Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mexico to Hawaii - Week Three: May 3 to May 12

Day 15 at 134 degrees west and we made 133 miles. Still no rain. The outside of Ka’sala is encrusted and a patina of salt lies on everything. Our feet are dry and sore despite frequent washing and applications of cream. It’s still warm, but cloudy. The wind has become fluky and shifts back and forth 30 degrees from east to east north east and back again. Doug is going through all the possible sail configurations in his head – so many factors to consider – stability and safety, heading, wind strength and sea state. He’s done his research and he is putting all his knowledge to the test. We’re certainly doing lots of reefing and unreefing – in other words, we’re sailing the boat! Weather predictions are the strong winds generated by the large Pacific high above us will take us all the way to Hawaii.
Forecast Image
This is what a grib file looks like - taken for today and showing the the Pacific High - in white.  The colours show the wind strength, the arrows the direction.

From the journal: Everything is fine on board – spirits are generally “up”, but the whole thing is a bit wearying with the constant noise and motion – always needing to be aware of what’s going on outside and knowing how to accommodate the conditions. Doug is amazing at this and continues to navigate and do the radio work as well. We are more downwind today and that is not as comfortable, as the main fights to bring us up on the wind and the yankee to bring us down. I can barely stand to look out the stern and see the rising waves – much better at night when I can’t see anything! Last night on my watch I was able to go on deck and raise the main and unshaken the reefs by myself – so I’m not a total coward – though somewhat intimidated.

What me worry?

It’s Day 16 and we covered another 135 miles. The wind continues to be more easterly and is supposed to lower to 15 – 20. The boat seems to have an easier motion today so I will bake up a storm by making Ziploc bread and carrot muffins. Doug is pensive, a little quiet and perhaps a bit down. It’s hard to keep a stiff upper lip for weeks at a time. I’ve saved a bottle of Alaskan Amber to celebrate less than 1000 miles to go, so perhaps we will crack that today. With fresh bread, fresh muffins, a great beer and macaroni and cheese for dinner, I’m sure that will make him feel better.

We have to change time zones again. We’re not exactly sure where and when to do it, but go by the light. Hawaii is 10 minus Greenwich, so we know we have to accommodate a 5 hour time difference from Mexico before we arrive.

From my journal:  Day 17 was a perfect sailing day. Winds were 15 – 20 all day, 20 – 25 in the evening and 20 all night. The waves were well dispersed during the day, but became confused and closer during the night - making for bumpy sleeping. Randy, on the Seafarer’s Net, told us we were now “in the groove” that would take us all the way to Hawaii. The weather faxes also seem to verify his prediction meaning we have a week to go. Doug is concerned we might start to run into squalls, so we will start watching cloud patterns more closely to be prepared if one comes upon us. Certainly there is more towering cumulus around and we are starting to see rain showers in the distance. The sea continues to warm up – almost 78 degrees today and intense crystal sapphire blue.

Our provisions are more than holding out and we still have plenty of water. We are continuing to run the motor one hour each day as we sail along. Doug is frustrated because the wind generator and solar panels are putting out lots of amps, but for some reason they aren’t getting into the batteries. Regulator? Alternator? Energy monitor?

We are finding ourselves wishing for more wind as we know Ka’sala is more stable over 6 knots in these crazy, confused seas. After a couple of weeks of this you get kind of tired trying to do the simplest things such as brushing your teeth or kissing each other goodnight.

Day 18 found us at 141 degrees west – we covered 140 nautical miles. From the journal: Today we talked about what we might find in Hilo and what we might do there. We have no guide books or internet to guide us on board. However, there are jobs to do on Ka’sala – alternator, regulator, rivet the whisker pole, replace the trilight with an LED bulb and see what can be done with the leaking forward hatch. We are SO pleased with Ka’sala and her performance. Doug has prepared her well and she is withstanding the circumstances she finds herself in. The slapping and pounding of the huge waves seem totally unfair against her beautiful hull. We are also wondering what adventures might await us on the Big Island. We know we will visit the volcanoes – what else?

Last night Doug tried to analyze why we have these confused seas. According to the weather fax there is a huge ridge of high pressure extending north of us across the Pacific. It shows we should be experiencing 20 knot winds that will put us in a direct line to Hawaii. What Doug noticed is that our regular 15 knot wind comes ENE accompanied by swell and wind wave, but every 10 minutes of so, a strong gust comes from a more northerly direction, bringing Ka’sala higher into the wind and exposing our beam to the seas. When the gust expends itself, she falls back down, only to get slapped on the other side. Well , now that we’ve figured that out, what does it tell us? Basically – this is how the conditions will be, probably all the way to Hawaii. That’s okay, as long as the wind stays with us to keep us abreast of the waves.


Based on the conditions, I decided to move our main meal to mid day when things seem calmer. That day I went all out and made roast potatoes, tinned roast beef in mushroom gravy and carrots. Delicious! I also had my first cup of coffee in two weeks. Wow! Did it taste good!

On Day 19 Doug turned on the computer to match the B & G GPS to the electronic charts. Right on target! We woke to cloudy skies and could see light showers in the distance, but still no rain to wash off Ka’sala’s salt crust. I worried that rain would bring a disruption of our steady progress, but it didn’t turn out that way. I was still baking bread and made more pizza – one of Doug’s favourites. My fresh provisions continued to hold up well and I figured I would have to throw out quite a bit of it before we reached Hawaii to satisfy the strict agriculture laws. I hated the thought of throwing food away, but I certainly understood the desire to keep out invasive species, diseases and bugs. Only 592 miles to go!

On Day 20 we had our first rain shower, but not enough to clean off the salt. It seemed weird to realize that it was the first rain we had seen since Marina Del Rey last November! Doug said he’s missed the rain. I haven’t! In fact, I’ve noticed our Mexican tans are beginning to fade. I wondered if we would be able to top them up in Hawaii. The wind died down to 15 knots and Ka’sala was being tossed around again. We’ve noticed that if we can keep the boat above 6 knots we move smoothly and smartly along. This wasn’t always easy when the wind was directly behind us and we had to make long tacks to make distance and speed. Doug decided to pass the time constructively and over the next couple days polished all the brass aboard to a soft glow.
Polishing brass in the quarter berth

On Day 21 we needed to sail directly downwind to make our heading. We dropped the mainsail and Doug set the yankee held out with the tweaker he had attached to the boom. He then used the shortened whisker pole to hold out the staysail. It worked well, and kept us stable, but we were under speed by about a knot by using the staysail instead of the main. We missed that whisker pole! The weather continued warm – air temperature 25, water 75 and humidity 75%.

Wing on wing and wing on wing

I made a big tomato sauce from as many of the last vegetables as I could fit in my large wok. From that I made pasta sauce and chili. I made the last loaf of Ziploc bread for the passage. I was wearier that day than most – probably because of the constant motion, but still reading and enjoying the eclectic selection of books I have brought with me – the bunk was incredibly comfortable. From the journal: Unfortunately, the movement of the boat did not get any better as the day progressed. We had afternoon rain showers and, as they came toward us from behind, we got a little push, but then the wind dropped off again. Unfortunately, the seas did not and seemed to develop a nasty cross fetch that made it almost impossible to sleep. In the lighter winds the sails started to slap and heave – a dreadful sound that shakes the whole boat. It’s also disheartening to know that slowing down increases the time to our destination. By this time, I just wanted it to be over and I had to work hard to keep my patience and not get cranky. Nonetheless, we made 118 miles that day.

On Day 22 we had been three weeks at sea, the time seemed endless and Mexico seemed a very long time ago. We were still flying wing on wing, staysail and yankee. The winds continued light, but the seas were also lying down. We decided if we dropped below 3 knots of speed, as we had during the previous night, we would motor. We slept like babies during the day in the calmer conditions.

Day 23 at 152 degrees and only 134 miles to go! Conditions were still light so we decided to fly the drifter for a few hours. It gave us about 4 knots, but we were so close to our destination we wanted to fly into port a lot faster! It seemed unbearably slow.

Flying the drifter

From the journal:  We started to hear the Coast guard reports on the VHF and knew we were near. It felt strange to realize today would likely be our last day at sea. Doug is a little worried as he sees the potential for towering “Q’s” all around us which might bring squally conditions with thunder and lightning. I hope not. Based on the conditions and our position we expect to arrive tomorrow around lunch time – perfect for getting ourselves into the harbour and securely tucked away with enough time to check into customs. The thought of a potential pub dinner is highly motivating.

I cleaned out all the rest of the fresh provisions and threw out jicama, cabbage and limes, as well as three potatoes, six onions and a head of garlic. We will have the last two tomatoes and the last apple for lunch today.

Last sunrise at sea - potential rain in the distance

On the morning of Day 24 we were frustrated by how light the winds were, though the sea state remained reasonably calm. We could only manage four knots and spent most of the night tweaking the most out of the sails. We kept a close watch – concerned we might encounter boats as we came closer to the coast, but didn’t see one. By 9am we could see the coastline of Hawaii in the distance, but most of it was enshrouded by cloud.

Hawaii emerges out of the mist

Not what we would have expected as the biggest volcano is almost 14,000 feet. We thought we might see it looming in the distance. Both of us were primed to yell: Land Ho!, but instead, the island just slowly emerged out of the clouds.

The winds were so light we dropped the yankee and with the main motor-sailed into Hilo. Using the electronic Autohelm ST4000, we followed the electronic chart and sat back to enjoy the scenery unfolding before us. To the north we could see, beneath the clouds, the long slope of land leading to the sea. It was covered with vegetation in the most startling colour of lime green and framed with long steaks of dark stuff we later discovered was hardened lava, all displayed through shafts of sunlight playing hide and seek across it. The view was so vast I could not get a picture of it and we found it a little disconcerting and SO different from the Mexican landscape we had grown used to. As we came closer to shore we could make out large buildings, then houses, then cars on the road that snaked its way along the coast.

Hilo - you can just make out the breakwater in front of the coast line

As we approached the harbour, we had to navigate around a long, low breakwater that juts out into the bay and were immediately in flat calm. The sensation of stillness seemed very odd as we raised the yellow quarantine flag, lowered the main and pulled out the fenders and docklines.

Raising the quarantine flag

It seemed impossible that in a few minutes we would be attached to shore again and we would be using our legs to walk rather than to balance. I didn’t feel particularly excited about it – just an incredible sense of accomplishment sprinkled with my usual anxiety about docking in a new place and, this time, in a new way, as we would have to med-moor here.

The flat, calm waters of Hilo Harbour

We followed the bouys, navigated around a cargo ship in the port and through a 100 foot gap at the end of a dock into Radio Bay. Tied to the jetty at the end of were Midnight Blue, Sequoia and Touch Rain, as well as two other boats I didn’t recognize. We had plenty of room to check out the situation and prepare the anchor, lines and anchor float. We could see people on the jetty waiting to help us tie off. Doug smartly brought the boat up, I dropped the anchor, and we backed on to the jetty. I stood on the rail and hefted the lines to waiting hands while Doug manipulated the anchor winch with the foot controls in the cockpit. Before we could even comprehend it, the motor was off and we were secured to the jetty. I had moved forward to untie the dinghy and prepare it for going over the side. Even though we were tied to the jetty, we were still 10 feet from the wall – too far to hop across, yet far enough away to protect the stern of Ka’sala. We would need the dinghy to traverse those few feet.

View from cockpit, dinghy ferry to jetty

Shortly, we were ashore and the crews from the surrounding boats were congratulating us and clapping us on the back. It was about 3:30 and we were in an all fired rush to get to customs so we could clear into customs and agriculture. We knew we had to do it before we would be allowed ashore for our much desired steak dinner. Unfortunately, the office had closed at 2pm and we were to remain in limbo until the next morning.

Radio Bay, looking from the bow of Ka'sala to the breakwater, sloping north coast in the background

Radio Bay is a marine industrial area and port with all kinds of things going on. As an outcome of 9/11 and the concerns of Homeland Security, crews of visiting sailboats must be escorted by security guards through the area. Bryoner picked us up in his truck and drove us to the main gate through stacked containers, parked cars, large warehouses, gantries and a confusing pattern of roadways, where we checked into the harbour. Because we are under 40 feet, we were charged $9.00 a day to tie to the jetty. (Over 40 feet is $12.00). Fresh water is available, but only two power accesses could be found which were metered at a cost 25 cents for an hour. Luckily, we were able to plug into one of them which enabled us to fully charge our batteries over the next 24 hours. We had to put a $50.00 deposit on a key to the washrooms placed nearby the jetty. We paid for a week, then were returned to Ka’sala. No steak dinner that night!

Facilities at Radio Bay - washrooms (no doors on cubicles!!!) & showers, gathering area and book exchange

To make amends, I dug around in the food locker and was able to produce “Stack” – one of our favourite left over roast beef meals – from tinned roast beef and mushrooms, packaged gravy mix, a box of mixed vegetables and a huge heap of reconstituted dried mashed potatoes. It was surprisingly good and so was the wine we drank to celebrate! A large tin of fruit cocktail finished the meal – gee – not bad!


Soon after dinner we were in the bunk, fast asleep, still not caught up with the fact we had arrived. We had travelled 2860 miles in 23 days and six hours, had crossed 5 time zones.  The next day would begin a new chapter in our year-long cruise.

First evening in the calm waters of  Radio Bay, Hilo

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