38 days at sea! Really….!!!

Yes, that’s how long our passage from Las Perlas, Panama to Hiva Oa, Marquesas, French Polynesia took. With little to no wind for most of it and a couple of issues with sails/ damaged blocks etc we had a record slow trip. The good news is we didn’t have any truly adverse weather :)

Hope you enjoy the photos. More great photos below from our crew member Catrin, who has shared many photos on her Facebook page Adventures At Sea

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First Mate’s musings:

Day 20, not even half the distance into our Panama to Marquesas passage…. what a challenging trip!
After weeks of checking the weather on various sites prior to departure, in particular www.windyty.com, we elected to stay north of the Galapagos for the initial part of the trip, as predictions were for very light winds, so by staying at around 2 degrees north we picked up strong favourable currents. These currents enabled us to drift during these windless days and nights at a speed of around 2.5 to 3 knots. Every few days we picked up the weather grib files via the HF radio sailmail system and winds were consistently non-existent for most of the area west of the Galapagos, so we eventually started to make our way south/ south west in search of the south east trade winds. Unfortunately this meant a lot of motoring. We tried just about every sail configuration with various levels of frustration! But no, there was simply not enough wind for most of the time until we reached 5 degrees south.
For the first 2 weeks we had hardly any wind, no rain and no fish, except for 2 large trevally, which Eric caught on the first day.

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We spent days drifting about in hot, muggy conditions, the highlight being an occasional swim with water frisbee for the boys!

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When the wind finally kicked in during the start of week 3, not long after we crossed the equator (Cat was on watch & took this great shot!) along with rain, rain and more rain, we encountered ‘a series of unfortunate events’…..
First of all, during Cat’s early evening watch on Day 15, there was a loud bang. Eric was asleep down below so I went outside to check the cockpit. Everything appeared to be in order, but about 10 minutes later, another much louder bang and this time I saw the gate swinging open at the back of the boat and when I looked up, the boom was way out to starboard with the preventer pulling the starboard guard rail out of whack. I ran up to the wheelhouse to winch in the boom, but nothing happened and it was then that we realised that the main sheet block had snapped and the boom was swinging freely! Thank goodness we had the preventer on! Eric was soon on deck and somehow, between the 3 of us, in the dark, we had the boom in the crutch and managed to lower the mainsail.
Once again, back to slow sailing with the head sail…..
A couple of nights later, the wind kicked in again after 2 painful days of motoring/ drifting without even a current to help us along, so we raised the mainsail.
Eric had fixed the block by this time, but soon after dark the wind seemed to shift and Cat tried to steer us back on course, but nothing she could do would bring the boat round, so I started the engines to drive the boat round. We had been having a problem with our port rudder and we wondered if the steering had gone, but when we looked up there was a tear right across the top section of the mainsail! Once again we dropped the sail and limped along at a measly 1 – 3 knots…..
The next day we checked the damage and realised that, when the main sheet block broke and the boom swung out, the main sail must have got punctured by the top spreader on the mast and when we next raised it and the wind picked up, it got hold of the hole and tore it right across the sail. So now we were without a mainsail again.

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By this time we were at 5 degrees south and the winds were slowly starting to kick in more consistently, yet light enough to run the spinnaker (the brand new one, which we’d been waiting for just before we left Panama). After many days of well under 100 nautical mile runs, we were finally on track for a good 100+ NM day, when Cat yelled out and the spinnaker came tumbling down. What NOW??!!!
Way up at the top of the mast, the spinnaker block had broken and the halyard snapped, so down came our brand new sail, splash into the water getting caught up around the starboard hull. Eric had to get in the water to untangle it, whilst Cat and I carefully hoisted it back onboard. After assessing the damage we noticed a couple of 2 small tears, which we ultimately repaired, once the rain let up enough. The most upsetting part is that the sail wasn’t even a month old and we had made the decision to invest in this new sail after a number of go bads with our old spinnaker and now, here we were again, with a damaged mainsail and a damaged spinnaker – reminiscent of our passage from Trinidad to Bonaire in October last year, both of which were repaired in Cartagena after our horrible piracy attack in Taganga, Colombia. This was all too much for me and I took myself off to have a good old cry whilst watching a beautiful double rainbow over the horizon.

Another week down the track and rain daily, so any sail repairs remained in abeyance, however we had pretty good runs averaging 125NM just with our head sails. We were all beginning to get cabin fever with the overcast, rainy days and choppy seas and dreaming of the delicious pineapples, mangoes and all the other goodies we hoped to find in the Marquesas
(Note: sadly it seems that now is not the season; no mangoes, no pineapples, no avocadoes etc!!. We were told by a local tour guide that we should have been here 3 months ago. People couldn’t give all their fruit away and it was littering the ground all over the island!!)

The good news is we finally had some luck with the fishing and landed a small yellowfin tuna on day 19 (the big one got away…) and a wahoo a couple of days later.

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Since arriving in the Marquesas Eric has made up for his poor ‘on passage’ record by catching plenty of fish most nights, at dusk, off the back of the boat, so fish is back on the menu!

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One that we threw back, due to the possibility of ciguatera…. too big…

From time to time we were visited by various birds, including swallows, red-footed boobies etc,

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and occasionally we had dolphins swimming in our bow wakes. On day 20 we enjoyed the company of a good sized pod of pilot whales, but other than that not much to report, except of course, for the glorious sunrises, sunsets, moon and stars miles away from anywhere :) Absolutely, one of my favourite aspects of being on long passages!

Yet another stunning sunset at sea

Yet another stunning sunset at sea

Finally in week 5 we enjoyed a few days of comfortable downwind sailing and made some progress with our sail repairs. Eric managed to rig an external halyard for the spinnaker

Eric rigging a temporary spinnaker halyard

Eric rigging a temporary spinnaker halyard

Whilst we were all definitely ready for some fresh fruit and vegies Cat and I used the time at sea to do the 5:2 Fast Diet, which made us feel less guilty about the home-made bread rolls and Ghiradelli Triple Chocolate brownies on the non-fast days! I had also kick-started my weight loss by doing the 10 day Ketopia body reset plan, which I started a few days into the passage. With all the boat movement I was unable to weigh myself accurately, but I did lose an inch off my waist, hips, thighs & chest!! Unfortunately, now in the land of baguettes, French cheeses and pates, not to mention getting back to socialising* with old and new friends, keeping the weight off may prove somewhat more challenging!

Eventually by the start of week 6 (Yes!! week 6) we could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and expected to arrive in the Marquesas by mid-week, at least a week later than initially expected. Despite starting the week with fair winds and a pleasant downwind sail (and hope!), the wind once again died by day 3 of week 6 and we decided that, if we wanted to make landfall in daylight we would need to motor the last few hours….. We finally dropped anchor at 1620 Marquesas time on Wednesday 20th April, some 38 days, 4 hours and 5 minutes since departure!

Entering Hiva Oa anchorage, Marquesas, French Polynesia on day 38

Entering Hiva Oa anchorage, Marquesas, French Polynesia on day 38

Meanwhile we made a large dent in our book and movie collections and enjoyed the offline time, which it seems that now we’ve arrived in French Polynesia, offline time will continue barely unabated! Wifi and local data sim cards here are extremely elusive, so please don’t expect too many updates and certainly the former Facebook chit chat I loved to induldge in will be a rare luxury, but I am certainly thinking of all our friends and family all around the world. Miss you heaps and hope to hear from you as and when we get a chance to check in!

Captain’s comments:

This passage is one of the longest in the world and is a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG way!
Panama City is located at 08 Degrees 53 Min North, 078 Degrees 41 West
Hiva Oa is located at 09 Degrees 50 Min South, 139 Degrees 01 West

Monday, 18th April 2016 (Day 36)
It does not get much better than this!
We are 250 miles out from our landfall, 0300 hours, almost full moon, clear sky, bright stars and we are sailing directly downwind on our rhumb line, with both head sails winged out with a breeze of 13 knots and our boat speed varying between 5 and 6 knots.
At this rate we should make our landfall at Hiva Oa in the Marquesas in 2 days….. (hmmm, wind died at daybreak…)

For weeks prior to our departure we had studied the weather patterns to determine which way to go to pass through the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), commonly known as “The Doldrums”.
There are 2 options:
1) To immediately head south/southwest to around 4 Degrees S before heading west
2) Generally follow the Rhumb Line to 2 Degrees North then head west, taking options to make South, as and when available
We had advice on weather patterns, current conditions, anticipated speed and time frame in the forecast conditions up to the time we set out and chose to follow the Rhumb Line option.

We left Panama City and sailed 35 miles south to the Las Perlas Islands where we careened Amarula to clean the bottom and touch up our anti fouling for a clean passage. We spent a few more days exploring the more remote islands in the group before setting off at 1645 on Sunday 13th March (Panama time).

*Had a lovely get together in the anchorage the other night when friends we’d met in the Caribbean a couple of years ago threw a surprise early birthday party for Eric before they took off to Fatu Hiva!

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