Our last day in Galapagos was spent getting the last minute things we thought we may need for the long passage ahead and getting out last fix of dry stable land for a while. Slowly the idea of what was ahead began to sink in, or rather portions of it, or what I could imagine. The mix of excitement, anxiety and adventure was all there as we made Kuhela ready to put to sea for our longest passage yet. Soon we were out of the bay and with the sails set and engine off, we glided forth sailing west past the small island of Santa Fe, bathed in the gold light of an amazing sunset. A good way to start the journey.
we’ve been at sea for 27hrs now, and it feels much longer. Fist few day are always hard to settle into the rhythm and lack of sleep.
It was a bit of everything at once, or rather it felt like it to start the trip. We had a few issues pop up, and had about four different jobs on the go to sort out. None of these was life threatening, but with the prospect of such a long sail ahead and all the expectation and concerns in my head it was a bit of a hectic start to the trip. Its hard to fully grasp the distance and time that we had ahead of us. One minute it’s a world away and you feel so small and insignificant that you fear that you will simply never arrive and the other it’s not that far away as you look over the charts. This is something that would ebb and flow within me for the rest of the trip and, not surprisingly, depended largely on my mood. One of the things I wanted to get my head around and start using was the monitor wind vane, this is a simple, but ingenious way, to steer the boat using nothing but the wind. No power needed, no noise, and works 24 hours a day, all you had to do was understand it and understand how to sail Kuhela properly. I do not profess to be a world-class sailor, but here was my inspiration to learn something of an art that I really want to master. I did get it working and we have used it quite a lot on the trip, my knowledge and understanding of how it all fits together has certainly increased, but mastery is a long, long way off.
The wind was good to us most of the time, and was regularly a bit more than the forecast indicated and on weather I downloaded, but it was from the right direction and we slowly made our way across the charts. One of the issues I've had has been the wind reading on the new nav system, for some reason its stuck in one position and tells us we have easterly wind regardless, slightly annoying but again, makes me have to stop and think to work out what is going on around me and not simply rely of the wonders of modern technology, sometimes I learn by choice, sometimes by force, but there is never a shortage of things to learn out here. We plot our position on the chart every four hours and in the log book every two. Although paper charts are becoming a thing of the past I do still like the feel and sight if us making our way across the chart. Slowly the dots line up and the Galapagos slide to the right of the page, and well the Gambiers are somewhere off to the SW, on another chart. We also keep in touch with other boats on the passage across an the SSB radio and all check in at set times with our positions and weather, it’s a good way to see what the others are experiencing and to keep an eye on each other for safety, it certainly makes you feel a lot less alone out here.
Another amazing day out here. Finally settling into a routine and the run of things. We started doing set watches of 2hrs with Kim starting at 2100, been good to get to sleep at the same time every night.
The ocean out here is truly immense; it just goes on and on and has so many different faces and temperaments. About five days out the wind started building and finally steadied at around the 25 to 28 knots mark with a large swell and sea running. We put two reefs in the main to reduce the size of the sail and swapped out the larger Yankee for the smaller jib just aft of it. Before that we were rocketing along and even though it was quite exciting to see the speed jump up as we hurtled along, this isn’t a race, it’s more like a marathon, and so we reduced sail and speed and the motion on board became much more pleasant. Sometimes you try to remember what it was like to be on a stable surface, where your not always trying to balance or guess where your next step will fall, and well so far I managed not to come flying out of the bathroom yet. Its amazing how you can tell when tiredness is getting to us, there is a steady increase in muttering and some fairly interesting language used, I am sorry to say that most of the Portuguese I will pick up on this trip will not be use around the dinner table.
with the wind dropping out we decided to throw up the large light air drifter we have, this sail is amazing in light wind, but also seems able to create wind as well, no sooner had we hoisted it than the wind suddenly increased and we were frantically trying to get it down. At least we have wind now though I guess.
The days continued to drift by and all blend into one. The weather improved and so far has consistently been about 5 knots higher than predicted, which has given us a really good run. We are averaging around the 130NM a day mark, with a few days coming close to cracking 150. The little dots on the chart continue to slowly appear, each one slight to the south and west of the others and we keep track of the overall distance with the GPS. As I write this section we were just coming up to the half way mark, expecting to pass this in about 24 hours. I also realized that I had made a mistake, or rather had taken the wrong distance measurement into my mind, the 3600NM distance I kept thinking of is the distance from Panama, not Galapagos, so technically we made 600NM in a few minutes of clearer thought and drops the expected time to Gambier considerably. I have been downloading the weather via the sat phone and been listening to reports of the boats ahead of us. I think if I had to do it again I would get a modem for the SSB radio rather than the sat phone, its expensive and sometimes drops the calls, which mean it costs you the for the time used but you don’t get your data. The weather systems from New Zealand have been peeling off into the pacific and influence the weather further south as we head to Gambiers, there’s a big system down that way and stronger winds forecast for later in the week, still in the right direction though so we will continue along our route. Its been a week since we’ve seen another ship, nothing but the ocean for as far as you can see. There is life though, surprising small birds swooping down in between the waves, and flying fish skirting the surface of the water, usually shooting out from below Kuhela’s bow or lying lifeless on the deck in the morning after an ill fated flight.
it would be silly to think of me and my little boat as the center of things out here on this massive ocean that surrounds us. So I guess it is also in life, we are not the center, but we can adjust sails and the direction of our journey
Had the most amazing night last night on watch, the temperature has cooled as we head south, now at 10 degrees, and with an amazing full moon, clear sky, and a perfect 15 knot breeze gliding us along I stood on the back deck and looked out over the ocean. There was nothing but the sound of the waves washing past the hull, the gentle rustling of clothing and sails, the creaking of rigging and pulleys and every now and then a slightly larger splash as an unseen wave slaps against the hull. It was the best night I've had out here so far this trip and one of the reasons I love being at sea. One of those nights, where there seems to be nothing else between you and the vastness that surrounds and encompasses you, you are simply part of it. To stand there and take it all in, on your own, but not at all lonely, being the only little spec visible in the eternity of water around you. To feel so small and insignificant, yet so part of the greater whole, it is what all those who look to nature experience I believe, that connection to things so much grander than ourselves.
Just as there are amazing times out here, so there are trying ones. The stronger winds and swell arrived and sent us rocking back and forth like we were on some kind of amusement park ride, though amused was the last thing I was. For three days we bounced and bucked as a three meter swell with waves that would come crashing across the water and slam into Kuhela, sending spray flying across the deck and on a few occasions filling the cockpit with a significant amount of water. On top of this was a 30 knot wind that would suddenly jump to 35 or higher in gusts or when a squall caught up to us. It became a mission to do almost anything, walking from one end of the boat to the other made you look like a drunk man in a high wire act, cooking became a sport and sleeping meant being able to wedge yourself in somewhere to keep you attached to the bed. It was storm conditions or severe seas, but it was far from comfortable, but what could you do anyways, we would just have to wait it out. How long? That I didn’t know as my sat phone has proven to be the most expensive paperweight I have ever owned. It has cost me a small fortune to download the little bit of weather I have been able to access and most of the time it just drops the call after about five minutes and I get nothing. I will have to sort something out as this clearly wont do. For the minute I have a mate of mine relaying weather via the radio, but we will see what I can come up with for the rest of the trip.
I am now the furthest I will probably ever be from land, 1500NM to the Galapagos, 1500NM to the Gambiers. We hit the half way mark just as I came on watch at 2300.
There have been more amazing sunrises and magic times spent on watch at night, the days continue to get marked off in the ships log, sometimes fast than you expect, sometime slower. Today is a slow day, we have been out here now for fourteen days, and have another week to go. Still listening to the other boats ahead of us, and they are either just getting there or will be there in the next couple days. To hear them talk of dropping anchor and how amazing it is, and of celebratory drinks and fresh croissants early in the morning has made it seem even further away. I know we will get there and that they left before us, but that doesn’t help me today. We are now out of fresh fruit and veg also, well that may not be entirely true, we have potatoes and cabbage, potatoes I don’t mind, but if I never eat another cabbage again ill be a happy man. It has been a bit of a learning curve too with keeping everything fresh, I converted on of the cupboards of board to be a veggie cupboard with shelves and ventilation before I left and this has worked well, mostly. We still have to clear it out every few days and have found the cabbage and carrots are hardest to keep, while potatoes and onions last really well. Fresh fruit we tried to keep in the fridge and bananas we were in a race with to eat before they turned into something else. Still no fish either; I have towed a lure a few days when the weather hasn’t been too bad, but nothing to show for my efforts. At least I'm not alone; all the other boats have reported the same thing. Those flying fish on deck are starting to look tastier than they smell.
its been a bumpy and rolly few days out here, there has been a large swell and the wind has been anywhere from 18-35 knots. To see large swell like this out in the open ocean is pretty cool and Kuhela handles it all in her stride, its us that gets thrown around. We’ve had a few waves hit the stern and splash over the side into the cockpit. A couple caught me unaware and scared the crap out of me in the early hours of the morning.
Time continues on as our little marks on the page signify our passage through time and space in this big blue scene that surrounds us. There are actually different blues in the ocean, some days a deep dark blue and others a much lighter hue, and the blues in the sky are broken only by the clouds and the spectacular sunsets that throw their yellows, reds and violets across the sky, setting fire to the scene around us. Even Kuhela carriers her share of blue and I wonder sometimes if you would even see us looking down from above or if we’d be simply lost in the vastness of blue. Sailing has been challenging at times, but we continue to learn, figuring out little things one step at a time. Last night I learnt how apparent wind can affect your course and how sometimes choosing to go the longer distance with greater speed can save you hours of wallowing around being tossed back and forth by the waves. It was a truly inspired moment; sitting up at 2 A.M. pondering on what to do, when suddenly the light went off in my head and I made the decision to sail, not drift along helplessly. After that it was as if my hands knew exactly what to do and we were off, going from wallowing at three knots to running along on a port tack at six. Today it as a lesson in down wind sailing, which I just hadn’t been able to get right as there was an easterly swell behind us and would set Kuhela of rocking back on forth with such a violent motion that the sails would slam and you could feel the shock reverberate through her. It made me cringe and every time I thought I got it right, that one wave would come along and the noise and shock of the impact would be sickening. We tried different things for a few days and finally we got it right, it involved running ropes to stabilize everything, sheeting the small jib hard amidships to prevent sideways roll and preventing the boom from getting the momentum to flick the main sail forward. This would usually happen just as we would come over the top of the swell and then as Kuhela ran came down the face and slowed at the bottom of the trough, the wind would come barreling down behind her and literally get a running kick into the sails. I'm glad I was able to learn the trick before any serious damage was done. There was quite a bit of frustration involved before we made any progress. I could also give stories of fuel filters, wind instruments going slightly retarded, leaking toilets, and the list goes on, each little thing done is a small win and adds just that little extra to the knowledge and confidence supply to draw on. And when there’s a problem and I feel the scale of where I am compared to the boat I'm in, that little reserve to sit down, have a cup of tea and stroke the beard for a while (scientifically proven t help thinking) is what can make all the difference. (on a side note, not five minutes after writing this piece something changed, I think the swell may have built just that little bit or the wind dropped off slightly but as I was re-reading of my down wind learning accomplishment, along came that one swell, and BANG. The lesson continues)
Right now as I write gentle swells and soft music drift along with us, there are four million and twenty-three starts over head (I counted twice). It is like a dream, or rather it is a dream. Something born of such and brought to life. I hope not to wake.
One of the most frustrating things about this whole passage has not being able to access weather. The feeling of not knowing what is coming and how to position and plan for our arrival is a constant worry for me, and is a huge oversight not having this issue well under control before I left. I was able to get in touch with a mate of mine, Matt, who is at the Gambiers all ready and he has been able to relay some weather info for me, which has been a huge relief. I was hoping for a return of the South Easterly trades, but it seems that mother nature has something else planned, a low is forming west of us and will be passing to the south in about 72 hours. It was actually a relief to at least know what was happening as if I hadn’t I would have continued on my course and sailed straight into it and would have had to fight my way up wind for the final days of the trip. We will now head directly west and tomorrow a bit north to allow the system to pass before, and with it the winds changing from E to NE to N to NW and will be able to use the NW wind to sail back down towards the islands, hopefully getting there just after it passes and the sky clears, the waves are pumping and I can get in the water and shoot some fish.
Suddenly I looked around and truly realized for the first time how remote I was. Everything, the ocean, the sky, looked huge. I was a tiny specin this vast place but I knew where I fit.
Well it turned out that I had spoken too soon, and I guess I didn’t learn my lesson soon enough. On my daily walk around to check thing out on deck I found that I had broken two wires in one of the shrouds that supports the mast. This was not something I wanted to find, and resulted in quite a few minutes of just staring at it, and yes, beard stroking. The only thing I could do out here was to support it somehow, and take it easy on that tack till I got to the Gambiers. I was able to use some of the spectra rope left over from another job, a pulley and some dog clamps to really pull tight on it and secure it. This would have to do till I got there. It was a lesson on a few different fronts and could have been a lot worse. From listening to the other boats out there on the morning radio net, people have dealt with far worse than this in the last few weeks alone. Another job on this list for when we drop anchor, and that list is rapidly filling up.
We are only a couple days out now and have been making our way steadily west and have just turned to begin our slide to the South West and to the Gambiers. It is getting to the point now where we are both pretty tired. Days are spent trying to catch up on sleep or do little things and the night watch alarm is far from a pleasant sound. Still I have to say that once sitting outside at night, and once the coffee has kinked in, that it’s a pretty amazing experience. This trip so far has been so many things, I have found out so much about Kuhela, sailing and myself and it has stripped away so much of the unnecessary things, its been life at a pretty basic level and trying to work in with nature to get to where you want to go. Dealing with things at that level and having to challenge yourself and adapt to what is around you using what you have is something that I think many people have lost, include myself at times. Its so easy to say I want this, do nothing more than click a few keys on the keyboard and wait for the doorbell to ring. Here there is none of that, everything had to be planned, we work with what we have, we try our best to work in with and understand what mother nature has in mind, and slowly we make our way along.
Today is three weeks out here, it goes by quickly but seems long at the same time. I am tired.
The highest point in the Gambiers is that of Mt. Duff on the island of Mangareva, it is this that we will be looking out for as we approach. To suddenly come across a towering mountain of land in the middle of the vast blue landscape is something amazing special. First you see the birds, different ones that the ones we have seen skimming their wing tips in the water the whole way across, I could write a whole another story about them alone. These new birds will be land birds, heading out to hunt in the morning and returning in the afternoon. Then you smell land, that deep earth smell that has been purged from your nostrils by salt and wind. There is even a difference in the clouds, different from the thousands of clouds that have drifted by during the trip, in that these are stationary, squatting on top on MT. Duff as if to stake claim and not wanting to go off to sea. These are all some of the things the old Polynesian navigators used to find these tiny specs of land in this vast blue sea. Their navigation and seamanship is legendary and after weeks of plotting my course on well-made charts, only having to glance at the GPS to know exactly where I am, and with electricity and power on demand, I have all the more respect for these great people and the amazing journeys they made.
With a mere one hundred and sixty miles to go to land, the wind decided to take a rest and began to drop, and drop. I couldn’t really complain in that it was the first time since we raised the sails on leaving Galapagos that we had no wind, was a bit frustrating to be so close though. We started the engine and motored on into the fading light of the evening, taking the chance to charge the batteries and to make some miles under power. I came up for my watch in the early hours to find that not only had the wind come up a bit, but a large ship had just passed by, the first signs, other than the voices on the radio, that there was still life out there. It was twenty-three days since we saw our last ship; in that time there has not been anything to suggest that there was one other person on this big blue planet. Hard to find places like that these days. We hosted the spinnaker and killed the engine and began gliding along again, the difference in feel between power and sail is considerable, it is a totally different experience. For the rest of the day we ran along with the large blue and white spinnaker pulling us forward. We were also lucky, there were large bands of rain all around us at different times, but we always seemed to be in the clear to the North of South of them.
Crazy to think we will soon be there. Soon there will be land and people and other boats, I will be in French Polynseia. I have sailed across 3000NM of open ocean and have arrived in a place I have always dreamt of.
Our luck would only hold so far though and with 30NM to go the wind died off to no more than 5-6 knots and was hardly enough to fill even the spinnaker to get us going. Being so close and with the forecast calling for light winds for a while we started then engine and motored the rest of the way. At about quarter to five Kim woke me with the call of “terra avista” ,land, just visible in the early light of day. We approached to just outside the passage happy to wait for the rising sun and take in the incredible scene before us. Sitting with a coffee in the cool morning air, watching as the sun bathed the land in front of us in light even more spectacular than imagined was the perfect start to the day. We set about getting Kuhela ready for our arrival and at headed into the passage through the lagoon and up to the anchorage. It’s a well-marked path and a good thing too, as the pearl farms which dot and crowd either side of the channel would not be something you’d want to get caught up in. soon enough we were into the little anchorage off the main town and floating in a perfect little lagoon with a few other boats, some of which we knew, and our anchor firmly set again in about fifty feet of water. It felt strange to be still again, to not be constantly trying to compensate for the motion of the boat and to be surrounded by all this green and with the noise of people and animals drifting out over the water towards us. We had arrived. We were shot, I think more tired than we knew, but still moving in auto pilot as we got the boat settled and a few things done before heading to town to check in and do the formalities. These thankfully were easy and we had a look around town, trying to find some Internet to catch up on happenings in the world and slowly adjusting to the sudden change of pace and reality that we had found ourselves in. We caught up with Matt off “TAMATA” whom we hadn’t seen since panama and got some dinner from a little food cart in town before heading back to the boat and crashing out for some much needed rest.
We had crossed the largest section of uninterrupted water you could cross, an eighth of the globe, 23 days and 15 hours at sea, Three large bags of coffee and countless bags to tea, sailed more in this last passage than the whole trip before combined, and had learnt so much about sailing, Kuhela and myself. I had sailed to the Gambiers, to a group of island, isolated in the middle of the ocean, place of legendary watermen and full of tales of Polynesian hospitality and warmth. I had accomplished a huge step in my dream and written another chapter in the story I would one day like to share with my children. As I lay in bed slowly taking it all in the following morning, feelings would come and go, many different ones and thoughts of many different things. It was not a feeling that I had conquered some amazing feat or had some great victory really; it was more of a feeling of having challenged myself and having been up to the challenge. Being content to have worked through what came my way and understanding that though I was a small spec in the ocean, it is still possible to trim your sails and adjust your course to find yourself where you like to be. Just another of the very many lessons I had learnt while at sea.
While waiting down at the jetty for the office to open to check in, I got invited to play catch and go for a swim with some of the local kids, even though we didn’t speak the same language. Soon enough I was running around and chasing them as the jumped off the jetty into the water, laughing hysterically, as I followed close behind. What an amazing welcome to Polynesia.