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Friday, May 31, 2013

Rays and Rainbows, Tahuata

And rain. Lots of rain. Of course the day we left Fatu Hiva it stopped raining - for one day at least. Before that the bay at Hanavave was often a brown river complete with coconuts and other debris floating past the anchored boats. Waterfalls flowed and disappeared as rain clouds came and went.

A week ago Friday we managed to make the trip to Omoa by boat where we learned that the most elaborately carved ukuleles really do come from Ua-Huka. There is only one woman making them in Omoa and she is still somewhat of a beginner. John admired a different one being played for the Aranui 3 passengers. The owner really wanted to trade John for his pretty maple Kala (a Hawaiian style uke) but he came to cash terms in the end. On Saturday John spent the morning fishing with a local man (who's washing machine John managed to repair) to see what tips he could pick up, but they only came back with one tuna after hours spent out in the rain. Sunday we attended a church service in Marquesan and enjoyed the beautiful singing. It was their Mother's Day and the children performed an emotional song about mothers. A few of the younger girls ended up in tears over missing their mothers who were away at a special exposition in Papeete.

Monday we motored back to Atuona for more fuel, cash, and groceries. Wednesday morning we did three "loads" of laundry and pulled anchors by Noon for the two hour motor trip to Tahuata. We took advantage of the "free" electricity being provided by the engine to run our handy dandy electric laundry spinner (courtesy of Quixotic who we send thanks to every time we use it!). As soon as we set the hook here in Hanamoenoa the laundry lines went up and we had rapidly drying clean clothes and sheets hanging in the first sunny, breezy day in ages.

We are thrilled to be back in clear blue water again! We've already spent hours snorkeling and I'm happy to see all the familiar fish faces again, although I'm going to have to relearn most of their names. Yesterday it rained off and on all day, and rainbows materialized everywhere we looked over land and sea. This morning I spotted a school of manta rays feeding outside our bay. We took the dinghy out to them and hopped in with our snorkel gear to watch them feeding on small shrimp with their mouths wide open. It's a little unnerving to see that big open (toothless) mouth headed straight for you, but we know from experience that they will always veer off when they are a few feet away from us. We then took the dinghy over to a little used sandy beach for some snorkeling. In a space of about two feet we counted 10 big Marquesan cowries. They were tucked in with pencil sea urchins and we don't take the live animals, we just like admiring them. Yesterday John managed to find three newly emptied shells (recently eaten by some other creature and still very bright and shiny) of three different kinds of cowries. A small black-tip reef shark cruised by us which was a surprise as that's the first shark we've seen snorkeling in the Marquesas.

It's great to be back among such stunning scenery above and below the water! We'll probably remain at Tahuata until we get a good weather window for the short passage to the Tuamotus.


{GMST}09|54.438|S|139|06.306|W|Hanamoenoa, Tahuata|Rays and Rainbows{GEND}

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hanavave, Fatu Hiva

On Sunday we traveled 45 miles from Hiva Oa to Fatu Hiva. There have been up to 25 other boats anchored here with us which is a little tight for this deep bay. But yesterday the French Customs boat arrived and boarded every boat to check their papers. Because we had already checked into French Polynesia at Hiva Oa our paperwork is in order. But most of the boats made landfall here first (many from the Galapagos) and Customs has given them 24-48 hours to do their proper check-in elsewhere. So we are expecting to have the anchorage mostly to ourselves by tonight, although there are a few other boats who have also checked in to the country.

Last night around 30 cruisers "went out" to dinner at a local's house. Philip and Danielle of S/V Sweet Surrender arranged to have a meal served for 1,700 CFP per person (the CFP is about 92 to one dollar at the moment, so the dinner was $38 for two). We ate bite-sized pieces of very tender chicken (complete with splintery bones), bite-sized pieces of leathery beef, and melt in your mouth pieces of raw tuna, all of which were prepared in coconut milk. These were served with spaghetti pasta and rice, and on the tables were plates of whole steamed bananas, breadfruit, a shredded white vegetable with dressing to accompany it, and dried bananas sprinkled with coconut for dessert. We appear to be the only U.S. flagged boat in the anchorage so the evening was full of broken English, which we find ourselves speaking as well, as we try to "dumb down" our very complicated language for non-native speakers. John took his ukulele and sat in with our host after dinner for a mini jam session. Along with a six-string tenor uke, Serge brought out his Marquesan ukuleles from Ua Huka. He says he has too many ukes and he wanted to sell the 10-string, beautifully carved one (complete with mermaids), but at 40,000 CFP ($435 USD) his price is too steep for us.

We enjoyed our stay in Atuona (Hiva Oa) where we mostly caught up on the chores of reorganizing the boat for living aboard (as opposed to passage making), cleaning, laundry, refueling, and walking into town every day for cash at the one bank in town and to buy baguettes, New Zealand canned butter, pate, and our favorite Sao water crackers. We met cruisers on a few boats while we were there and took breaks from the chores to do some socializing with them. Since we had toured the island so thoroughly in 2009, we opted to save our sightseeing money for another island. We may make a trip by truck from Hanavave to Omoa. We made the trip by boat last time, but I would really like to see what the views are like from land. Several people have made the four and a half hour walk one-way, but John and I both know our limits and we are not up to that just yet!


{GMST}10|28.908|S|138|40.071|W|Fatu Hiva|Hanavave{GEND}

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Day 25, Arrival Hiva Oa

Noon Tuesday

These last couple of days have been pretty trying. A good friend of mine used to say that the average wind speed, world wide, is 15 kts. I used to counter 'Well if you average 30 knots and 0 knots you get 15, but neither 30 nor 0 knots of wind is pleasant to sail in'. I'd never had a situation where I could put that assertion to the test, until Sunday night.

The weather forecast was for 18 knots, but the squalls had other ideas. They would blow 25, then rain, then blow 10, then rain some more, then blow 25 some more. You get the idea. I'm sure we had about 15 knots average wind speed, but it was not pleasant sailing.

Thank goodness Monday night was clear and if not settled, steady. We made our landfall at the Eastern end of Hiva Oa just before sunrise and were anchored safely by 0900 local. There's no rest for us though, so we immediately put to work, moving the anchor chain, doing laundry and moving all the stuff off the bed so we can sleep nice and comfy again.

Previously I had said we would be underway 26-29 days. It was actually 25 days (27 with two nights at anchor at Isla Socorro). We sailed 2800 miles and had an average speed of about 4.7 kts. I said that wasn't bad, but in retrospect I think it's pretty poor performance wise. I just looked at how we did on our 2009 passage from the Galapagos: 3026 miles in 551 hours, average speed 5.49 kts. On this trip we motored about 50 hours, in 2009 we motored 4. So if you want to sail to the Marquesas, do it from the Galapagos! It may be farther but it's faster.

{GMST}09|48.193|S|139|01.848|W|Baie Tahauku, Atuona, Hiva Oa|Day 25{GEND}

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Days 23 & 24, Brown Out

Saturday Noon

I swear this boat listens to us. It seems that as soon as we talk about some piece of equipment, whether it be the 'I hope this thing doesn't break' or the 'isn't it great having that thing', kind of comment then whatever thing it is we are talking about packs it in.

Case in point: the tow generator. I mentioned this in an earlier post, how big a change it's been to how we run the boat. Well, Linda and I were discussing the same thing the other afternoon. Then that same evening when I was turning on all the lights for the night I noticed that the tow generator didn't seem to be charging. I checked the plug and gave the generator a good hard thump with my hand but it was clear it needed even more attention than we'd all ready given it.

So I removed it from its cradle, took it below, and opened it up. Out pours water. Huh, that's not supposed to be there. It seems the thing I thought was a shaft seal was really just a piece of string that had gotten wrapped around the shaft. I had sealed up the rest of the unit using caulking but didn't bother with the shaft because 'it has a seal'. Water must have been getting in at the shaft and sitting inside.

I completely disassembled the generator, cleaned everything with WD-40, reassembled it and sealed it up (this time making sure to do something about the shaft), and put it back online. Now it's charging away just like before.

One thing's for sure, I'm not talking about any part of this boat, good or bad, until we're at anchor.


{GMST}05|00|S|135|40|W|Mexico to Marquesas Day 24|Day 24{GEND}

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Day 22 & 23

Thursday Noon

We crossed the equator yesterday without much fuss. I had a drink with Neptune and Linda stayed below reading (it was, after all, our seventh crossing) while I gave Him her share of rum. It's not that sailors are superstitious, it's just that we don't like to take chances.

Things are rolling along smoothly and we should be arriving in a few days. The wind is supposed to cooperate (mostly) but the seas have a different idea. We have what you call 'confused' seas. Frankly I don't think they are confused, they seem very focused on keeping me from sleeping. So until we get the wind and waves agreeing again I'll be struggling to get good rest. Sometimes I just have to lie in bed, close my eyes and try not to get up, for hours at a time. It's surprisingly effective at giving me rest, but it's boring as hell.


{GMST}01|30|N|132|54|W|Mexico to Marquesas Day 23|Day 23{GEND}

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Day 20 & 21

Tuesday Noon

We have sailed clear of the ECC finally. Slowly, bit by bit, our hourly speed went from 3.8 to 5.5 and sometimes over 6. The weather is improving and the sea temperature has dropped as well (another sign we are clear of the current), so there's nothing to stand in the way of our arrival in Atuona (Hiva Oa).

Nothing that is, except just under 1000 miles of open ocean. I've actually been waiting for this point. Our depth sounder, which we use as a navigation display for distance-to-go, will not display more than 1000.0 miles. It must be that anything more than 1000 miles is 'just too far to think about.' Yesterday I put our landfall waypoint into the GPS, told the GPS to 'GoTo' and waited while the distance went from 1002 down to 999.9, simply for the pleasure of watching the depth sounder flip down from 1000.0. Is my life rich or what?

In other news we got one last good look at Polaris (the North Star) the other night. We were at about 4 degrees North Latitude which is normally far too close to the equator to see Polaris. It is usually obscured in clouds and haze below 10 degrees. But it was exceptionally clear on Sunday night so we were able to catch a last glimpse of it before we dip down below the equator.

We expect to be at sea another 7-10 days. Subtracting the two days we spent at Socorro that gives us a passage of 26-29 days. Not great, an average speed of 4-4.3 knots, but not bad for a boat with a 29 foot waterline. However, last night on the radio net we heard from a boat that has been underway for 37 days and counting. They should be arriving soon, but their average speed is just over 3 knots. Now that's a long passage.

Tomorrow we cross the equator!

(for the 7th time)

{GMST}01|45|N|130|22|W|Mexico to Marquesas Day 21|Day 21{GEND}

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Day 18 & 19, ITC & ECC, Y U B So Hard on Me.

Sunday Noon

Friday night wasn't so bad. Even though it was clear that we were well inside the ITCZ there was much less lightning than Thursday night so we were able rest better.

It did, however, rain very much but by early Saturday morning it was clear we were going to come out of it and start to get a taste of the South East Trade winds.

Or would we? Some time around Friday evening we seemed to have entered the ECC, or Equatorial Counter Current. This is a narrow band of water that flows East, against the prevailing wind usually near the ITCZ. Our destination lies to the South West, and it seems the ECC is flowing East North East, meaning that we are heading almost directly into the current. Our hourly speeds, while not stellar before, have dropped to the 2.9-3.7 mile per hour range. This was when we were motoring and normally do 5.5 mph or better!

On top of that, the wind is from the South South East. So the best course we can manage is West South West. In order for us to get out of this current we have to go South. In the last 33 hours we have only been able get an additional 60 miles South.

It will all resolve itself eventually. We will inch our way out of the ECC and, as we get farther South, the wind will back into the East making our final days nothing but glorious sailing in wonderful tropical breezes. A perpetual sunset off our bow. Yeah, right.

{GMST}04|48|N|128|00|W|Mexico to Marquesas Day 19|Day 19{GEND}

Friday, May 03, 2013

Day 17, T-Storms and Strangers

Friday Noon

Everything was going so well. We were sailing along yesterday afternoon in a nice NE breeze until the weather started to close in on us a couple hours before sunset. That should have been our first clue that it was going to be a stormy night.

Then right at sunset John spotted a light. Turn on the radar and confirm that there is something there about 6 miles away on our left side (the radar works a little, just not as well as it should). We were on parallel courses and since there was nothing on the AIS (*) we figured it was a yacht or small fishing boat. We were going a little faster then him so we passed him and pretty much forgot about him.

Then about midnight, John, the off watch, got up to check on things to find Linda in the cockpit tracking 3 big thunderstorms. Lightning, thunder, bang bang bang. You get the idea. They were pretty much in front of us and since we were moving 90 degrees to the wind direction, the wind coming from our left hand side, we would expect them to move to our right and leave us a clear path. But it seemed a better idea would be to slow down and maybe go more to the left and wait for the bad boys to either dissipate or move off. So we did that.

But remember that other boat? Well, turning to the left and slowing down put us right in his path. He was still 10 miles away when we performed our maneuver, plenty of time for him to react, but because of the relative positions of the two boats it would be his responsibility to change course to allow for us. Some time later, it was starting to look a little too close (he was inside 1 mile and still heading towards us) so John turned on ALL the lights (running lights, deck lights, foredeck light, anchor light) and flashed the spot light in his direction. This got his attention and he altered course to his right to pass behind us. He passed astern, shone his spot light on us, did a little circle as if to say 'follow me,' and headed off in the direction we were both traveling before we turned and slowed down.

Then about an hour later... Flash! Big lightning right from the direction of the wind. Which means it's coming right at us. So we start the motor and move off at 110 degrees to the wind (basically the course we were on before the turn) and fall in line behind the little ship to try to put as much distance between us and the lightning as we can.

We never got close enough to a storm to hear anything but distant thunder (that is the point after all) but it's still very hard on the nerves watching for lightning hour after hour. We both plan on getting as much rest as we can today since we figure tonight will be a repeat. At least the sun is up now and even though it's no less stormy, we can't see the lightning so everything is much calmer.

* AIS or Automated Information System is a radio based transmitter/receiver system that allows ships and other vessels to track each other. Vessels over a certain size are required to operate a transponder which will send their position, course and speed every few seconds. Smaller vessels can also have transponders, but it isn't a requirement. This information is broadcast 'in the open' and anyone with a receiver can get the broadcast and, by comparing it to their own vessel's information, make a determination on the likelihood of a collision. NAKIA has a 'receiver only' system that takes in data transmitted by other vessels and displays the contacts on a little 'radar' screen (NAKIA is in the center). We can use it to tell if we are at risk of collision with other vessels and to warn us when we are getting too close to other traffic (for us, too close is usually about 4 miles). Why didn't the ship we encountered show up on our receiver? On closer examination of the AIS John found the ship did have a transponder but it wasn't putting out his correct position. Our receiver assumed it was getting a radio signal from a transmitter many hundreds of miles away and ignored it.


{GMST}06|38|N|126|52|W|Mexico to Marquesas Day 17|Day 17{GEND}

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Day 16, Happy Halfway

Thursday Noon

Lots to report today... First I'm glad to report we've made it to the halfway point, distance wise. We still have 1400 miles to go, but at least we only have 1400 miles to go not 2800 :-)

I think I may have finally found the (or at least the biggest) problem with the short wave radio antenna. This is the antenna we use to send and receive email as well as receive weather fax. It was receiving fine, but I was getting very slow email transmit speeds and the Ham Radio Net we check into was telling me my signal was very weak. I think the basis of the problem was the 12 gauge copper household wire I used as the antenna. It had a plastic covering on it (not the insulation, but a clear plastic coating over the insulation) that didn't hold up to the sun. It all flaked off recently but I think that compromised the water proof integrity of the connection and allowed corrosion, causing water to get in. I cut back the corroded part, added a better insulator to isolate the antenna from the stainless steel railing and 'voila' (*) much better radio operation.

Last night, right after sunset, I was on deck to do a horizon scan (we look for ships and anything dangerous every 15 minutes) when I spotted a very bright star in the North. I don't know of any really bright stars in that area so I looked at it for a few seconds to see if I could identify it. That's when I noticed it MOVING. I watched it for 5 minutes until it went behind the clouds and later confirmed with an operator on the Pacific Sea Farer's Net that it was either the International Space Station or a UFO in low earth orbit.

On the wildlife front, I have been surprised that we have had sea birds around the boat the entire trip. We are over 1000 miles to the nearest land. We've seen Tropic Birds, Masked Boobies, Brown Boobies, Petrels, and Shearwaters. Of course flying fish are landing on deck every night as well, much to Ziggy's pleasure, and last night for the first time this trip we had two squid, much to Ziggy's confusion. As always we don't let Ziggy eat the fish and squid if we can stop him, but last night he got out onto the side deck and was examining a squid to see if it was something he wanted for 5 minutes or so before I noticed it and threw the slimy thing over the side. Frankly, I'd rather have the wildlife we had on our 2009 passage from the Galapagos: whales, dolphins, pilot whales, and even one oceanic white tip shark. At least they don't sh*t on the boat or leave ink stains.

The water temp has been increasing over the last few days and with it the air temp and humidity. We are running the fans all the time to keep cool down below and are using much more electricity than we were at the beginning of the passage (higher humidity means more clouds so the solar doesn't work as well and higher temps means the fridge works harder). We're hoping for a break in the humidity south of the ITCZ, but really, 'Que sera, sera' (*).

Yesterday's position was in error. Je suis desole (*)

* Can you tell I'm studying French?

{GMST}8|10|N|126|34|W|Mexico to Marquesas Day 16|Day 16{GEND}

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Day 14 and 15, Fun with Weather

Wednesday Noon

It has been an eventful couple of days on NAKIA. When last we checked in we had just made the turn towards the ITCZ. The ITCZ seems to have had other plans and decided to come give us a preview of what it has in store for us.

On Monday morning I had downloaded weather forecasts, call GRIBs (*), that indicated we would have good wind all the way down to the ITCZ. On Tuesday morning, the GRIB file had changed to tell us there would be NO WIND on Tuesday. Huh, thanks for the heads up.

What we got was real ITCZ like weather. No wind, big thunderstorms (with lots of wind for 15 minutes) and LOTS of rain. We got through it ok, with all the salt crust washed off the boat, thanks rain, and finally picked up what we hope will be the last of the North East trade winds late Tuesday afternoon.

Now that we've had some practice we should be well prepared for the ITCZ in two days.

* These forecasts are a part of a giant computer program that models the wind, rain, waves, snow, barometric pressure and temperature for the entire globe. When I access them I get the tiny little piece that pertains to my location. These computer models are not magic, they are based on experience and have years of work put into them by various agencies of various countries but they have to be given somewhere to start. Over land, where there are lots of wind meters, thermometers and barometers the input to the models is frequent and accurate. Out here, there are very few weather buoys and only one or two satellites which scan the surface of the earth to provide input data. It's these satellites that are the problem here. In November 2010, as we made our way from Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas to Hawaii, the USA's QuickSCAT satellite finally gave up the ghost and died. I'm not sure when it was launched, but it had far exceeded it's projected lifespan. QuickSCAT's job was to scan the surface of the planet's water and give wind and wave hight data to the global weather models. In order to keep the weather models running (they provide forecasts to everyone on the planet, not just yachts) the models were adapted to use an older, weaker, European satellite called A-SCAT. The problem is, A-SCAT being weaker, it often misses data that QuickSCAT would have caught. The model may not get informed of the weather condition for 2-3 satellite passes, especially if it's a small condition. So we sail along on NAKIA, getting GRIBs that tell us one thing and then all of a sudden they start telling us another. All because the US decided not to replace QuickSCAT when it was obsolete and still has not replaced it over two years after it broke down.

You can help! Call your congressman today and tell them that you want an new scaterometer satellite in orbit ASAP!

{GMST}19|32|N|109|34|W|Mexico to Marquesas Day XX|Day XX{GEND}