Friday, May 20, 2011

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Hilo, Hawaii: April 19 to May 12

We were told before we even left that when you go on an offshore passage, no matter how long it takes, it would seem like you hadn’t journeyed at all. We were told that time compresses and the days turn into weeks without you really being aware of the passage of time. In that wonderful way that memory works, we would remember the good things and what seemed scary, or unpleasant, would not seem so bad from the perspective of reflection. All correct. It’s been a week since we arrived in Hawaii after our 23 day passage and all ready I feel like it didn’t happen at all – like it may have been an overnight passage to some bay further down the Mexican coast. Yet as I start to unpack the passage, I can see that it was a lot longer than that!

I had hoped to keep a running journal on my computer as we went along - so all I had to do was cut and paste into the blog when we arrived. Unfortunately, we were power challenged and I had to resort to pen and paper, meaning it will take me a little longer to post the details of our journey. I hope I can describe it for you so it satisfies your various interests. If you followed our trip on YotReps you will know the day to day details of our passage. We were very thankful for the support of the Pacific Seafarer’s Net and Pangolin (YotReps) for keeping us connected when we were so far away from everything and everyone. Having a HAM license is really a must for staying in touch at sea.

In order to make the reading easier, I will post our trip in three parts.

WEEK ONE:  April 19 to April 26

Sunrise at Paradise Village, April 19

We left Paradise Village at 9am. There was a gorgeous sunrise and no one to see us off. We quietly slipped the lines and were motoring out into Bandaras Bay before anyone noticed we were gone.

Coiling the lines

Leaving "Paradise"

We immediately changed time zones by setting our clock back an hour. As we watched the land disappear in the haze, a couple of humpback whales rose up as if to say farewell. Blue-footed boobies buzzed by regarding us closely – as if to see if we were sea worthy enough for them to hitch a ride.

A blue-hatted boobie

Lowering the Mexican flag - seems like yesterday we put it up!

Just past Punta de Mita, we raised our sails and hand steered, closehauled, into winds of 15 knots and seas of four to six feet. It was a bouncy, slap-happy ride and, by evening, we engaged the Monitor Windvane to self steer. It held our course beautifully through these conditions. We made 90 miles that day.

First sunset at sea

The first day of sailing seemed like any other, but by evening I was starting to feel queasy. I was under the influence of Stugeron, but to no avail. By morning I was feeding the fishes or lying on my back trying to sleep it off as we beat into the waves.

We're close hauled and the water is warm! (74.5)

Doug, who was in charge of communications for the passage, checked into the South Bound Net and Seafarer’s Net in the evening, and the Amigo Net in the morning. These calls would establish, within the first 24 hours, we were under way and allow ourselves to be tracked by Yotreps, family and friends.

VE7 KSL checking in

We were happy to hear good wishes from several of our cruising friends heading up into the Sea of Cortez for the summer and appreciated the weather reports and advice from Don Anderson.

                              Don Anderson - The voice of maritime weather - Thank you, Don!

For the next two days I did not feel well, but was able to hold all my watches. Ironically, as soon as I discontinued using Stugeron, I started to feel better. Doug felt a little lethargic and had a bit of a headache, but the dreaded mal de mar did not affect him and he was able to keep us on course and steady. Luckily I had snacks such as granola bars, fresh fruit, nuts, juice, hotdogs, crackers and cheese close at hand. Figuring I might be ill, I had made two pizzas from scratch before we left which were easy to heat up. Hunger was not an issue for either of us the first couple days.

                                                        Moody sunrise on the second day

On the morning of the second day there was little wind, but the seas remained confused. We motored for three hours and then the diurnal winds kicked in. By dinner we had a reef in the main and the yankee. We clocked 95 miles on the second day moving between a close reach and a beat at about 5 knots in confused seas. The skies remained sunny and clear and the temperatures warm.

As we moved out of the influence of coastal Mexico, the water became clearer and more turquoise in colour. It also got warmer and went over 78 degrees! The wind continued from the northwest, but became more constant. We saw freighters in the distance on a regular basis and also picked them up on our AIS. Most of them were heading to or from the Panama Canal. We had our first flying fish death on the deck on the second day and a few boobies decided to play tag with our wind indicator on the top of the mast, but that was all the wild life we saw. On the third day we clocked 107 miles.

By Day Four I was actually starting to feel like myself again. I woke up hungry and was able to make and eat scrambled eggs, toast and juice. Coffee, however, was not to be a feature on my morning menu for another 2 weeks. I didn’t want it. My stomach curdled at the thought of it and I figured I didn’t need the heightened anxiety that caffeine seems to cause. I was also able to work in the journal. The previous 2 days just seemed like a blur and I was very grateful to Doug and Ka’sala for taking such good care of us.

Beautiful conditions nearing the Socorro Islands

Day Four saw us entering the Socorro Island group. The wind and seas calmed right down and we were only able to make 40 miles in this 24 hour period. Man, did we work hard to keep Ka’sala going – disengaging the Windvane (which couldn’t hold our course in such light winds) and trying to hand steer as the flukey winds changed and shifted direction. At one point we were totally becalmed and did not like the sound of the sails slatting and the feeling of the boat aimlessly rocking. We thought we might try lying ahull for the night, but could only stand it for a couple hours before firing up the engine. I had expected we would drift calmly along. Uh-uh! Although we had a quiet dinner in the cockpit and enjoyed a bit of wine as we watched the sun go down, it was quite discouraging to see the islands again in the morning. It finally occurred to me (duh-uh) you need good wind if you are ever going to get to Hawaii!!

Pizza at sea

In addition to checking in to the HAM and SSB nets we were also in regular contact with Jan, a Dutchman aboard Witte Raaf, who would be following us on the same journey in a few weeks. He very kindly passed on weather grib files from the internet and was very encouraging.

We also listened to Tao, who would also be making the passage to Hawaii mid May. Touch Rain had already arrived in Hilo, but Jane, on Midnight Blue, kept contact as they completed the final stage of their passage. After a few days, Craig and Barbara on Sequoia joined us on the passage from Mexico and Skip on Dolphin followed from Punta de Mita. The three of us ended up arriving in Hilo within a few days of each other. (We were pleased about this as we are just 29 feet on the waterline and both the other boats are 44 feet with considerably longer hull on water.) Each day we would all talk to each other at one time or another to touch base and compare notes. Although many miles apart from each other, it was nice to know there were others out there in that great expanse of blue.

On Day Five the winds and seas continued light – 15 knots. Passage weather was reporting that the winds would stay light for the next couple days but might start to move more to the North. We were still close reaching along and now that I wasn’t feeling sea sick, I was actually enjoying the stability of being on a starboard tack. The galley is on the port side, as well as our sea berth and the head. I could brace myself in a certain way and be able to cook, sleep or, well, go to the bathroom, without too much discomfort. We decided that if we went below 3 knots we would motor as it might be days before we were away from the influence of North American and reached the regularity of the tradewinds.

A bit messy - we used the port berth for sleeping

We didn’t need to worry as the wind remained at 15 knots and the seas calmed down to a regular 8 foot swell over a long period of time making for a very comfortable ride. We had full main and yankee up, coasting along at 5 to 6 knots under sunny skies, skin temperature and violet/blue seas and exactly on our course of 270 degrees. I felt like I could sail forever. THIS was what everyone dreams about. It’s real. It happens. It’s not all confused seas and terror. Doug called it “birthday and Christmas all rolled into one”!

We were so stable I went below and made banana bread with the last of the spotty bananas. I felt good enough to sort out provisions and tidy up below.

Banana Bread!  Yum!

The wildlife also came to visit. A little bird with feathers of various shades of grey and rose with a black necklace and intelligent eyes perched on the boom, the deck and the dodger, before finally finding a home under the dinghy which was stored on the foredeck.

We regarded each other for quite a while

At sunset, we were joined by a school of tiny, border-collie sized, black and speckled grey dolphins who cavorted and played around our bow. We were able to enjoy another wonderful sunset dinner in the cockpit and ate a crispy green salad with lettuce we were able to keep because of the vegetable bags Fran, from Gosling, had given us. We clocked 90 miles that day.

Day Six was Easter Sunday and we gave thanks for all our good fortune and thought of our family and friends enjoying their Easter dinners and wishing us well. I thought a lot about the people I know and love while we were at sea. The incredible expanse and depth of the ocean and sky, and the knowledge that I am just one little iota of existence on that huge canvas, got me thinking of my connections. To have none in this environment, must be one of the loneliest experiences ever.

It was another quiet day, but the weather reports indicated that the wind would be picking up in the next 24 hours. We took advantage of the continuing stability to wash our hair and bodies. I was extremely mindful of our freshwater, imagining the gruesome results of running out, so I had us down to survival rations. Dishes were washed in salt water, retrieved with a bucket, in the cockpit. Water for personal washing was measured. Sponge baths in 2 cups of water was the order of the day. I figured when we were half way across we would see how much we had left and then, perhaps, increase our usage. We had filled our solar shower bag, so we rigged it up behind the helm in the cockpit. We washed our hair in a bucket of warm salt water and rinsed with the bag of colder fresh water. It was awkward and uncomfortable, not easy to do and not very cleansing, but it was better than nothing. I thought an itchy scalp was a small price to pay in order to keep from being thirsty. In retrospect, I was being silly. I knew, from experience, we had three weeks of water without even thinking about our usage. I only needed to modify our habits slightly in order to accommodate the possibility of a month long passage. As time went on, we did increase our usage to more sensible proportions and ended the passage with almost two thirds of it left!! The funny thing was that neither of us felt particularly deprived. Yes, I admit. It was wonderful to have a real shower with water thundering on top of my head, but it was also extremely possible to live with an incredible amount less. When I think of fresh water consumption on a global level and the amount we use when we live on shore, I am ashamed of the wastage.

We could see the change in the weather coming that evening as the clouds started to cover the sky. I had expected we would see a great canopy of stars as we left land farther behind, but because of the full phase of the moon, it didn’t seem astonishing. In fact, lying on my back on the end of the dock at our family cottage near Algonquin Park in Ontario, provides a much more stunning starscape. I hoped that when there was no moon we might see more.

Evening at the cottage

That night we began a strict 3 hour night watch pattern and maintained it throughout the rest of our voyage. I was responsible from 11 – 2 and 5 – 8. Doug from 8-11 and 2 – 5. This schedule worked very well for us and we were able to make up our lost sleep with naps during the day. The only downside for me was that I was supposed to be asleep when the various nets were on. I wanted to hear what was going on, but needed to get my sleep. In the end, Doug just had to put up with my incessant questions afterwards. It worked out all right.

Trying to sleep in daytime off-watch - note the Cathay Pacific First Class eye wear!

As the journey progressed, I sorted through my fresh provisions – most were fine, but the cabbages were yellowing and showing mold. The carrots were also sporting some black spots. I removed the rotting bits from the cabbage and wiped them down with vinegar. This was another mistake. Neither of us like cabbage much, it stinks as it goes off and, in the end, I tossed them all overboard. After peeling the carrots, I put them in the fridge where they did very well for the rest of the voyage. I also put the peppers in the fridge. They had no rot or discolouration, but had lost some of their firmness. I tossed the avocados overboard. What a disaster! They all went black to the first ½ inch under the skin, then were rock hard to the pit. Horrible! Everything else was fine in the first week.

On Day Six we really began to notice a pattern in the winds and seas. In the morning, they were relatively calm. They built in the afternoon and by the cocktail hour could be really going strong. We would reef as the afternoon progressed and into the evening. When I came on watch at 11 pm the wind would start to die and I would be shaking out the reefs we had put in during the evening. That night, however, as dawn streaked across the sky, the winds picked up to 20 knots straight from the north. We opened our sails to accommodate a beam reach and we flew along at 6.5 knots under double reefed mail and full headsail – a configuration we would keep all through the second week. We covered 120 miles that day.

Day Seven was all about accommodating the new motion and speed. We could feel the boat surging and pitching and occasionally landing between a large swell with a loud thump and roll. We were now on a steady beam reach and we could hear the water swishing along the sides and the fresh water, in the stainless tank under our lee berth, sloshing around. The water temperature lowered to 71 degrees. As the day progressed the wind and seas picked up even more and we crashed, lurched and heaved our way through at 6 – 7 knots. We were trying to decide whether the extreme motion was a result of our hull shape, our weight, our size or the sea state. We wondered if the larger boats had more stability. Even at the end of the trip the jury is still out on this one. We started to take a little salt water through one of the main hatches when waves came over our bow and over the deck. Luckily, there was little below for the water to affect and it was easy to clean up. Nevertheless, when things calmed down a bit, Doug went on to the foredeck and duct taped all around the outside and this fix kept the water out for the rest of the passage.

Duct taping the forward hatch - note the safety harness and line

While I was on my off watch, Doug said he saw hundreds of dolphins leaping and sparkling in the seas. I wish I could have seen them. Jan let us know that the winds were due to increase over the next few days and I spent some time trying to convince myself that would be okay because we would get to Hawaii sooner. I found I had to have regular talks with myself to keep my anxiety levels down. When it got too much I would just go below, lie in the berth, listen to music or read. I knew there was no going back and allowing myself to become scared would only make the journey unpleasant. We made 136 miles that day.

WEEK TWO: April 27 to May 2

In our first week we covered less than 800 nautical miles. We would need to cover a lot more ground if we were going to make Hawaii within a month’s time. We weren’t to be disappointed.  (will post more in a day or two - please check back!)

No comments:

Post a Comment