A Very Slow Start

Miles traveled day 1: 8.8
Miles traveled total: 8.8
Miles to Majuro: 1,778

OK, well so we didn’t get very far yesterday. But we knew the boat was taking on a fair bit of water every time we moved and needed to figure out why and where. We pumped the bilge dry, left the watermaker turned off and motored out of Neiafu about 90 minutes to a nice protected anchorage near the pass. When Rob looked in the bilge it was full to the top. We’ve got a big deep bilge, and there was a frightening amount of water in it for having motored less than two hours.

Our rudder packing has been dripping for quite a while now, but Rob decided he didn’t want to fix it on anchor without spares and a boatyard nearby. We also have an opening in the back of the boat that used to be the exhaust for a propane heater, which is now just plugged. And of course, there’s our dripless shaft seal – a mechanical device that wraps around the shaft and plugs the hole where the shaft exits the boat. So we emptied out the back of the boat, upanchored and motored around a bit to see what was leaking. The rudder was fine and the plugged exhaust hole appeared dry, so Rob pulled up the boards so he could see the shaft spin. It looked like the garden sprinkler had been turned on full blast! A few hours, some pounding and two new set screws later and we motored around again and the bilge stayed bone dry.

So we spent one last night in a beautiful and protected anchorage in Vava’u. The weather forecast going north looks good so far, with the exception of the tropical low that’s formed north of the Solomons. That’s where cyclones are born down here, and it’s a pretty big low. But it has no rotation, so hopefully it’ll just die in the next day or two. We’re keeping an eye on it and can pull into Apia in Western Samoa if it starts to misbehave. It’s a bit too early for a full blown cyclone to develop, but there are never any guarantees, especially since it’s an El Nino year.

Today on Yohelah we’re finally ready to go and heading northwest in another hour or two…..


What Day Is It Now?

Miles traveled day 2: 123
Miles traveled total: 142
Miles to Majuro: 1,657

When we left Niue and headed to Tonga we were in a time zone 11 hours behind GMT. When we arrived in Tonga we didn’t cross the international date line, but we did move our calendars up a day. Not having changed our clocks, but changing our calendar put us in time zone GMT +13. Tonga wants to be on the same calendar day as their neighbors to the south, particularly New Zealand and Australia. But they cheat and move the date line a little bit for their convenience. So when we left Tonga yesterday, we’re still east of the date line, and I think we’re back in GMT -11, which is yesterday. If we stopped in Samoa on our way north we would have to set our calendars back a day again. But given that we don’t plan to stop, I think we’ll just leave today as it is and when we do cross the date line (six or so days from now) we’ll be on the right day.

The passage so far is rolly but uneventful. The seas are pretty lumpy, but we’re making pretty good time north. The low north of the Solomons has broken back up into two and doesn’t look threatening. One is moving due south and the other very slowly southest. The SPCZ (south pacific convergence zone) is moving south, and we hopefully will pass through it as we go north and it goes south. It’ll bring rain and nasty squalls, but our hope is that we’ll only get a day or two of them, and it’ll stay south long enough for us not to get stuck in it. The worst thing would be for it to start moving north again with us, but our fingers are definitely crossed against that event.

Nothing else to report. When I finish this email we’re going to set up the spinnaker pole and move the jib across and sail wing on wing, with the wind dead behind us. We traveled much further north than we needed to yesterday, but didn’t mind making some ground north. The winds are about 17 knots, so that’s enough to move us along from directly behind and hopefully we’ll ride with the swell better and things will quiet down a bit.


Getting Wind or Exercise?

Miles traveled day 3: 109
Miles traveled total: 251
Miles to Majuro: 1,552

After setting the jib in the spinnaker pole yesterday we had a really nice ride. The rolling settled down and we chugged right along. When I reported in to the evening ham net we had 18 knots of wind and were averaging 6.1 knots in the direction we wanted to go. Nothing to complain about there at all. When Rob woke me for my 11:00 watch the wind had all but died. The sails were just filling and dropping as the swells rolled under us. With the jib out on a pole it wasn’t too noisy, and we were managing about 3 knots. I think Rob reported 11 miles made good on his 2-5 am watch. The forecast is for the winds to continue light through today and nearly die tomorrow.

When I got up at 10:30 we decided to drop the jib and put out the spinnaker and try to squeak another knot out of it. The new Navionics electronic charts we bought for our trip north tell us ETA based on current speed, and we weren’t getting to Majuro until long after Turkey Day. We pulled the spinnaker out of the aft cabin and hauled it up on deck. Once we furl the jib the boat is really at the mercy of the rollers, so we got the spinnaker sheets all run and ready to go and pulled in the jib. Rob dropped the spinnaker pole and I switched from the jib sheet to the spinnaker sheet and redeployed the pole. As we were tying the spin sheets onto the chute the wind started to build. Suddenly I couldn’t see anything because spinnaker was blowing in my face too hard. Totally a sign that we shouldn’t hoist the chute and go back to the jib.

So down comes the pole, back in goes the jib sheet, back up goes the pole, out goes the jib and the wind dies again. Who knew? I thought getting out the spinnaker was an exercise in getting wind. Rob thinks it was an exercise in getting exercise. We rolled in the jib, dropped the pole, put in the spin sheet, hoisted the spinnaker and with the light winds were making the exact same speed as we were with the jib when I woke up in the first place.

Now the wind has mercifully piped up a few knots and with 13-14 knots behind us and the chute up we’re making 5 knots northwest. Maybe I’ll be home for fresh roasted turkey afterall.

The boat is here

No Wind Tomorrow

Miles traveled day 4: 97
Miles traveled day 5: 124
Miles traveled total: 472
Miles to Majuro: 1,351

With the forecast for the winds to continue our third night we chose not to hoist the chute and kept sailing with the jib out on the spin pole. It finally died completely, and when our boat speed was less than two knots I turned on the motor for about 5 hours and we motored slowly. Right after I came on watch at 5 am it filled back in and we’ve been sailing ever since. We’ve had a really nice breeze when the forecast keeps saying we shouldn’t. Well, it keeps saying we shouldn’t tomorrow. It’s like – “ok you can have wind today, but definitely not tomorrow”. Then the next morning comes and the wind is still with us and I request another forecast and it says “well ok, still some wind today, but positively not tomorrow”. We’re still sailing, and definitely not complaining. I’ve requested another forecast for tomorrow and we’ll see if it’s changed and we’ll have wind tomorrow or not.

Besides that, life is pretty routine on this passage. We had a couple of spectacular nights of clear starry skies, complete with a big moon and a nice breeze pushing us along. The sunsets and sunrises have been absolutely legendary this week. Today the clouds filled in and we had a light sprinkle, but absolutely no squalls or thunderheads or convection yet. Just 13 knots of wind right behind us, giving us about 5.5 knots of boatspeed just in the direction we want to go.

I’ll request another forecast and see what we’re going to get tomorrow….

The boat is here

A Day In The Life On Passage

Miles traveled day 6: 115
Miles traveled total: 587
Miles to Majuro: 1,242

A friend from home emailed yesterday and asked what life was like on passage. He wondered if it was routine, boring, or busy. My answer is yes to all three. We definitely have a routine, which does get boring at times, but are also busy much of the time. Here’s a day in the life on passage. I’ll start at what you might think is the end, but actually getting sleep is the most important part, so that’s where it begins.

On PassageRob hits the rack first at 5:00 pm and sleeps until 7:00. I sleep 7:00 to 11:00, then back on watch from 11:00 until 2:00, then back in the rack from 2:00 until 5:00. When I get up at 5:00 I feed the cat and make some toast. Then when Rob goes in at 5:00 am I let him sleep as long as he can; usually he’s back up around 9:00. He gets some toast or a snack and I sleep as long as I can, usually until 11:00. Then we’re both up for the rest of the day. I cook a light meal at 11:00 – porridge or eggs or cup o’ soup – and make a pot of coffee.

At noon we log our position and miles, then I sit down at the computer. It’s time to update the position on the website, request weather forecasts, write a blog posting and exchange emails with friends. We get quite a few emails while we’re on passage, which we’re always happy to have, many exchanging communications with our other friends who are also on passage or cruising. After I’m done on the computer Rob comes down and takes a break and I stand watch outside and read for a bit while Rob naps or putters downstairs. We shower in the afternoon. About 3:00 I start making dinner. Then at 4:00 we turn the Pacific Seafarer’s Net on the SSB, listen to the other boats check in, and get ready to call in with our position report. We eat at 4:30, then Rob washes the dishes and hits the rack at 5:00.

MayaBoredPretty exciting, eh? Not so much. The variables, of course, are the weather. If we need to make a sail change we usually do that first thing in the morning before I go to bed for the last time, and/or in the late afternoon before Rob goes down for the first time. Do we like passages? As a rule yes we do – occasionally they can be stinky, but that’s just a result of the weather. Are we bored? Sometimes. Is Maya bored? Totally.


Back in the ITCZ Again

Miles traveled day 6: 85
Miles traveled day 7: 115
Miles traveled total: 781
Miles to Majuro: 1,064

Squalls AheadWell the weather certainly has been doing its job of disrupting our routine and keeping us busy. We’re right smack in the middle of the ITCZ, which means light winds and thunder squalls. And this time the squalls are gigantic. I don’t remember them being this big before, but I suppose they were. They seem to be really active first thing in the morning – maybe from the sun coming up and heating up the huge clouds? Don’t know for sure, but what I do know is that I spent an hour this morning driving east to keep from going thought the middle of something that looked like a mushroom cloud from a nuclear bomb. Rob’s outside right now figuring out what to do with the next one that’s headed our way.

What the squalls do that’s good, though, is give us some wind. The forecasts all say we should have 2-3 knots today and we’ve got 8-10 right now. I never knew this boat would sail so well in 8 knots of wind, but as long as it’s on the beam or forward we scoot along pretty nice. Last night we had 8 knots all night with flat seas and it was a really nice ride. We’re not breaking any mileage records, but in 7 days out we’ve only motored 100 miles and burned less than 20 gallons of fuel so far. Our hope is to be in Majuro by Friday the 13th, but we’re just too far out right now to make any predictions.

We’re getting lots of updates from friends on the Tonga to New Zealand passage right now and it’s sad to not be with them. Our friends John & Nicole on Gannet are on the last leg of their 9 year journey. They bought their boat in England when they worked in Saudi Arabia and have sailed from England to northern New Zealand, where they own a home that they’ve never lived in. They’re both happy and sad to put Gannet on a mooring and see what life on land is like again after nearly a decade at sea.

Rob & I are ready for a little rest time as well. When we pick up the buoy in Majuro it will have been almost exactly a year and 11,500 miles since we left Ecuador. Phew, I get tired just thinking about it.


Forecast Schmorecast

Miles traveled day 8: 98
Miles traveled day 9: 110
Miles traveled total: 989
Miles to Majuro: 865

For the last several days the forecast has been for very light winds. We’ve been sailing along quite nicely, and even mostly in the direction we want to go, with 8-10 knots on the beam. Now the forecast is for the winds to pick up and it’s turned behind us and lightened up a bit and we’re struggling to keep the boat moving. The spinnaker’s up but it keeps filling and collapsing as the swell moves under us and causes us to roll.

Yesterday the skies were clear and blue with no clouds to be seen. Today I think we’re also going to be spared the squally conditions. It’s pretty easy to tell that we’ve sailed up close to the equator again – I’m sitting here at the chart table dripping away with only my fingers moving. We’re at 4 degrees south and the equatorial sun is blazingly hot. When we’re both in the cockpit at the same time we crowd into any space with shade. But we’re well over half way there and that’s always a happy milestone.

Right now if we can maintain 4 knots we’ll be in Majuro by Friday the 13th. If we don’t make it by Friday we either have to slow down and wait until Monday or pay a huge overtime fee for weekend check-in by the authorities. Majuro is a small atoll, with no place to stop and hide unnoticed if we arrive on the weekend. As I look at the GPS right at this moment we’re making 3.3 knots, probably only 2.9 to the good because we’re steering high to try and keep the chute full. The forecast says we’ll have 15-20 knots of wind in 4 days. Right.


Tonga to the Marshall Islands, first week or so

This has been a slow passage so far. On most of our South Pacific passages we were wishing for a little less wind at times. We could use a little more. We’ve only had one day above our normal average miles while on passage, and that was the first day out of Tonga. Our slowest so far was an 85 mile day that would have been 65 miles if not for the 9 hours of motor assisted sailing that increased our speed by a couple of knots.

The most fascinating thing on this passage has been the thunderstorms. The equatorial sun is merciless and evaporates a lot of water into the air. Around midnight the air has cooled enough that the clouds start to grow. By 3 am it has cooled more and the growth is rapid, almost cartoon like. Thunderstorms sprout up all around us, towering thousands of feet in the air and producing rain that looks like a black, impenetrable curtain across the water. With a full moon, it’s been hard to miss even in the middle of the night. While our radar cannot see clouds, it can show the rain, which is how we track thunderstorm locations. A couple of nights ago we had just dodged one thunderstorm when another appeared off our starboard side, on a converging course. With one thunderstorm off our beam, another 5 miles behind us and another 4 miles ahead, I decided to veer to the right and duck behind the one closing, guessing I had enough room to cross in front of the next. Burning precious diesel. I approached the middle thunderstorm, staring up at the towering clouds. The radar showed the curtain of rain at a mile off the port beam as we passed through the black clouds above us. We popped through to the other side, and continued off course until the next thunderstorm looked like it was safely past. Twenty minutes later the clouds and rain filled in between the three thunderheads, producing a black mass of rain 12 miles long and 2 miles wide. It took two hours and, combined with Teresa’s c-shaped dodging of another thunderstorm earlier, contributed to 15 miles of sideways non-progress that day.

The opposite happens during the day. The afternoon before, we had another ugly thunderstorm on a converging course form the east. I first saw it on radar at 24 miles, and watched as it grew closer and closer. At 5 miles (two hours later) it was still closing but looked like it was raining itself out. At three miles, the rain stopped, and fifteen minutes later the cloud literally disappeared into thin air (actually it disappeared into thick, muggy air) as the relentless sun evaporated the remaining moisture It truly looked surreal.

So why do we dodge them? The bigger ones have their own wind systems that are independent of the prevailing wind. Entering a squall or thunderstorm can produce violent and erratic winds of 30, 40, 50 knots or more. I have to say the winds in these don’t appear to be too bad, somewhere in the 20 knot range. Another fear is water spouts. We’ve not seen any on this passage but on our passage across the equator and into the Galapagos we passed a squall 3 miles off our beam that had three waterspouts. They didn’t get close, neither did we. Additionally, the rain is amazing. It rains so hard it flattens the wind waves, leaving a glossy swell behind. The rain makes a white mist as it hits, producing a solid white foam at the surface, looking for all the world like snow. If we can, we prefer to avoid them. When it takes us to far afield, we go through them. It’s like beating your head against a brick wall, it always feels so good to reach clear air on the other side.

We’re sailing wing-on-wing with the spinnaker pole on the jib. We can actually fly this combination easily from dead down wind to wind 110 degrees off the bow on the starboard side. Any further forward and the danger of backwinding the jib increases. If the forecast holds we should have another day of this before we take down the pole and shift the jib to the port side for a nice beam reach for a day or two. If the forecast holds, we’ll see.

There is a huge fleet of cruising boats heading for New Zealand right now. It was hard to turn north as the majority of our friends turned south toward New Zealand. After a big end-of-season party in Nuku’Alofa on the thirtieth of October many boats headed south. Unfortunately, a huge high pressure system has formed between New Zealand and Tonga so there is no wind to sail. Since most cruising boats have a motoring range of between 300-600 miles, many boats have stopped at Minerva Reef, a popular ‘no-dry-land’ anchorage 800 miles from New Zealand. We just received an email from friends reporting over 20 boats anchored in Minerva, and the number is growing. The high pressure system is building stronger, which may be unfortunate. The low pressure systems still keep coming off the southern ocean and are starting to stack up. This will produce a squash zone between systems of very high winds. It will be interesting to see what weather develops around Minerva Reef when this high moves on, and what progressions of lows are produced. Personally, I’d rather be here.

Today on Yohelah we’re sweltering in the Equatorial sun, as opposed to the reports of foulies and fleeces from the majority of the boats that left Vava’u with us but heading south and now approaching New Zealand.

The boat is here

The Cost Of Wind

Miles traveled day 10: 107
Miles traveled day 11: 128
Miles traveled day 12: 121
Miles traveled total: 1,345
Miles to Majuro: 529

The notion of sailing around the world by harnessing the power of the wind for free has such a romantic ring to it. Sitting in port reading all those glossy cruising magazines always makes it sound so easy. But in the end, as we all know, there’s no free lunch and there is no free wind. After I scoffed at the forecast earlier in the week it did prove me wrong and the wind did pipe up to 20 knots and higher. Then we were reminded of the difference between the calm flat seas of a light wind passage and the boisterous lumpy seas of a big wind passage. The unfortunate fact is that the increase in speed is not linear to the increase in wind velocity, as the boat has to pound through the rough seas generated by the big winds.

The biggest benefits are fewer nights on passage with an earlier arrival in port, and not having to listen to the sails slat back and forth. The drawbacks include bruised limbs from banging into doors and walls and cupboards in the big wind and seas. The meals definitely aren’t as good when we’re pounding, but gourmet eating isn’t a requirement for getting the boat from one port to another (ok, I would never call what we eat onboard as gourmet anyway). As a last resort I’ve still got 3 packets of meat sauce in the freezer and lots of stuffed pasta that Dream Time offloaded in Vava’u because it would get confiscated by the New Zealand authorities anyway.

As for the fleet headed south now, Hello World wrote today that most have left Minerva Reef to sail the last leg to New Zealand. There were about 30 boats in Minerva, which basically is just a hole in the ocean 3.5 miles wide with no visible land but a good sandy bottom. The high that had shut down the wind between there and New Zealand is being pushed away and there is going to be a pretty good breeze for the next few days.

Our forecast is to have a little lighter winds for the remainder of our passage, but not as light as early on. Hopefully the seas will flatten soon and the ride will smooth out. We’re hoping for a Wednesday landfall (atollfall) in Majuro. For now we’re happy to pay the price of comfort versus speed to get some good wind and be done with this passage.

The boat is here.

Like A Horse To The Barn

Miles traveled day 13: 130
Miles traveled day 14: 114
Miles traveled day 15: 119
Miles traveled total: 1,708
Miles to Majuro (as of 11/10): 196

Since the last update we’ve had some marvelous days and nights sailing, and we’ve had some real stinkers. Last night just before dinner I tried to outrun what we thought was just another growing squall. We managed to get to an edge of it as it began to pass, but then it started growing and growing. Pretty soon the radar was showing us completely surrounded by rain for 8 miles all around us. The wind was piping up and gusting to 35 and the rain was just pouring down. And it poured for hours. For the first time in 3 years of cruising we chose to just batten down the hatches and wait it out inside. When Rob woke me at 11:00 the rain had stopped, but there was another cell forming just upwind of us. Rats, it was another monster squall, this time with 40 knots of wind and driving rain. But it only lasted a couple of hours and when I woke Rob at 2:00 I was happy to report that the rain was done for the moment.

Last night on the PacSea net I was told by the net controller that he had been looking at a weather chart for our area, and his conclusion agreed with our Buoyweather passage forecast that there would be no wind at all here today. We’ve got plenty of fuel left and can easily motor the rest of the way in. Imagine my surprise when the wind piped up at sunrise and I rolled out the jib and shut off the motor. Pretty soon it had built to 20 knots on our beam and we were screaming along at 7 knots. That would be all well and good, but we get to the edge of Majuro atoll in 60 miles and don’t want it to be in the middle of the night. So I’ve rolled in the jib and slowed us to 4 knots, hoping for a sunrise approach to the atoll. It’s had to try and go slow in good wind after 16 days of trying to go fast in light winds. But we really don’t like being anywhere near land in the middle of the night, even though we have paper charts and radar and chart plotters and multiple gps units all telling us exactly where we are and where land is.


We should be on a buoy and checked in by noon tomorrow. First order of business in town after checking in is buying cat litter. Poor Maya is literally scraping the bottom of the box. Little did we expect to not find any after we left Bora Bora, since it had been everywhere before there. We actually were planning a rendezvous with friends in Pago Pago to make a stealth stop on the way to Majuro and get some. Since the tsunami the port captain has increased the check-in fees to $150 for cruising boats, so it didn’t make sense to stop just for shopping at that price. But I had not received email confirmation that we could buy litter in Majuro, so I was getting pretty concerned. Our friends on Carina were arranging for us to either sneak in on Sunday and get to the store, or meet us in the harbor with cat litter in hand. Finally I heard back from the SSCA (Seven Seas Cruising Association) host at Majuro that we could buy three different kinds of cat litter there. Good news for all aboard, that’s for sure.

So now we’re plugging along at 4 knots, keeping the reigns in tight because after 16 days at sea and with 20 knots of wind Yohelah wants to sail to the buoy like a horse returning to the barn.