. Winches done. Lines checked.  Rudders  have some play but we can’t replace the bearings accurately until we get pulled out. Opinion of two other skippers I trust is that they should last no problems to the Marquesas. They will need to be watched.

Power – Generator and boat engines both serviced. Solar cleaned and wiring checked. Good output for all. Wind generator doing as it has done the last 3 weeks, sitting idol. Looking forward to getting into some wind

Fuel – diesel full. Gas bottles refilled.

Water  – filled up and water maker ok.

Food – Enough tinned and dry for months. Fresh being loaded today. Far too many bananas for my mind but on the positive, I think we even found a couple of cauliflower.

Charts – E and paper checked and ready. We will switch chips to the central Pacific one as we leave Isabela.

Electronic gadgets – EPIRB, HF Radio, computer, Pactor4, spare GPS,  even the damn inReach seems to be behaving…..

Grab bag and safety stuff – nearly all checked and packed.

Forecast – There is wind at 02 30S says the forecasts with 10-15knts from the SE. That would be perfect. A bit of slow stuff before we reach there though.

Think we are ready. Tomorrow is our last day in the Galapagos. We are going exploring on bikes and the kids will play with their friends for the last time in a while. On Tuesday, we take a deep breathe and go for it.

Day 1 – Tue 10 May  Posn at 1200 local  00 59.231S  090 59.590W   Distance travelled in day: 74 miles

We had a busy final morning. Stewart cleaned the hull of weed and lots of tiny crabs. Lou got the boat tidy, hiding away the 60 eggs she got yesterday, doing one last wash and cleaning the shoes of Galapagos dirt. We headed across to Quatra for a farewell coffee. Next time we see them will be Raitea in about a years time. Lovely people and great kids. I think that both girls will miss Arsene hugely. Hannah will also miss having “big brother”, Axel to look up to.  And then we did exactly the same with Jane and Alex on Starcharger. We lifted the hook at 1115hrs and were honked out of the bay by Starcharger and Sanuk. The girls answered with the conch horn. Alistair and Gill managed an impressive shout out from the Volcano on the handheld as they watched us leave.

We have had about 5-8kts of SE wind for the rest of the day but have motor sailed throughout @ 230 to try and get down to the trades as quickly as possible. There seems to be a knot of current helping us. Long may it last.

We have seen some spectacular wildlife too. First of all, we nearly ran over a Manta Ray. Eleanor thought it was about 15’ across. Another two wandered past the boat, fins just breaking the flat water we had. We then saw one jumping twice and we could hear the splash at several hundred metres. Within an hour we spotted a huge dorsal fin and tail of a Whale Shark. It meandered away from us as we tried to work out how big it was. We decided sodding huge was an adequate description. We definitely lucked out seeing both of these. It was a great way to leave Isabela.

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As the light failed, we had a perfect cloudless sunset (sadly still no green flash) and our last sight of land for the next 3000 miles.

One issue today. The starboard engine control seems to have partly frozen. The engine won’t go into neutral unless clicked into by hand in the engine room. Hopefully just a lubrication issue.

Day 2 – Wed 11 May   02 26.742S  092 44.125W  127 miles

Over night we had a fog and very heavy dew. The free fresh water allowed us to get a lot of dirt off the boat but it felt clammy and cold. The girls did a good job killing the annoying flies left on the boat before, shock, horror, volunteering to do some school “because that’s what Tika does” – without argument. Thank you, Rusty and Greer!

Our first full day at sea and with it came the disappointment of a lack of wind. We have been running one engine for most of the day to try and keep us moving S in to the Trades. We thought we had reached them as the wind jumped beyond the 10 mark for 30 mins but it quickly fell away. Hopefully things will pick up tomorrow.

The only items of interest today are a Red Footed Boobie (to be known as “Breena” says H) that has come to stay awhile and a 150’+ fishing? boat of a design I’ve never seen before, sporting a very high spotting mast and crows nest and what looked like a couple of big chase boats on her back deck at an angle of 45. Strange looking thing. A whaling vessel?l

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We managed to talk briefly to Tika and Jade this morning on the HF. Hopefully we will get a better chat with them tomorrow as we plan to move the timing later to get better atmospherics. We heard Free Spirit on the evening Magellan net. Most of the boats this evening seem to be moving along the equator using the current and will head SW to the Marquesas beyond 125W. A different approach to ours but then most are coming straight from Panama.

Dinner tonight is a fantastic smelling Pasta Bake. May as well make best use of the fresh whilst we have it!

Day 3 – Thu 12 May  03 23.571S  094 25.004W 111 miles

We hit the trades at about 0700local. At first light we had put up the parasail and we watched the wind gradually strengthen to a lovely 13-15kts from the ESE. The only disappointment is we seem to have lost the 1kt current that has been helping us up until now so we are making only 6kts @ 245. Eleanor has been working at her Competent Crew book and Hannah stood a proper watch (with Dad not so far away). Message received from Quatra to say their missing delivery boat, Seyla had finally turned up at Santa Cruz. Typically, I sent the message out trying to find her on the last message sent before I received theirs…… Cancel sent.

We caught our first fish – a very small black fin tuna that we threw back. We are hoping for something that would actually feed all of us.

We changed down from parasail to plain sail for the night.

Day 4 – Fri 13 May  03 50.744S  095 32.794W 72 miles

Where has the wind gone? It dropped to near zero through the night. Thankfully the sea went slack too but we had a couple of hours of unpleasant hours in a lazy sea slopping around before it did. We dropped the main at 0200local to prevent damage (and noise) and tied the jib out. The morning finds us with a F1 from the NE. Our saving grace is a 1.25kt current taking us W.

By 0900 local we had the Parasail up. It takes 4kts to set and we struggled to find even this throughout the morning. By early afternoon we had had enough of 1kt an hour so put the motor on to run SW. We continued to run SW to get into the 04S. GRIBs say there is wind there. Fingers crossed.

The light wind stayed with us right through the day. Picked up for a while in the evening but a poor day all told. 72miles only

Looks like our Boobie has finally left us this morning. Time to clean the deck……

 

Day 5 – Sat 14 May  04 13.097S  097 20.898W 140 miles

We had to drop the main as no wind and mixed seas were causing a lot of banging. Finally a Wave (the Pacific equivalent of a front but not associated with a clearly defined weather system) went through in the small hours, giving us some rain, a few mild squalls and an even more mixed sea.

The wind filled back in about 0630local back to 15kts and we have set course @260 with Main 1 reef (due to the crap seas – less banging and chance of damage) and Jib. We are hoping that the sea settles into something more regular and with a Pacific length. Flying along at 7-8kts.  I’m hoping this is us properly into the Trades now.

Brownies were baked by E. Lou did a fine bread.

We lost two lures today. Our line to the excellent cedar plug of previous great success, fizzed out and then the line broke with enough pressure that it pinged the line back on to the bimini roof. The replacement lasted the first bite and disappeared as well. Not very happy. We need to make sure we can slow the boat quicker. 

We are starting to see more deep water birds. Storm petrols, fulmar type and lots of large terns.

We heard that Lumiel reached Hiva Oa a couple of days ago. A quick passage!

 

Day 6 – Sun 15 May 04 27.307S 099 49.184W  130 miles

A good steady day with reasonable wind all day and 130miles over the day. The parasail went up early and we had a good run until early afternoon when the apparent jumped to close to 15kts – the max the sail can take. We took it down and replaced with plain sail and satisfactorily went along at 6+kts. The wind died as the evening progressed but we stayed with plain sail through the night.

INSERT DOLPHIN VIDEO HERE  – needs to be done from Youtube account whilst online.

We were joined by a huge pod of dolphin that were a lot more energetic than the norm. They were having a great time!

We caught another Black fin Tuna today. Eleanor did the honours of gutting and filleting it. She is getting pretty good at this already. We are all hoping for a decent sized fish at some point. This one was no more than three kilos.

Lou is now trying to get through the eggs. Two bad eggs stank the boat out today. They were from an earlier buy but we are concerned that we may need to start getting through the remaining 60 a bit quicker than we are! Need to do some turning.

Had to change a gas bottle today. On the basis we had changed it a week before, the last one must have leaked badly. It should have lasted 6 weeks. Need to monitor the next one.

We seem to be averaging just over 5kts as we go along. I had hoped for a bit better. We moved waypoints today and our next, some 500 miles off only takes us another degree S. I’m slightly concerned that we have lost the advantage of the current again. The latitude we are is supposed to be where the best of it is. I’ll ask on the net tomorrow where others found it strongest. I’ve done the same with Taranga by email.

 

Day 7 – Mon 16 May  04 35.458S  101 48.699W   138 miles

The wind has steadied but the sea remains a mixed pain which is both slapping us and slowing us down. We ended up with the wind a little too S for the parasail so we stayed with plain sail all day. 6s and 7s for the afternoon and evening. Nice to be in the third digit of Longitude finally.

It is amazing how little change there is in the wind, either by bearing or strength, here. A big change is 5 degrees and that lasts normally for no more than an hour before it goes back to a ESE, around 110degrees. Long may the Trades last!

Little to report for on board activities today. Lots of reading done.

We had the tuna tonight seared and served with “special” rice – lovely.

We got mention of squalls at the 104W line by Out of the Bag, a boat in front of us. Something to look out for tomorrow.

 

Day 8 – Tue 17 May   04 55.570S  104 15.262W  139 miles

A day of squalls indeed. Sails up, down, changed side, washing machine rubbish. Not much fun at all. We had gusts to 30kts but most squalls topped out in the high twenties. We have been running @ 250-255 for most of the day. We really need a bit more W rather than WSW but with the number of squalls coming through we can’t trust the parasail up and as always, our downhill ability is poor, losing the jib if the main is up after the wind app goes more than 135.

I sometimes get jealous of other yachts we are out here with. Out of the Bag, with Bill and Jean, an Aus couple we met in Galapagos did 225miles yesterday. Very envious. Saying that, we have caught and past a monohull, Vanguard,  up near the Equator we have been speaking to on the net for the last week. We aren’t doing too badly.

The discussion goes on about what the fastest route. A NZ weather forecaster, the Pacific equivalent to Chris Parker in the Caribbean is suggesting staying around the 5S line until 130W then heading straight for the last few hundred miles. Seems that is where the current ends. The difficult thing is that the angle to travel due W is not a good one with the seas as they are which is why we have been very slowly moving S. We may, however, just have to grin and bear it for the sake of the current. On the basis we are covering just over two degrees a day, that is another 12-13 days before we head S.

On the upside, we got some decent rain with the squalls too. The decks are cleaned of the squid stains and the crusty salt bits that were starting to show on the solar panels have all gone.

I think this is the first day where Lou and I have felt properly tired. There is no reluctance to head straight to bed after a watch. E is being a great help and is standing in for the odd hour here and there. It makes a difference.

 

Day 9 – Wed 18 May. TIMEWARP to –7UTC.    05 05.643S  106 28.372W  121miles

The hour before dawn is turning into the hour to watch. For the last few days, the wind increases for about 45 mins dramatically, then backs into the S  before dropping away to less than 10kts for an hour or so.  Today we had a sustained period of 28+ kts(F7). We had run through the night with 2 reefs in, still averaging 6s, which meant all we needed to do was tuck away lots of jib. Still, bursts of 10+kts with the boat as heavy as she is at the moment meant there was some serious force on the sails. For us the weather is a bit cheeky; for Out of the Bag with another 5’ of length and built for speed rather than comfort, they did a 240mile day. Sigh………

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It does mean we are getting some beautiful sunsets and dawns. These are our last two. Red sky at night and all that doesn’t seem quite to be accurate!

After getting chucked down the stairs (lovely bruise on my backside and hip too), I got bored with the cross sea rubbish and the banging of the main so dumped it and ran under jib only with a far kinder tail sea, pulling in and out as the squalls came through. We have moved a little further N to try and stay in the best of the current. Tony on Tactical Direction, another boat on the morning net, got a full load down from his mate in Aus which says it is running strongest between 03-05S at the moment although there is positive current all the way down to about 09S. Happy days. Next update on Sunday.

The wind for the rest of the day has been around 12kts true. We had a couple of squalls miss us . With us going back in time and the moon waxing, we are starting to get a good moonlight for the night. A lot nicer than the black out we had over the first week.

We reached the 1000mile point today. It means Lou can now claim full membership rights to the Ocean Cruising Club and we are wondering if we should do the same for the kids. Is there a family membership available?

Another fish today. We seem to be doing well with small tuna. Enough for a meal but not enough for the freezer. May have to try another lure.

First cry of “are we nearly there yet?” today.

Day 10 – Thu 19 May   04 51.970S  108 20.767W  121miles

A comfortable night’s sail av 5kts with about 8kts over the deck. The current is definitely helping although another 5kts of wind would be helpful too. 

We are having a bit of a set to over when to switch the generator on. We haven’t seen a huge amount of sun the last few days and the autohelm has been working hard. Even though Lou hand steered the last hour of her watch, at first light the batteries were at 12.1V, a lot lower than we want them. Looks like we need to set a cut off point and start up accordingly.

Task for today was to replace the topping lift which I had hoped would last a little longer. I partly replaced the line whilst we crossed from Panama but another part of the line shredded yesterday. We stitched the old and new lines together, pulled it through and up the mast – no problem.   Our topping lift is now a pretty blue. Our thanks to Invictus for bringing us the line out from Panama.

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Eleanor learnt a new trick this morning – how to do whipping. A marvellous morning was had, whipping everything! Watch out for lots of red at the end of all our ropes. Note for me – buy more No 4 whipping line – we are nearly out. 

We have had a tedious day of too much wind, then nil, then just about enough and so around the loop again. And lots of very light showers. The parasail was up and down three times before we had enough and stuck to the jib.

Lou did an excellent tuna and noodles supper – v good.

 

Day 11 – Fri 20 May  04 49.489S  110 18.088W  115 miles

More showers and squalls overnight. Lots of cloud and few stars. It is safe running under jib only at night but it isn’t the fastest of passages.

Hey ho. I love my pactor4 modem. It really does do what it says on the tin. The email service is excellent – I wish Gmail was as quick and simple – and I am hitting Panama, now about 2000 miles away with ease getting about 3-5000bit per sec connection rate. I’m still needing to minimise what I send out as I only get 30 mins connection a month but it means my weather is always up to date (Airmail 3.5 has a great GRIB request format).

Eleanor did some baking and produced some excellent muffins today. Lou bribed the girls with the promise of M&Ms. It is amazing how spotless a bedroom can get when there is a proper incentive!

For the first time in days, a clear day sky equals good solar output, giving the batteries a good shunt. I’m hoping we have seen the last of the cloud for a while.

I tried to get one of the ends of the main traveller today to check the rod size that my great friend, John McMenamin is getting me from Z-Spar back in the UK. It ended in abject failure with one of the screw heads pinging off, leaving the body of a screw still through the deck and end piece and another screw refusing to turn at all, costing me a screwdriver which, with a bit of swearing was thrown with some feeling into the deep blue Pacific………. There isn’t enough broken screw to fix said end back to the deck. Unable to shift it either by drilling it out (dangerous trying to drill out a steel screw held in an aluminium body as I found out) or a hammer, I’ve had to just put everything back together. Not sure what to do now….. Better drill and a bigger screwdriver I suppose…… It will need to wait to the Marquesas.

It was pretty rocky today. Jib only as I worked on the traveller then whilst we had mainly a 15kt ESE breeze it fluked up past 20 all too regularly for the parasail.  We seem to be in a counter current at the moment and it feels as if Skylark is dragging an anchor we are going so slowly. We should be doing 5-6kts; we are seeing 3-4kts. Just tedious. Started to move a little further S with the main back up to see if we can push on a little.

 

Day 12 – Sat 21 May 04 47.811S 112 03.513W  118miles

We saw our first sign of human life for a while today. A big ship on route to Panama  screamed past us at a range of about 5 miles. They will be there in 3 days said the radio op! I wouldn’t mind that kind of pace at the moment.

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Moving S, we hit a westbound current again at 04 47S. Skylark suddenly felt as if she was moving properly.

The rest of the day passed very uneventfully. We watched some crap films. I had forgotten how bad  David Bowie’s Labyrinth was but the girls seemed to like it. Hot Fuzz was deemed completely inappropriate for the girls but I caught H watching it, nervously giggling like a mad thing, more at the bad language rather than the story line.

Other than that? Not much today……

 

Day 13 – Sun 22 May      05 01.362S 114 23.476W  142 miles

Way to go! We have made the half way point with a good mileage too. “All downhill from here, dear” says I …… the Taia and So What crews might see the humour of that comment and guess the response I got…..  Smile 

Again not exactly a busy day other than the daily maintenance check of the rigging and sails.  We do need to fix the sail cover and one of the sail cover pole stiffener fittings. We will be looking to borrow a sailrite machine when we get to FP. It is too much for our wee Singer.

The sails haven’t needed to be touched all day with a lovely honest and constant breeze which has set in from the SE.  Up to now, we have had ESE wind which fluke around for an hour or so at first light. Says the forecast and in Vaguebond’s opinion as well, we should have this for about four days.  I’ve also decided it is time to start heading on the rhumb line rather than try and use the strongest current. After losing a lot of mileage to a duff current prediction, I’m more in favour now of making sure the boat sails at a decent angle to get good boat speed, rather than the run with current we have been using for the last ten days.

With the wind in the SE, we can now sail on a beam reach on the rhomb line, which is perfect for Skylark. All plain sail set.

I have to admit to loving my HF set. We have an Icom 802 and the 140 auto tuner which, paired with a rope antenna and the KISS ground plane, is working beautifully. Saying that, the propagation on the morning net is getting difficult as we move further W and we decided that we would move it back to 0100UTC tomorrow to hopefully get a better signal. We are still managing to talk to Out of the Bag, some 1400miles in front of us but it should be easier from tomorrow.   I’m still trying to get Lou to use the set. She isn’t keen. It must be some hangover from R Sig days!

I decided it was time for a haircut again. I like my short hair. Easier to maintain too. The girls took great delight in taking turns in clippering it off and Lou did the tidying up. My beard, which will remain on until we get to the Marquesas, is now longer than my hair.

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Lou made a chicken pasty which went down extremely well.  Note E’s sneaky hand coming in to nick a carrot!

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2 thoughts on “Crossing the Pacific–Part I”

    1. Hi Sue. Current plan gets us to Aus about Nov next year when we will have a month or so to enjoy your fair country before returning to the rain of the UK. We have to meet up 🙂

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