April 2014 - Galapagos to Marquesas

1 April 2014   Galapagos to Marquesas (Day 6)
Dawn brought us grey, overcast skies with intermittent drizzle.  Glenys made us a fruit cocktail with yoghurt for breakfast again because our bananas have decided to all ripen at once.  After a nice cup of tea, I hunkered down over the laptop and sent off my daily emails. I posted our daily blog; sent an email to Karsten with our position and weather conditions; and sent a couple of emails to request a GRIB file & an ITCZ report.

Ten minutes later, I reconnected to our satellite email server and downloaded the response emails containing the GRIB file & ITCZ report.  The ITCZ report showed no ITCZ activity within 48 hours.  The GRIB file showed that the intermittent rain might continue for 48 hours, but then we should be back to blue skies for a few days.  The wind should stay at between 15-25 knots from the south-east, which is just what we want.  There's a nasty looking band of heavy rain forming in three days, but it's forecast to be 150 miles to the north of us - I'll be keeping an eye on it.

Getting bananas for breakfast

The overcast skies stayed with us all morning with the wind occasionally rising to 25 knots and the seas steadily building up.  After lunch,  we had another period of 25+ knot winds, so I decided to put another reef in the main sail.  While reefing I noticed that the outhaul car had jammed half way along the boom.  It's been a bit sticky for a few months and it's on my to-do-list to service it the next time that I have access to a decent chandlers.

I rolled away all of the main sail and, with a few judicious blows from a mallet, I freed the outhaul car.  The car runs inside a 10mm wide slot on the boom, so it's difficult to see what is going on,  but it looks like one of the nylon wheels on the car has disintegrated and the other wheels look badly worn.  I'd have to take the end cap off the boom to inspect the car properly, but there's no way that I'm doing that in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when we're rolling like mad in 9-12 foot seas.  I slapped loads of Teflon grease onto the parts that I could get to and the car seems to be running more freely.  I hope that it lasts until we get to Tahiti in two months' time.

The sky brightened up in the afternoon, but the strong 20 knot winds and 9-12 foot seas continued.  The wind and waves were coming from the south-south-east, so we were on a beam reach and occasionally surfing at 7-8 knots - like being on a giant sleigh ride.  We've resorted to putting up the bimini rain flap on the port side to protect the cockpit from the occasional monster wave that slaps against the side of the hull and showers the boat with seawater. 

Glenys made us Dorado in a Creamy Mushroom Sauce for dinner, with a big pile of mashed potatoes - just what the doctor ordered.  After dark, the wind picked up to 25 knots again, so I rolled away the genoa and pulled out the stay sail, which immediately gave us a much better motion because the stay sail is lower and closer to the mast than the genoa. 

Freeing the Outhaul Car

The night was a mixed bag, with the wind dropping to 15 knots for a while and slowing us down to 4-5 knots.  Then, just when we thought that we needed more sail, it would pick up to 25 knots and we'd be romping along at over 6 knots again.  

2 April 2014   Galapagos to Marquesas (Day 7)
The weather was beautiful in the morning, blue skies with occasional clouds and the forecast was for little change with the wind remaining at 20 knots from SSE to SE.  A band of heavy rain is still forecast to form in a couple of days, but it's going to be 120 miles north of us, so we should be okay.

Karsten sent out a warning email last night. There was a large earthquake in northern Chile yesterday at 1800 hrs, which measured 8.2 on the Richter Scale.  A Tsunami warning has been issued for the coasts of Peru and Chile, which is 2,000 miles east-south-east of us.

Tsunamis are an interesting phenomena.  In the deep ocean, they are a series of waves possibly a hundred miles apart, but only have a height of a few feet.  These waves travel at up to six hundred miles per hour, but a boat in the deep ocean will not be aware when one passes by.  If a Tsunami from this earthquake has hit us then it would have been at around ten o'clock last night.  We felt nothing unusual - the surface 10 foot swell affects us much more.

However, Tsunamis are very dangerous to coastal areas.  When the waves reach shallow water, they slow down and the wave height grows to as much as a hundred feet causing devastation.  If a Tsunami warning is issued while we're in a Pacific anchorage, then our best strategy is to get out to sea into deep water, as long as we've got time... 

The weather stayed at 20 knots all day, occasionally gusting up to 25 knots, so we didn't have to touch the sails at all.  We've been sailing with the wind at 100 degrees on our port side, which is an awkward point of sail for our Hydrovane especially when the boat is yawing around because of big waves and we have gusty conditions.

Romping along with a heavily reefed main and stay sail

If the boat yaws upwind then the apparent wind increases quite dramatically and over-powers the Hydrovane, so the boat heads upwind and the Hydrovane gets overpowered even more - a vicious circle.  The opposite happens if the boat yaws downwind.  It's not a major problem, but someone needs to be in the cockpit to keep an eye on it, so we've been very lazy and have been using our electric autopilot for the past few days, with the Hydrovane working alongside, hopefully taking some of the load off the autopilot.

Glenys did us proud today - producing fruit salad with yoghurt for breakfast; Couscous with chicken and apricot for lunch; Fish Tortillas for dinner and she even made a batch of Banana Bread for our night-time snacks.  We're not starving yet.

At dusk, we had 50% cloud cover and were still sailing happily at 6 knots.  The clouds always look more forbidding as darkness falls and I always have an hour of worrying whether I have the correct amount of reef in the main sail.  It's a delicate balance between wanting to be comfortable at night, but not going too slow.

It's not that I was bored during the night, but I've been thinking about rolling.  Let's say that we roll once every 5 seconds with 2 violent rolls every 3 minutes.  We still have 2,300 miles to go and we averaged 150 miles in the last 24 hours.  If we keep up this speed, we'll arrive in the Marquesas in 15 days.  That's a total of 265,000 rolls with 14,500 violent rolls, which are capable of damaging something or someone, I guess that's why they say "Always keep one hand for the boat." 

The night passed without incident.  We've finally got a sliver of a new moon, which is visible for the first couple of hours.  It's been very dark at night up to now, but from now on, the nights will be brighter and we’ll be sailing with a full moon as we approach the Marquesas, which will be wonderful.

3 April 2014   Galapagos to Marquesas (Day 8)
We've been at sea for a week now and the time seems to have flown by  - let's hope that the next two weeks fly past just as quickly.

First thing in the morning, it was very dull and overcast, but the clouds soon broke up and we had a great sail rolling along in blue seas topped by white caps.

Sunset mid-Pacific

Everyone on our SSB Net is now around 7 degrees south and heading directly for the Marquesas - apart from "Hera" who are still up at 4 degrees and dealing with heavy rain.  Looking at the GRIB file, which I downloaded this morning, we'll have the same 15-20 knot winds for the next three days, hopefully with this nice sunny weather, but “Hera” still have to travel 120 miles south to get clear of the band of heavy rain. 

While we were in the squall system a few days ago, we switched on our radar to try to look ahead for individual squalls, but the damn radar screen didn't show anything.  We've had problems with it in the past, so we've decided that it's time to retire it and buy a new one.  So, while Glenys was having her 2 hour nap in the morning,  I was reading the West Marine and Defender catalogues...

We've managed to avoid buying a large screen chart plotter up to now, but it looks like we'll have to buy one now to act as a radar screen.  The bad news is that it will probably cost us $3,000, but at least it will be a much better radar system and we get a nice new chart plotter that will integrate with our other systems like AIS.  I have to do more research, but the Raymarine system that I'm looking at will even link wirelessly to our iPad, so we'll be able to use our iPad to act as a slave screen in the cockpit - very cool.

After my afternoon nap, we hove-to for an hour to run the generator and water maker.  The generator shouldn't really be run if it's tilted more than 20 degrees, so the idea was that heaving-to would be calmer.  However,  we were being bounced around nearly as much because the boat lay at 70-80 degrees to the wind and the big waves.   I tried various positions of the wheel, the main and the stay sail - I even rolled the stay sail away completely, but the damn boat refused to point any higher than 70 degrees to the wind.  It's a mystery.

The wind dropped to 15 knots just before dark, so I rolled away the stay sail and unfurled the genoa. It was a lovely night, but the big waves kept us rolling.  After midnight, the wind increased to 18-22 knots, so we were screaming along at 7 knots and surfing at 8 knots at times - it was boisterous to say the least.

4 April 2014   Galapagos to Marquesas (Day 9)
The weather this morning was much the same as yesterday, sunny with 15-20 knot winds from the southeast.  We've sailed 1,000 miles since we left the Galapagos, so we're over a third of the way through our passage.

Pulling the stay sail amidships to try to stop the rolling

After breakfast, we turned the clocks back one hour because we've sailed through 105 degrees west and moved into another time zone.  Glenys was a very happy bunny when she went for her morning nap, knowing that she'd have an extra hour in bed.  

Last night was very rolly, so we had a play with our sail plan to see if we could dampen the rolls. We're mostly sailing on a broad reach and I' m fairly convinced that having the genoa out causes us to roll more than when we use the stay sail because its centre of effort is much higher.  However, when the wind is around 15 knots, the stay sail is not powerful enough by itself and we slow down.

We tried using a barber-haul to pull the stay sail tight amidships with the genoa still out, but that didn't seem to affect the amount of rolling very much and the stay sail blanketed the genoa causing us to slow down.  We eventually put out a reefed stay sail sheeted in tight, which seemed to be the best compromise.  The genoa was partially blanketed, but the stay sail provided some drive and also had a dampening effect.  

In the middle of the morning, I went to the foredeck to check a few things and to my dismay, saw that there was another small tear in the leech of the main sail.  There was no choice - it had to be repaired immediately before it got worse.  So, we donned our harnesses, rolled away the foresails and motored into wind, so that we could drop the mainsail.  

The change in apparent wind when going from downwind to upwind never ceases to amaze me.  We went from sliding down 10 foot waves with a pleasant 15 knot wind behind us, to crashing into enormous 10 foot waves with a howling 25 knot wind, putting walls of spray and water across the foredeck.  It took us 15 minutes battling in this maelstrom to get the sail off the mast and into the cockpit.  

Struggling in strong winds to get the mainsail down

After a short break for lunch, we inspected the damage, finding two large, four inch tears and two smaller ones.    It looks like the problems are caused by the seam on the leech.  The material is UV damaged, very weak and is worn through in many places.  I think that leech seam is tearing when under strain and the forces on the sail are then directed onto the seams between the main panels.  The material on the main panels looks to be strong, but the failure of leech seam is putting undue strain on the panels and they in turn rip.

Unfortunately, we didn't have enough sailcloth to replace the 60ft leech seam, so we patched the four rips and sewed twelve, one foot long strengthening patches onto the leech seam where the main panel seams meet the leech.  When we did the previous repair, we had to remove the leech line and, in doing so, had weakened the leech further, so we sewed a 1/2 wide tape along the whole length of the leech.  Hopefully that will be strong enough until we can find a decent sail-maker.

It took us six hours to do the repair - even with our brilliant Sailrite sewing machine.  We then had another epic struggle to get the sail on deck and onto the mast.  We finished the job at five o'clock, by which time there was just enough time to tidy up and have dinner before it went dark.

While we were repairing the main sail, the auto pilot carried on sailing us west.  We only had the stay sail out, but we still averaged 5 knots over the ground.  When we got the main sail back up, we discovered that the wind had backed and we were now sailing almost downwind, so we poled out the genoa and used a heavily reefed main.

It was a lovely clear night with a bright moon and a starry sky, but the motion was horrible, rolling violently from port to starboard.  Up to now we've been on a broad reach and the boat has been mostly heeled over to starboard, so when we're in bed in the back cabin, it's been possible to jam ourselves against the starboard bulk head and get some sleep.  The downwind rolling was more centralised going from starboard to port and back again, so without any lee cloth on the bed, we were sliding around and getting no sleep. 

Our only option was to sleep on the single berth in the main cabin, which has a lee cloth.  This is not ideal because the saloon is very noisy with objects banging and clunking in the many lockers.  One also gets disturbed whenever the person on watch moves around in the cockpit or goes down into the saloon.  However, at least we got a bit of kip and didn't spend our off watch hanging grimly on to the bed in each roll of the boat.

Repairing the genoa again

5 April 2014   Galapagos to Marquesas (Day 10)
It was another beautiful morning with 15-20 knot south-east winds - very nice sailing conditions.   Unfortunately, our joy of life was dampened when we found that another length of the sacrificial strip on the foot of the genoa was flapping about.   The hand-stitched repair that Glenys did a week ago is fine; it's the zigzag stitching on another section that has perished.  We've obviously not paid enough attention to the condition of the sails, although we did have the sacrificial strip re-sewn last September.

We ran straight downwind, dropped the sail to the deck and tied it down.  I then trimmed the ragged edges of the Sunbrella sacrificial strip and the sail cloth, while Glenys hand stitched the seam back together.  Our Speedy Stitcher has been worth its weight in gold.  It was very pleasant working on the foredeck, bowling along at six knots with blue skies.  By lunchtime, the job was done and the genoa back in place.

There must be billions of Flying Fish in the Pacific Ocean - every time that I looked out at the sea this morning, there were one or more skimming across the surface of the water.  We see whole squadrons taking off, flashing silver in the sunlight as they take to the air to escape the perceived threat of our boat.  Some take off too close to the boat, fly almost vertically in their panic to get away and, if they're unlucky, they hit us and flop around on the deck, suffocating.  Every day we throw at least five back into the sea.

I love the way the Flying Fish keep in the air.  They take off and glide inches above the water, then, as they start to lose speed and altitude, they dip their tails into the sea, give a quick wiggle, pick up air speed and continue gliding on their way.  I've been trying to get some photographs, but they pop out of the water anywhere and are so fast that my poor little camera can't focus quickly enough.

The afternoon was a very chilled out affair, reading and catching up on some sleep.  We've had a fishing line out for three days with no luck, but we finally hooked a nice 4 foot long Dorado just as we were finishing dinner.  It fought well, but we managed to land it without any problems.  It was going dark by the time that I'd killed it, so I just gutted it, washed it and chopped it into two halves.  It's now taking up space in both fridges - should feed us for four days or so.

Another lovely lunch - this time scrambled egg

We had a good 15-22 knot wind overnight, which allowed us to sail on a fast broad reach.  The motion was much better than yesterday when we were forced to go downwind.

6 April 2014   Galapagos to Marquesas (Day 11)
Ho hum!  It’s another lovely day on the Pacific Ocean.  We're still rolling ALL the time, but let's look on the bright side - we've only got 207,000 rolls to go (that's 1,695 miles).

The motion is not forgiving.  Everything has to be thought through and done slowly because we have to have one hand holding onto the boat at all times.  I'm convinced that the sea waits until it knows that I'm slightly off balance (or not holding on), then sends in the monster wave, rolling us over 30 degrees and throwing me against something hard.  I'm covered in small bruises.

Having said that, it's amazing how easily we've become adapted to our life at sea.  The three hour on, three hour off watches have become ingrained - I can't imagine what it's like to sleep for eight hours.  When we're not doing repairs or sleeping, then we keep ourselves busy, pottering about or reading.  I'm enjoying the life, but don't seem to have enough hours in the day to do everything.  For the first week, we were pushing the boat, trying to go as fast as we could to get there, but we're more chilled out now and wouldn't be bothered if it took us another month to get to the Marquesas.

After our horrible night trying to sleep in the back cabin without a lee cloth, I decided that we needed to sort it out.  Our back cabin has a lovely comfy bed, which is great when we're at anchor, but is poor at sea.  There are cupboards on the wall above the bed, which are only one foot above the mattress.  While this is a great use of space when in port, it means that we can't lean against the wall while at sea.  

To get around this, we've been packing pillows and sleeping bags into the space below the cupboards on the starboard side, which gives us something to lean against while the boat is heeled over to starboard - this has been working well.  Our problem the night before last, was that the boat was rolling violently to both starboard AND port.  On the port roll we were remorselessly sliding across the bed - not very conducive to a good night's sleep. 

New Lee Cloth in place

Normally, on a single berth, there would be a lee-cloth - a simple piece of material fixed vertically in place, against which one can lean.  Unfortunately, we have fancy, shaped mattresses and there's no place where we can fix the bottom edge of a lee-cloth.

After a lot of staring at the bed, I eventually came up with a solution and forced Glenys to slave over a hot sewing machine again.  We now have a piece of material four feet long that lies on top of the mattress and is held in place by six pieces of thin rope.   Sewn onto this base are two lee-cloths.  One is fixed to the starboard-side cupboards above the bed, blocking off the gap underneath; while the other one is fixed to the cabin walls and provides something to brace against when on port tack.  It seems to work okay, but I’ll reserve judgement until we've had a couple of down-wind nights.

While we were making our lee cloths, the autopilot was happily taking us west on a broad reach.  We had a heavy rain shower in the late afternoon, but the night was mostly clear with nearly a half moon.   The wind is starting to go more easterly, so in order to keep the head sail filled, we are being forced to head slightly more south than we would like.  If the wind comes more behind us, then I'll have to re-rig the spinnaker pole on the port side and we'll be running downwind with the sails wing-on-wing - I'm trying to put it off because it's a lot of work...

7 April 2014   Galapagos to Marquesas (Day 12)
It was a very grey morning.  The rest of the day was mixed with periods of blue skies and one heavy rain shower.  The wind was still trying to sneak behind us, but we managed to stay on a broad reach.  At two o'clock in the afternoon, we reach our half way point - yahoo!  Only 1,520 miles to go.

Over the past few days, the roller reefing on the staysail has been getting stiffer and sticking on each revolution of the reefing drum.  I dug out the manual, inspected the reefing drum and decided that the luff extrusion had dropped down.  There was no way that I could move it with the sail in place, so we ran downwind and dropped the sail onto the deck.  I was then able to lift the extrusion using the halyard, line up the holes in the extrusion with the holes in reefing drum and screw in the locking bolts. Sorted! 

Repairing stiff roller reefing

While I was up at the bow, I had a look at the genoa roller reefing and found that the extrusion was too high - when we raised the genoa yesterday we must have dragged the extrusion up.  I unscrewed the retaining screws and managed to move the extrusion and align the fixing holes without having to drop the genoa - I serviced both roller reefing units just before we left Ecuador, but I obviously didn't tighten the locking bolts properly.

I've been reading up on the Marquesas and trying to wrap my head around the strange names for the islands and the even stranger Polynesian pronunciation.  There are islands like Fatu Hiva (Fa-too-Eee-va),  Hiva Oa (Eee-va-oh-a) and Oa Pou (Oh-a-poe-oo).  Most of the names of the anchorages and towns are worse.  On the small island of Tahuata (Ta-oo-aa-ta) there are anchorages called Ivaiva Nui (Eee-va-Eee-va-nu-ee) and Hanamoenoa (A-na-mo-eh-no-a).  Phew!

There’s been some debate on the SSB net about whether to stop at the island of Fatu Hiva.  From a sailing point of view, it's logical to stop there first and then sail downwind to the other islands.   Unfortunately, there's only a small village on the island, so there's nowhere to clear in and the authorities frown upon boats stopping anywhere before clearing in at Atuona on Hiva Oa.  In the past, a Coast Guard boat has gone around the anchorage and levied a fine of $200 on boats that haven't reported in at Hiva Oa.  

This is a pity because the "Bay of Virgins" at Fatu Hiva is supposed to be one of the most beautiful anchorages in the world, with steep-sided hills cascading down to the sea.  Glenys and I can't make up our minds what to do - we don't want to get on the wrong side of the authorities, but we also don't fancy a 45 mile bash to windward to get back to Fatu Hiva from Hiva Oa.  Mike from "Shakti” has been talking on the radio to a number of boats who are a week ahead of us and some of them are planning to stop at Fatu Hiva, so we'll wait to see what happens to them.

Glenys made a delicious Fish Lasagne for dinner and then we sorted ourselves out for our night watches.  I had my normal wander around the deck and for a change didn't find anything amiss apart from having to reroute the genoa halyard, which was rubbing on the starboard guard rail.  

We had a very rolly night because we had to sail almost directly downwind.  Thank goodness for the new lee-cloth in the back cabin, it's working really well and we're getting our sleep.  Unfortunately, on this point of sail, the wind has forced us 15 miles south of the rhumb line, so we really need to be sailing wing-on-wing now.