The Passage From Mexico
So it was super El Nino year and we decided to go with our plans with some apprehension of a vigorous passage. The 2700 nm passage started out great, we were sailing with a reefed main and poled drifter for two full days right out of Banderas Bay. Wow, 135 nautical miles each day on the same tack (direction) without touching the sails, we weren’t trying very hard to break speed records and if only the entire passage could’ve been so sweet! The wind was NE, the seas were rolly, a little bumpy with some cross swells but very manageable. It took a couple days to get our sea legs, sleep schedules and full appetite back after having been landlubbers for 5 solid weeks.
By the 4th night out the wind starting clocking around to our stern, coming from the east. Bummer, rolly ride ahead with continued cross swells. The winds would die down at night and we’d listen and watch our sails slap side to side, pitch up, the sails would fill in and then we’d fall off the side of the wave with the sails dumping and then the BANG. Fill, dump, bang, hour after hour into the wee morning hours. Impossible to sleep with the all the noise, the roll from side to side was almost unbearable as we tried to walk in the cabin. Changing course didn’t help as the swells were coming from North and South. During the day the wind would pick up to a fresh breeze of 10 – 12 knots, we’d zoom along at 5.5 – 6.0 kts with seas building to 6 feet. We threw the fish line in and were excited when we caught a small dorado, that was an awesome meal and our only fish for the passage. The first 8 days were full of awesome sail, good food, easy days and some noisy nights.
The rigging was beginning to show signs of chafing. We lost 2 new halyards to chafe, the Monitor steering windvane was showing signs of frayed ropes, the wind vane at the top of the mast was bent from a hitchhiking bird, we both had already taken a couple of spills in the cockpit, nothing serious just a sharp reminder that Neptune likes to play. We were Delorme texting with another PPJ boat that was 4 days behind us. They used a weather router – a professional weatherman that monitors your boat and weather, informs you of upcoming weather systems and provides a “safer” route. Apparently there was a high pressure system near Hawaii that was driving the wind and large waves. Damn, misery loves company, lumps for all! The only saving grace in the midnite hours was watching the stars. Oh my, the southern milky way looked like a cloud on the horizon it was so vivid, the southern cross grew higher and higher in the sky as the North star started dipping lower onto the horizon. There are thousands of vivid stars within the Orion constellation that nearly makes his belt disappear.
Our best sailing day was on March 19th, we sailed an awesome 145 NM! That was a very memorable sail with 2nd reef in the main and full yankee across 6′ waves. After that our distance made good starting dropping as the waves grew bigger and taller, the period between waves was lessening and we were in troughs. Numerous sail changes and we kept reducing the mainsail, most days we were sailing with 3 reefs in the main and 50% yankee to keep the boat under control. Sometimes we’d be surfing down the waves or rolling off the sides. One night in particular I called John up from sleep as we started sailing over 8.0kts, a little out of my comfort zone at night. We added the staysail with a customized reef that made a huge difference in boat stability. By the beginning of the third week we were below 10 degree north and the squall zone was setting in. A little early according to some of the seasoned sailors. We watched as a big system moved in over the top of us and for 3 solid days we drifted in the rain, rolling from side to side in large swells with no wind. The wind was from behind and with it came rain. There are 2 “L” words that sailors really dislike: Leaks and Lightening. We had both. The main companion way was leaking enough that we were scrambling to stuff towels around the doors and frame. The water was running down the interior right into our electronics and electrical panel. Two portlights with new glass and seals were dripping onto the dinette, we stuffed towels along those. “Damn”, that’s all we could say for 3 days as we started the engine to charge our batteries. The solar panels were useless and we were turning off the electronics and refrigerator to conserve power. By the 2nd very dark night we were tired of sitting in the warm rain and decided to monitor our course during the night from below as we motored and tried to sleep through the nights while taking turns to get up and look around outside. A much needed break from the exhaustion of sleepless rolly nights. But the enclosed cabin was a steam bath of wet clothes and towels, we could hardly breathe.
We celebrated our equator crossing on March 29th, John’s mother’s birthday. She would’ve been so proud of John and his accomplishments. We shaved, showered, wore extra clean clothes for pictures, cleaned Konami and got out the very best rum. An amazing sunny day sailing at 5.0kts with subsiding waves, it was absolutely perfect!
Sitting in the calms on the equator is an experience we all heard of or watched in the movies. Sailors going crazy from lack of water, heat exhaustion, crazed eyes. Near mutiny! It wasn’t quite that bad for us. We read, listened to music, slept, drank beer, laughed a lot and ran the watermaker, John went up the mast to fix the Windex. We’ll consider the importance of it before doing that trick again. We drifted nearly 36 hours in the 2kt west current. We couldn’t have known how much that rest period was going to cherished!
Three days later I got John up early and we sat hove-to for a nearly 3 hours in the early dawn watching a 90 mile line of monster thunderstorms stretching east to west. Lightening was rolling across the cloud formations, the sea was fairly calm but an eerie wind was picking up, we could smell the rain. By daybreak the lightening “disappeared”. We couldn’t backtrack and go around the line, we couldn’t outrun it, no telling how far south it was spreading. We gathered up our nerves, reefed the sails, discussed emergency sail plans and boat performance and headed in. The wind was instantly blowing 20 kts, Konami zoomed along. We can handle this! 30kts, we were cranking the winches reefing the yankee down to just a small triangle. We just had to hang on as the swells started building to nearly 6′ with 6′ wind waves stacked on top. Shit, I want to go home! The wind was shifting, the seas were coming from all directions, we started beating into the 6-8′ waves. Walls of water were flying over the dodger. Today is April 1st, aren’t we the fools! We finally sailed out of the line, 2 days of white knuckling, eating only crackers, cheese and sardines.
Only a couple days left, 200miles to go! “Easy” sailing. But Zeus decided we weren’t humble enough. Another squall zone was ahead of us, driving 30 kt winds with 8 – 10′ seas and 8 seconds. We complained, but Konami rose up to the challenge. Thank goodness for the Delorme texts from my sister and other family members, we couldn’t have done the last couple of days without their words of encouragement. I just sat down and cried, “Imma baby, WTH are we doing out here?”
We hove-to one last time to avoid arriving in the dark. At 2:00 a.m. we released the sails and began our destination sail to Hiva Oa. First light and land appeared, tears of happiness, accomplishment! We arrived at noon to a full anchorage, dropped anchor near a wall of rocks to stay out of the channel, sat down in the blistering sun and stared back at the ocean. We couldn’t see paradise. Too exhausted, overwhelmed, dirty and hungry, the boat interior was totally trashed with piles of wet clothes, dirty dishes, gear thrown about, the refrigerator wasn’t cold enough to make ice -that made me mad. John poured us cold cokes with extra rum and we pounded down 3 each. I awoke the in the wee night hours lying in the cockpit still wearing wet clothes. It took us nearly 3 days to recuperate, clean the boat and check in to the country.
Unwilling to end our passage feeling like it may have been the worst experience ever, we started to recall the beautiful blue-blue, the expanse of the universe where heaven and water met somewhere on the horizon, 24 days of spectacular sunset pictures – we missed 3 because of rain, humorous pictures of each other – subsequently deleted, the southern cross rising, the 50+ dolphins chasing the boat, awesome sailing for days never touching the sails, the connection of 2 people reaching out only to each other, our loving family who sent us beautiful words of inspiration, thoughts of our sons and their words like “wow, brave, cool, love you, and Did you see the Facebook post”. It was awesome, breathtaking, humorous, spiritual, and enlightening!