Saipan, Very Dear to our Hearts!

Just a quick statement about the  26 hour passage events. It was WET, bouncy, 2 drawers jumped out of their places, two anchors on the bow, 200′ of our anchor chain was still in the chain locker- forgot to pull it down into the bilge and the remaining 50′ slid forward to the forepeak within the bilge. In our hasty departure out of Guam we forgot to batten down the V- berth hatch and hadn’t discovered it until everything was sitting in a large puddle of salt water! We were fully loaded with fuel and water, bikes, SUPs, and lots of provisions. The heavy bow combined with short period 6-8′ very steep waves, close hauled and we were diving with full bowsprit into the water. As we pitched upward the green water gushed down the leeward side where we sat. Sue hailed us about 20 miles into the passage and asked if we wanted to turn back as they also pitched downward and also had water running down into their cockpit. Gushers filled the cockpit, there wasn’t a dry spot left, the port lazarette filled up a couple of times. John hand pumped the water out. We were soaked beyond comfort, Only good thing it was still warm outside. 26 hours later, we entered the calm harbor and tied to the large ferry dock with SV Ouistitis and SV Dionne.
Non potable clean city water and 110 30 amp electricity were free on the dock but no showers or toilets available. $8/ day dock fee, no Harbor or Customs fees. We immediately hosed ourselves, removed the entire contents of the V berth and stacked it on deck. It took nearly 8 days to dry the hosed out cushions, we looked like traveling vagabonds as we slowly repacked the boat.
We left our 45# CQR on the dock, our new friend Moon, took it home. Good riddance to a broken, worthless anchor – email us if you want to know more about that mess.

So onto the part of our wonderful Saipan adventure. We met absolutely, incredibly generous and beautiful friends from all over the world.
Saipan isn’t a cruising destination as most boats heading to Japan stop in Guam to provision and boogie on. For those cruisers who take the time to travel the additional 120 miles northward, the rewards of the people, culture, history and geography is beyond imagination!

The dock is located in the channel so all the tourists from China, Korea and a few Japanese board the ferries outbound to the luscious islands around Saipan where the water is beautiful aqua blue, turquoise green, the diving and snorkeling are pristine and the very fine white coral sand is like powdered sugar.IMG_2114 It was on the dock where we met all our new friends. At the lower left corner you can see two masts, Konami and Dione. Ouistitis is in the middle of the lower half of the picture.

The first set of friends – Mike an American, and his gorgeous Indonesian wife, Nora stopped by and we began talking about boats. Mike has a 40′ TaShing sailboat in Maryland currently undergoing a refit for near future cruising. Nora sailed as crew so has a good background and knowledge. They immediately offered us rides around the island, sites of WWII war and peace memorials, took us to a great breakfast shack. BBQ at their condo poolside, and spent time just hanging out together. Nora drove us where-ever we needed to go, to process our check out papers and last minute fresh food provisioning.

Our next set of friends – Dave, an American Tugboat Captain working between Marshall Isl and who also owns a sailboat in the Saipan harbor, and his lovely Thailand wife Kwaye Pronounced Gale, brought us dinner and offered anything we could possibly need during our stay.

Randy, an American who is First Mate on the Tugboat and his Thailand wife Cindy, ran John and Glenn around town getting fuel, looking for boat parts, had potable water delivered to our boat, brought us Mickey bullet beers, dinner, fresh fruit and all around great conversations.

Nida, our new Phillipina friend is Operations Manager at the Hard Rock Cafe in Saipan brought out the best Nachos for us since Mexico! We enjoyed Nida so much, I hope we meet again in San Francisco where her mother lives. I think we melted our credit card buying T shirts for the grandchildren, and of course a few items for ourselves. Can’t wait to wear my Saipan shirt in the Tokyo cafe!

Ron, an American who owns his software consulting company and his delightful, totally non-stop moving Thailand wife Moon, a former restaurant chef, brought us home cooked meals beyond words. Lemon grass chicken, lime leaf curry with chicken, I wish I could have some now. I have a bag full of dried kefir lime leaves from her tree and a gallon bag full of lemongrass from Gale’s garden. IMG_2128Ron took John and Glenn out to the Forbidden island where they enjoyed cave swimming and around the reef.

Most of our new friends either spend time together or are acquainted.

There were so many other people, mostly strangers that touched our lives and made us feel so at home and generous with fresh fruit and home cooked meals. We had people stopping by the boat at 8:30 a.m. until late afternoon. Between touring around the island, spending time with our new friends, Glenn and Sue, and the French cruisers Eric and Marielle, we were never on the boat long enough to cook anything other than breakfast.

By far, Saipan is the most beautiful island we have visited. The coastline is stunning with shear line cliffs, pristine water, limestone and coral mountains, coconut lined white sand beaches where you can wade out nearly 200′ and still be waist deep in clear warm water. The highways are well maintained, better than the Portland area.
The streets and roadsides are clean despite the abundance of tour buses and thousands of tourists similar to Hawaii. Surprisingly, we didn’t see many American or European tourists, aka Howlies. Perhaps the airline tickets are cost prohibitive? As an American citizen we can sign up for a PO box and become a permanent resident. A 2 bedroom fully furnished condo is roughly $750/month! Food is relatively cheap, and locally grown. Beef is a little expensive as its imported, but beef raised on Rota, a nearby island is high quality and delicious.
We didn’t see a fish market but we weren’t cooking dinners either.

The Carolinians, the original inhabitants and Chomorro natives no longer maintain their national heritage cultures with festivals or community awareness like Guam. Its very unfortunate to lose a culture after the last generation has moved on. We asked about any possibilities of viewing or meeting someone who could give us background information. We did attend first Thursday celebration in the city park. A group of young Carolinian men performed their traditional voyage dance with native costumes. After a few dances volunteers within the audience were asked to come up on stage and give it a try. John and Glenn and a few other men were pulled up and gave their best 20 minute performance. Having danced well in front of a hundred people they were rewarded with a palm frond headpiece that symbolized God’s power and protection for their voyage. We saved John’s headpiece for our boat.
Moon brought her signature lemongrass rice, we purchased a yummy roasted chicken from the Asian food vendor and we all sat on the lawn with our dinner and drinks. A terrific fun and warm evening. Sorry, I don’t have the pictures yet.

The night life comes alive with tourists, great restaurants, clubs, and numerous massage parlors where young Chinese women stand outside their glass front windows with the visible massage chairs inside. Ahem, gotta wonder about some of them. John and Glenn didn’t appear to be too interested with Sue and I standing nearby giving them the stink-eye.

Nora took us snorkeling at the grotto cave. There is no place to leave your shoes or belongings so don’t take anything, you must walk barefoot. The blue water is so clear and colorful – you can see the giant coral bed nearly 30′ below. the ocean water comes in from the cave openings at the oceanside but you can only see intense blue light as you snorkel around the edges of the cave. The stalagmites hang down from the cave ceiling about 15 -25′ above the waterline. The incoming current and waves around the 7′ jump off rock is very intimidating. A lifeguard stands on the giant rock across from the cliffside and gives the signal to jump across the gap. The rope going across the gap is your only lifeline of making it safely across if you jump at the wrong moment. The lifeguard in the water below the rock signals when to jump into the sea. Glenn went first, I nearly slid off the rock rather than jump, I was so afraid but felt compelled to be brave. Nora went in after me, she’s a scuba diver so no fear, John was last. The water surges with such force it pulls you outward from the rock towards the back of the cave where the water comes in 30′ below. Getting out was easy, kick hard back to the giant rock platform and the natural large steps on the side are manageable even with flippers. Getting back to the cliffside rocks are the same current and crashing waves and need to be negotiated carefully. Its free and worth the effort of climbing barefoot back up the long concrete staircase in the cliffside.

Mike and Nora drove us to The Bonzai Cliff over the ocean and Suicide cliff, the memorials were quite moving.IMG_2075IMG_2072 A tremendous amount of lives lost on both sides, civilian women and children were told to jump rather than submit to the “ferocious treatment” by the American Army. Large caves in the face of the limestone mountains and where the large gun shells struck the cliff, the limestone turned white, are still visible. The natural erosion has created a grotesque mask- like face on the mountainside, almost a natural memorial of war horrors.
From the top of Mt. Tapochau, the 360 degree view of Saipan and nearby islands are excellent. The various blue and turquoise colored water, white sand, and cool breeze are beautiful, one could sit for hours and stare out beyond the fields below. There are war remnants left there also, a juxtaposition to all the beauty.

The day before we departed a young Chinese woman asked if we would take her and her mother out to the island for a snorkeling adventure. I explained that our boat was too big and there wasn’t enough water under the keel to get close. I invited them aboard and gave a tour of Konami. They were stunned that we had sailed from the US. And even more stunned that they had the opportunity to see our boat. They were impressed with our gimbaling stove, refrigertor, the amount of food and water,the engine, and the fact that we sailed it with just the two of us aboard. She took lots of pictures with us to prove to her friends that she actually spent time on a sailboat. A “rare experience” as she put it for a Chinese person. They hugged me goodbye and couldn’t thank us enough.

Each day I found myself becoming sadder as time with our new friends came to a close. Saipan is definitely a place to live for a few years. Perhaps the tourists and congestion would get old but there are places to live where its peaceful and beautiful. Stay out of downtown and its perfect.
We hope to meet all of our friends again in Saipan. These experiences of meeting total strangers and sharing a few precious days or just a few moments with the Chinese mother and daughter are so heart warming and fulfilling. We’re so lucky and Grateful for our adventure, for each other, and our supportive families and friends. AND our really awesome Konami!

Wish we could upload all of our really cool pictures, the wifi at McDonalds just isn’t fast enough.

Roundtrip airfare from Japan is reasonable -$418 and even cheaper from China and Korea, about $200, so if you have the opportunity to travel anywhere in Asia, try to include Saipan. You won’t regret it.

Me on my fun folding bike at Suicide Cliff.IMG_2086 The concrete pad in the background was the latrine left over from the Japanese WWII post. Pretty cool to have that left over.

Okinawa, Japan

We jumped to Japan and will get back with Guam and Saipan. If you go anywhere, go to Saipan, especially by sailboat!

We had a decent passage from Saipan. 1250 miles, we calculated 10 days minimum, 12 at most. We literally skipped the boat across the waves, sometimes sailing fast over 7.4 knots with all 3 sails, the main and yankee partially reefed. 150 miles, 130, 120, our daily counts were going down along with the waves.
The first 3 days were incredible sailing, a little bouncy, a few waves broke over the top sending water to the radar height – 15 feet up the mast, over the dodger, and only one cockpit gusher, but it was gloriously dry compared to the Saipan and Guam passages. Quistiti, the French 43′ steel boat passed us the first night out but we maintained email contact with them, about one day ahead of us.
At one point we made 15 miles in 8 hours going horizontally rather than towards Japan, it looked like we were heading to Taiwan on the chart. We motored quite a bit as we headed into opposing 2 knot current and lught wind. Our forward boat speed dropped to 1.5 kts with 2000 rpm. At this rate we began to calculate our fuel burn as the wind continued to wane and the next two day wind forecast was diminishing even more.
We couldn’t maintain our rhumb line, the wind was clocking around so quickly and lightly, the sail changes and tacking became exhausting. Recalculate the fuel burn. The temperature dropped dramatically, No more minimal clothing sailing. Jackets, wet pants, socks, coats all a mess down below as we changed each time to avoid sleeping in a salty bed. Salt was layered over the boat, lines, and cockpit. Konami appeared to be covered in diamonds.
The wind forecast became unpredictable. A small High front which we were in, sandwiched between two passing low fronts, then a massive high with fast wind. And when we finally got through it after heaving to 135 miles out from Okinawa, we were ready for the passage to end. A hangup in email, lack of satelitte phone, and “proper” entry clearance into Japan had us hove to for another 24 hours, 15 miles off the coast of Okinawa as we waited for our information to be processed by the Japanese coast guard. All was good, we cleaned the boat, cold showered in the cockpit in 60 degrees, and rested up for our grand entrance into Japan. Here we are in full dress, make up with earrings, and clean shaven.
Our dream come true realized 21 months after leaving our hometown Portland, how could anything mess that up?

And during our passage, our twin  grandsons were born. All went well, Mom and babies were doing well, not sure about the Dad, perhaps in a daze?

Jittery, excited, nervous about communicating, eating great food, and most of all- seeing our families coming from home in just a few short 3 months. The Yonabaru marina is world class with every amenity possible, we have everything here, except wifi and money.
We spent the first 3 days with Eric and Mariella, the French couple and their girls traveling to Naha via bus to finish off Customs, immigration and permit processes. My Japanese speaking ability is slowing starting to revive itself. I can ask the bus driver if the bus is going to where we want to get off. My reading skills are also starting to focus,  So many squiggly lines!
The first morning after we arrived I was just too excited to sleep so at 5:30 a.m. I went walking. And in the park near the marina was a group of people my age, performing the “radio exercise” routine. Well I just walked right up, stood and watched until one member noticed me and invited me to join them. 18 new friends, all excited to meet me, hear that we came by a sailboat, and very curious about my heritage.
Needless to say, the last two weeks have been spent with them every morning exercising at 6:00 a.m., taking them out for a ride on the boat – a very rare experience for the average Japanese, eating delicious home cooked Okinawan food that included pig’s innards and feet. We loved the flavor, but something I probably won’t include in my future cooking repertoire due to the texture of the softened cartilage.
We have been surrounded with incredibly heart warming people who are not just ordinary kind Okinawans. Our new friends include famous masters of Okinawan dance, opera singer, composer, Japanese calligraphy teacher, hand craft designers, Chef, and Shamisen teacher.IMG_2225
IMG_2205The French people have been included in our gatherings and the Japanese people just don’t stop with gifts and parties.
Yukiko, a woman in the group from Osaka speaks English very well. She has become a very close friend has been our lifeline. She drove us to the airport at the far end of Naha to get a sim card for our phone so we finally have expensive wifi. $55 for 3.2 gb with a 30 day expiration date.
And between my sister managing our legal affairs and good friend in Tokyo who wired us enough money to last for a couple of months, we no longer need the $45 cab ride – one way- to withdraw cash from the only 7-11 ATM machine in Okinawa. Amazing!

So here we are, we hugged our dear friends with tearful goodbyes with hope of meeting again, riding our terrific folding bikes all over town, we’ve finished our paperwork, caught up on making google earth charts for the fishing ports between here and Kyushu, and waiting for this small low front to move off. We and LeOuistiti are headed for the Kerama islands about 35 miles off the west coast of Okinawa, a World heritage park also known as the “blue water” islands.

We are scheduled to haul out in Nagasaki May 15 for 2 weeks for a much needed bottom paint, rebed some leaky through hull valves, wood work and general maintenance to get our lovely Konami back to her grand state. Dione went to Chichi Jima, north of the Marianas. We will meet up with them in the Nagasaki boat yard painting side by side, and continue together from there.
And by the way, the harbor master said he heard from other Japanese sailors that the Westsail boat is the best boat for traveling around the world, it can go anywhere, safely.

Amazing, AMAZING Sail Across the Equator!

It was a hasty departure out of Tuvalu, sooner than we had anticipated but the cyclone season was growing closer and we had already endured a few bouncy, wet, anchor rides. We took turns watching the anchor drag alarm, poking our heads out to watch the lightening and listen to the wind howl through the rigging.

The weather to the north was changing daily. We were watching the weather grib forecasts and the SPCZ was showing up on the forecast with large black blotches of heavy rain headed back our way. As the SPCZ moves northward it also pushes the ITCZ allowing an easier passage across the equator. It’s similar to crossing a 4 lane highway, as the traffic passes by from your left, get ready to run for the median and wait for the opposite traffic to pass by in order to get across the the second half. We realized we had only a day to ready the boat, post a quick blog and check out before the weather rapidly deteriorated and overtake our path to the north. Go when the going is good!

Monday morning we launched the dinghy and headed to immigration and custom to clear out by 9:00 a.m. Mmphm, so much for being early. A tuna trawler had arrived on Sunday evening and got the clearance priority slot so we were forced to wait for an “after lunch” opening. About 11:00 we went back just to see if any of the Immigration officers had come back earlier. Well he was in and rather annoyed that he had to come out of his office and actually perform a task. I believe he gets paid. With departure stamps in our passports we dinghied up to the port office – about a couple miles up the shoreline – to meet with Customs for outbound clearance papers. He was still out on the fishing trawler and not expected back til after lunch. Darn. We happened to be speaking with a Customs import agent and asked her if there was a place we could wait and perhaps get some lunch. Nope, nothing around. Then just as we started to walk away she asked if John knew how to operate a motor scooter. She handed us the keys and offered her personal scooter. We’re foreigners, having met only 10 minutes prior, and here she is very kindly, and happily obliging a foreigner. We were astounded by her generosity and trust! Who and in what other country would offer their personal vehicle to a total stranger? We offered to buy her a lunch, and with many thanks we accepted her scooter. John gave her a liter of gas money and she reluctantly accepted it. We drove 3 miles back into Fongafele. A quick lunch in a “Chinese” restaurant (a dose of Imodium on the side) and drove back just in time as the Customs officer had arrived at the dock and was preparing to leave for his lunch hour. He very graciously completed our clearance. God’s be good, it was our lucky day!

Cleared out, dinghy packed, final boat checks, we made haste. Weighed anchor and headed for the northern 2 mile pass just in time for the slack low tide over a 1/2 mile wide reef with 28′ of chartered water under us. It’s a little gut wrenching to see deep, blue water transition to an emerald green in less than a minute, and see the breaking waves on both sides of the reef. We took turns watching the depth sounder, looked over the side at the passing reef and counted off the distance in 1/4 mile increments according to the chartplotter. Once the depth sounder reached a steady 35′ depth reading and could see the blue water ahead of us we actually breathed a little easier. Looked back and said good bye to Tuvalu.

The first 18 hours was a smooth glassy motor ride. The grib forecast was spot on, a rarity! We welcomed the smooth ride for once but not wanting to burn the diesel since this was a 700 mile leg and the fumes intolerable, we were very pleased to shut down and had full sails up in light winds the following evening nearly 80 miles to the north. We looked back and watched the threatening cumulonimbus (thunder storm cloud streets) build and seemingly chase us. Yes, in fact, they were chasing us. Oh come on winds!

The second day out we were sailing in 15 knots on the beam with 2-3 meter seas, all the sails were up. A great sail despite the side rolling. By late afternoon we were caught in the “squash zone”. This is the air mass between the SPCZ and the ITCZ that gets compressed as the zones push and bump against each other. The wind immediately picked up to 20 knots on the beam. Not too uncomfortable down below but enough that I didn’t attempt to cook. The first couple of days we tend not to eat a lot anyway so no big deal. Sandwiches, fruit, crackers, ginger ale.

It always happens when I’m asleep and John is on watch. For a brief hour, black tendrils dropped out of the quick building cumulonimbus street and pounced on us. 30 knot winds blew, the ocean became a menacing dark blue with white foamy waves all around. I stood up on the lazerette to see farther out to the east. Blackened sky was rapidly approaching with driving rain, the ocean was nearly white with breaking waves. John went forward to put a 3rd reef in the mailsail, having already furled in some of the Yankee. The staysail was fortunately already reefed. We watched our boat speed increase to well over 7 knots, and then we began to surf at 8.5 knots. John still working on the reefing decided to drop the main. Good call. We furled more of the Yankee to a small triangle and we held onto the stainless steel lifelines as the boat heeled well over to port slurping up water. Water repeatedly gushed down the side deck and trickled over the cockpit seating. One good thing about sailing in the South Pacific, it’s hot and we generally sail in our underwear. We learned our lesson coming across from Mexico, don’t bother with clothing unless you want to deal with loads of wet salty clothes down below. And then it passed, over and done with. The front moved off just as quickly as it came on leaving behind 15 knots of good wind on the beam but 2-3 meter waves remained. With that much wind and boat speed dropping to 5.5 knots due to the waves we moved along with full sails once again, just enough that we could walk on the floor, but the pitching and rolling was very annoying.

The miles ticked away and each passing day it just got better. The sun was out filling the battery banks. The wind steadied from the East, mostly 12 – 15 knots, with full sails hoisted. We came up the leeward side of the Southern Gilbert island chain and the waves disappeared. The glassy ocean allowed us to sail with light winds in the moonless nights with such smoothness that we couldn’t tell that the boat was actually moving. There is no sound of splashing as the boat glides over the top of the water. It’s one of those rare moments in sailing where there is no distinction between your body and the boat. A magical, whispering motion, the boat speed is known by the intensity of sound as water passes by the rudder. You can feel the strength of the sails gently pulling, the feel of the helm, the smell of ocean, cool and refreshing wind on your face, your mind and body at total rest with the power of sails and wind. You lose track of time and only the stars moving across the horizon reminds you that you’re not stationary. Four days of bliss and peace.

Saturday, Nov 5 – 4:03 p.m. we crossed the equator – no longer shell backs.img_1115 Awww, feeling a little saddened that we may not pass this way again. We toasted Neptune with a full bottle of rum. We felt guilty that it was an awful tasting rum that was distilled in Moorea.img_1103 Burnt sugar with a strong taste of turpentine, totally unpalatable. We brought out the bourbon, made another toast to Neptune and enjoyed a shot ourselves. So many more adventures in the North Pacific are coming.

Part of the sailing challenge includes trying to time a passage so that the departure from and entry to a pass is near perfect relative to tide and current, and daylight hours only in a reef atoll. We made new calculations every 3 hours the last 24 hours of the passage. The distance to go divided by average boat speed, factored the wind +/- velocity, crossed our fingers for good measure and hoped for sustained wind to keep us going. Not exactly scientific given the various elements. We calculated a sail vs engine for an arrival time of 3:00 p.m at the latest to the Tarawa pass, anchored and sundowners in hand by 5:00 p.m. Well, so far we haven’t been successful mostly due to uncooperative weather, not due to the lack of sailing skill.

Sunday, Nov 6, sixth day out. A 17 mile span of ocean lies between the islands of southern Tarawa and northern Maiana. The ocean floor depth rises to about 800 feet below the ocean surface and on either side of this 800 feet lies depths of over 12,000 feet. Imagine a giant dam between the two islands and the tremendous amount of water that flows over that dam with tide, eddies and current all influenced by the moon and wind. The wind lightened in the early morning hours as we began the crossing. The adverse current was pushing us west of Tarawa, our distance made good to destination dropped to 1.5 knots. We ghosted along on calm water constantly trimming the sails and tiller windvane. At about 10:30 a.m the wind nearly died, we had another 17 miles to go and the arrival time at the pass was looking to be 8:30 p.m.

Choices: arrive at dark and stand off for 10 exhausting hours.

Second choice: Time to motor.

Let me say, nothing goes to plan, don’t ever expect it and you won’t be disappointed.

John opened the rear lazeratte hatch, reached down and began to turn the engine exhaust valve. He turned the handle once, then it began to spin. It’s an the old gate valve and what came apart in his hand? “Oh, it’s made with an “acme” screw, and it’s stripped” stated matter of factly while holding up a knob attached to a spike of bright twisted bronze.

My interpretation: “Oh, it’s a ‘We’re screwed’ screw” .   The nice way of saying it here. My heart firmly attaching itself to my lower gut.

The Exhaust Thru-Hull Valve: The engine exhaust hose comes off the back of the engine and is connected to a through hull valve embedded in a bronze housing. The entire assembly is in the side of the boat that is suppose to open allowing exhaust to escape while the engine is running. In the closed position it prevents the sea water from flowing in when the engine isn’t running.

Layman’s explanation. You gotta go real bad but there is a needless “out of order” sign indicating on the obliviously plugged toilet.

Examining the options: John got out the screwdriver to pry it open from the outside. No Joy. Next came the hammer and chisel thinking he could possibly force the gate open. Leaning out over the side of the boat he tapped and grunted. Hrumpff.

Next option: Disassemble the entire through hull but that would leave a hole in the side of the boat and the exhaust hose couldn’t be connected to a gaping 2″ hole. I looked at the life raft.

My first option: launch the dinghy with 5 hp motor and have it ready to pull or push us as we try to sail the channel. But with the wind on our nose, a long narrow channel through the maze of reef and coral bommies lurking under the surface I wasn’t sure the dinghy motor would be able to keep up. Maybe we could hail the Tarawa harbor master and have a fishing panga tow us in.  Second option: Continue sailing to the Marshall Islands another 400 miles until John came up with a fix.

John is really smart though, and he’s always calm and nonchalant, “it’s not a worry, I’ll fix it”. With a kiss for reassurance.

He removed the packing, (the handle was already off), drilled and tapped a hole into the bronze valve then screwed the appropriate sized bolt into it. Grabbed the bolt with vise gripes and removed only the special valve leaving the housing in the ‘open’ position and allow the exhaust hose to remain attached. Why the manufacturer used an “Acme” bolt is beyond me. We now have a wooden plug on the outside of the boat to keep water from coming in when the engine is off. (We won’t sink) Very clever, that guy. An hour later he started the engine and we motored up the west coast of Tarawa atoll.

5 full days of perfect sailing; 18 hours of engine time out of Tuvalu;  4 hours getting around Tarawa and to the anchorage

The boat hummed along the 700 miles on the same tack, with only the one exciting hour of sail dousing, and tweaks of sails the remaining days.

We entered the pass at 2:00 p.m, an hour motor through the winding channel and by 3:00 we dropped anchor in 45′ of water amongst large steel skeletons, floating Asian fish canneries and rusty old wrecks on the reef.

Tired but still pumped with adrenaline we tidied the cabin, hung up the sunshades and gave our ritual high five, hugs and kisses for our AMAZING sail across the equator.

And yes, thanks for the emails, we did in fact see the incredible Super Moon.  An incredible view with a clear sky and billions of stars.   And it was on my birthday, perhaps a fortuitous year ahead.

Hello! How are You?!!

Summer is winding down in the states. We hope you had a wonderful summer,  the Fall Equinox  is around the corner. Our favorite time of year!

We’ve been asked the same question from our families and friends since we’ve been in American Samoa – “What’s Up?”  We’ve had several passage plans written in the sand, completed the chart downloads and sent off the country applications only to be washed away by the ongoing waves. Fiji timing came and went, Tonga destination is still under consideration, waiting to see what the weather and the timing of the cyclone season brings us.

So what else are we doing? Wellll, it’s pretty boring stuff working on the boat. We’ve gone through the entire boat cleaning sails, lines, polishing the stainless steel, digging through lazarettes. Cleaning the mold growing on the cabin interior, drawers, shoes and clothing; the humidity here is 99%, just shy of dripping off the ceiling. Discarded galley items we deemed useless, moldy books, old ratty and new clothes that are too hot to wear, bits of this and that. It’s truly amazing we filled several boxes and hauled it off the boat. The goal is to be able to sleep in our v-berth while in port, the salon bed is pretty cozy for the two of us on a regular basis. We spent 3 days between cleaning the dinghy bottom covered with algae and fouled with nasty green growth, and re-sewing the chewed up dinghy chaps. We scraped and polished it back to new.

The 3 year old 250’ anchor chain nearly corroded through a couple of links from using a stainless steel snubber hook, fortunately John caught that when we moved to the dock. Really bad news – it was in the middle of the chain. John cut out the rusty links and pounded in a joining link, took him about 2 hours in the hot sun on the dock using a ballpeen hammer and piece of steel. We used some bad advice cutting off 50’ of the new chain before we left Portland to reduce the bow weight. Next time we’ll bring a regular hammer too.

We purchased a lot of boat spares and routine maintenance items from home and had those delivered via USPS. And as always, one small routine maintenance turns out to be an add-on to some other issue that needs attention. The electric bilge pump gave out, the raw waterpump couldn’t be fixed, and the new laptop wouldn’t boot, and 3 of the Renogy flexible solar panels stopped working, along with several other typical maintenance items that are necessary to maintain a great sailing boat. A lot of island time, swearing and ranting, head scratching, and a flattened wallet, all is now taken care of.

So on to the good parts. We’ve done a 9 mile hike across the island ridgetop, hiked up to the refreshing waterfall,img_3392

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and had one day of snorkeling and feasting at a famous place called Tisa’s. We enjoyed the traditional Samoan Umu roast during the August Sturgeon full moon.img_3418

First the fire is built above ground, rocks are added, then layers of green banana leaves are laid on top. The meat and fish are wrapped in banana leaves, layers of taro root, pumpkin squash, and bananas are added;  tuna and octopus roasted in husked coconut shells,img_3425 with more layers of leaves and left to steam for several hours. Great food and fun with other cruisers.

John installed a cockpit table, it is wonderful to sit outside and eat at a table or work on the computers. It swivels 360 degrees on a swing arm and has adjustable height.  img_0875We purchased the same Lagun swivel arm and bracket mount that our friends on SV Sababa has. Thanks Tim and Lindsey for the great idea! The table is removable when underway.

Am Sam is a wonderful relaxing place to hang out, and the term “island time” really originated from this place. The family owned buses are on their own schedule, the food comes out when it is finally ready (and cold), even the airport is laid back. People are in no rush to be anywhere in particular.

There are several unpleasant facets to this island. I’m on my soapbox now. Trash is one of the biggest complaints. They just don’t seem to care enough. Styrofoam containers are used on top of serving plates, plastic utensils and cups are used – there isn’t a water shortage for cleaning, they just like the disposable system. The wind blows it all away.

The portion sizes are mind boggling! I asked for a $3.50 sundae, I got nearly a quart of ice cream topped with chocolate syrup, cherries, and whipped cream all overflowing from the container.img_20160909_125951 Of course it was served in a Styrofoam container on a plate layered with waxed paper. We stopped for a “quick” burger lunch the other day. A giant bun, ½ pound of meat, cheese, no lettuce available, large portion of crispy fires, a large scoop of macaroni salad and a coke. I overstuffed myself with 1/3 of the lunch. “Skinny Pelangy” (pelangy means white person) as John has been called by several people did manage to eat his entire meal but he needs to eat. The lady next to us ate her entire meal and shouldn’t have. It’s no wonder these people have the highest obesity rate in the world as they continue to gorge and enlarge; and they’re on our healthcare system! PUT DOWN THAT DAMN FORK! The poor kids are built like little building blocks with bags of chips and soft drinks glued to their sides. Boycott McDonalds, Carl’s Jr, Coke, Pepsi, and any other junk food producers. Tax the hell out of junk food.

If it wasn’t for the humidity, lousy anchorage and bugs, and expensive commute back to the states, we’d consider calling Am Samoa home 4 months out of the year. We enjoy the beautiful island and friendly community, the bus system, hiking, and limited shopping.

The timing of our projects and washed away sailing plans all worked out though. Our son is getting married in Maui this week so we flew in yesterday. It’s a nice vacation sitting here in the rented air conditioned condo with a comfy couch, king bed that doesn’t roll from side to side, 2 bathrooms with lots of  hot water, a regular oven, full size upright refrigerator with ice cubes pouring out, and neighbors who knocked on our door to hand over 3 bags of food including a large bottle of vodka. We’re taking advantage of the fast-fast wifi to update the new computer, complete more downloads of the North Pacific region for our upcoming journey.

Wonder if we’ll make Tonga, we’ll keep you posted. I promise!

Bora Bora to Suwarrow July 7 – July 15

Our passage was 700 miles, it should have taken us 5-6 days, 7 at most if we had very light winds. The first two days were very boisterous sailing conditions.  The wind was up to 25 kts and the seas kicked up to over 3 meters from the SE, breaking over our port quarter across the stern. At times we saw 10.7 kts on the speed log as we surfed down some of the larger waves. We had a triple reefed mainsail, reefed staysail and reefed Yankee down to 70% and sailed with a nice balance on the helm. We sailed 147 miles the first day despite the breaking waves. By the third day the SE wind lightened up and we cruised along at 130 miles a day, felt much better, our appetites had returned and got into a sleep pattern that gave us enough rest.

We had two glorious days and nights of velvety sailing, 15 kts of SSW steady wind, with mostly flat seas. The days were were spent reading and basking in the shaded cockpit watching the 1 meter seas roll by with full sails pulling us along at an easy 6 kts. By 8:00 p.m. the moon had already set allowing a full sky of stars and the intensely bright southern Milky Way.   The southern cross normally highly visible blended into the backdrop of the star maze. We even had a small meteor shower for a few hours. As tired as we were we couldn’t stop watching the night  sky.

On one of the fine sailing days, John looked out to the port side and jumped up as we watched a large 24″ diameter counter with solar power drift next to the boat. It was that same instant he looked back behind the boat to see that it was tethered to a large 6′ X 6′ floating 2″ tubular steel frame with net and buoy balls. It was a fish attraction shade, the counter sends a GPS coordinate to the fishing boats informing them the quantity of fish in the area. We had sailed directly over the top of it!  All we can say is we are so grateful for our full keel boat and the keel guard cover plate between the rudder and hull. Had we been a fin keel it could have wrapped around the fin,rudder and or propellor. Also we were sailing and the propellor wasn’t in danger of over wrap. Our lucky, lucky day! Later at anchor we were to see that our bottom paint was totally stripped off in a 3″ wide stripe from the cut water fitting (a fitting that holds the bow sprit to the hull of the boat) to the rudder. John barked at me to let go of the fishing hand line I was trying to save. I lost my lucky, favorite fish hand line, it hooked the net and took everything with a huge yanking snap. Better to lose the line than my fingers.

Alas, the weather constantly changes and we saw from our daily weather satellite and wind forecasts that a very large trough was moving on an easterly course,  well to our south, driving 40-45 kts of wind and large, tall seas  from Fiji to the Society Islands, Fr. Polynesia. We listened on the radio net to the group of boats bound for Tonga as they approached the front. We felt concerned for them but they were well seasoned sailors with good sturdy boats, at most they would lose their appetites and have a couple of sleepless nights.  We knew we wouldn’t get the full brunt of its fury as we were headed in a  more NW direction but wind and seas that large in strength have long tentacles. The wind picked up right on our NW  nose, 20-25 kts with short 6′ waves 3-5 seconds apart, looked like a giant washboard as we leapt and crashed over each white, angry wave. We were being pounded. The boat smashed bow down hard into the troughs, jarring every bone in our bodies, clanging dishes, books, and seat cushions were thrashing around down below. Walls of sea water splashed back well over the dodger and Bimini – (the sun cover over the cockpit), water was running down the walkways in a steady stream. We were drenched, there was no sitting down in the pools of water rushing down into our cockpit seating. The only saving grace – it wasn’t too cold and we didn’t need sunglasses.
We were close hauled – boat pointed as close to the wind direction as possible, headed in a  more NW direction. The sails were working as hard as they could, we were making only 1 kt of headway. We tried falling off the wind (point the boat in a different direction) but there were only 2 options: go south into stronger winds and bigger seas or go north away from our destination where the wind and seas weren’t any better. We started the engine and decided to motor to get through the front as quickly as possible. Mm-hmm, plans are wonderful fantasies! The first hour we bashed and crashed into the waves. The bow dipped, the stern rose up, growled as the propeller cavitation beat the water into a white foamy froth.  The second hour we called out “UNCLE”!  With 2000 rpm and sails, we were making only 2 kts of headway! Normally 2000 rpm will push us along at 5-6 kts, but not this day. A quick calculation said we would burn through all of our fuel in the remaining 119 miles of  our trip. Suwarrow Island doesn’t have fuel or provisioning supplies and there was another 450 mile leg to go after Suwarrow. Exhausted, hungry, achey, sticky with sea water, we shut the engine down and hove to -sails on opposite sides of the mast to stop forward motion and keeps the bow pointing toward the the waves.

Immediately the calm settled over us, relieved,  we shed our wet underwear and hid down below for nearly 23 hours. The wind and seas never took a break, the wind howled through the rigging as the wind and waves pushed us backwards nearly 57 miles! At noon the next day we looked at the conditions,  determined to gain back our distance we tried to sail due north. It took us 8 hours as we motor sailed 55 miles back to our original hove to position. Determination and logic dont always produce the desired results when you’re dealing with Mother Nature. We shut down and hove to again for another 12 hours. At 5:00 a.m. The wind had died down, we released the sails and slowly sailed at 3.5 kts towards Suwarrow. By noon the wind gradually picked back up to a steady 15 kts and we had a marvelous 20 hour sail to the welcoming entrance of Suwarrow.

Suwarrow Island : Atoll. Part of the northern Cook Islands, governed by New Zealand. Very remote atoll, only one entrance on the NE side. The wind was still blowing at 15 kts when we furled the headsails. The current wanted to push us closer to the reef so we carried a little extra speed and had the mainsail ready to rehoist should anything happen to the engine.  We monitored  both the Garmin chartplotter and I-Sailor app on the IPad to navigate over the reefs and winding channel, both systems were spot on. Not too bad, just pay attention.
Suwarrow selfie
The largest island known as Anchorage island is less than 1/2 mile across, about 2-3 miles in diameter. A Small anchorage is in front of the island in the atoll, but can hold as many as 20 boats before the anchorage becomes over 100′ deep.  SuwarrowThe finely crushed coral beach entices you to heaven with mature coconut trees overhanging the lagoon, shady areas along the beach have comfortable weather worn benches, a fire pit for bbqs, a large hammock made from fishing net, mountains of fascinating, colorful shells draw your attention to the ground, giant hermit crabs walk along unafraid. Aside from the wind blowing in the trees, ocean waves crashing on the distant reefs, the birds whooping in mid air,  there are no other sounds.
Suwarrow anchorage
There are several other small islands within the lagoon but due to the fragile ecosystem, it is no longer permissible to dinghy out to the other tiny  Motus/islands. Scuba diving has also been disallowed. We arrived amongst the company of 2 other boats, one of which followed us out of Bora Bora but because of the boat size, steel, tall freeboard bow and hull, large engine carrying 1,000 liters of fuel was able to motor the entire way. But despite Morild’s advantages, they were also delayed 24 hours to Suwarrow. We didn’t feel like such wieners after talking to them.

Harry and Pai, the very friendly Customs and Immigration officers radioed us and gave us a better location for anchoring than we had chosen. We motored to the back of the other 2 boats, dropped anchor in 55 feet, mostly bommie  free, white sand, with the usual welcoming committee of no less than 6 sharks circling us as we shutdown. We barely had time to get the cabin back in presentable order, put on some clothes and throw out the fenders before they arrived in their 20′ aluminum skiff. This was a first for us- not even in formal Mexico, Fr. Poly were we boarded. The inspection, fumigation – an aerosol can of bug killer sprayed through the air for 15 seconds, paperwork, payment of $50 took an hour. The only eyebrow raising was the fact we were carrying 24 cans of beer in addition to the abundant quantity of other spirits. HArry was very excited to receive a six pack to lighten our stores in exchange for 5 pounds of freshly caught yellow fin tuna.

Harry and Pai had gone fishing earlier that morning and caught 7, very beautiful  rainbow runner fish. I believe they may be part of the tuna family. About 26″ in length, weighing nearly 5 pounds each, Harry roasted them over the open BBQ pit. They served rice with coconut curry sauce while the yachties brought the other potluck food. A fabulous way to end a long tough sail, on a remote island with less than a dozen people, sitting under the stars, with a cooling breeze flowing across the lagoon. We carved out trenches in the sand, chose the biggest hermit crabs and had a humorous race watching the silly crabs claw their way forward. It was a truly magical evening on a very mystical island.
That day was worth every muscle ache, salty faced grimace and foul language moment, the sailing days we dream of, the idyllic anchorages and people, and why we continue on through the often times, ill tempered ocean.

The 5 days we spent in Suwarrow were spent paddle boarding and snorkeling across massive coral bommies  teeming with damsel fish, schools of multi colored parrot fish, other unidentifiable colorful  reef fish, strange looking eel creature, and sharks. One day the torrential rain blew in, we showered on deck, captured 25 gallons of rainwater, and hung our swimsuits out for the fresh water rinse. That felt really good as we had to conserve our fresh water for the next leg of the journey.
We lucked out and got to see the manta ray that come in for their 7:00 a.m. early morning cleaning. Small parasitic fish swim on top of the manta ray eating the algae and harmful parasites. We were fortunate, the other boats missed them. Unfortunately the 4′ grey shark took a special interest in my mass despite my growling and waving of limbs to make myself look bigger. Ooh, warm breakfast: rolls and ham hocks on that frame. I confined myself to the dinghy while John bravely continued to film the ray.
One day we had 15 black tip sharks circling the boat, rather a creepy feeling to watch their beady little eyes. They weren’t interested in my swishing fingers to get a close up picture.

The path to the north side of island is dense through the coconut trees, underbrush and mangrove bush. We fed the tuna skin and bone remains to the sharks in ankle deep water. It didn’t take long to have 6-7 sharks snapping and thrashing to catch the tasty morsels.  Hoping to see from where we sailed, we unfortunately were besieged with enormous amounts of trash. Here stretches the human impact on the  planet.  Plastic in every form from our highly civilized existence. John collected 7 toothbrushes within a 10 foot stretch of beach. Bottles, shoes, rope, netting, toys, everything and anything. Such a tragedy to see what we are leaving behind in our wake of free will and reign over the fish and mammals. We hung our heads in shame and silently circumnavigated the reef back to the lagoon.

We took pictures of the famous cabin and Living improvements that Tom Neale built during his stay alone on the island during 1957. Suwarrow RangersThe Rangers currently  live in an open A frame “house” complete with generator, lights and a freezer for their 7 month stay on the island. The kitchen is a separate area with some shelves for stores, dishes and a 2 burner propane camp stove. Their beds are in the open air, the picnic style table and benches share the same space. They catch rain water from the gutters, filing a 500 gallon cistern. When it rains they pull down the tarps that are nailed to the frame. A very simple, often times lonely existence – monitor the boats that are anchored and fish for their food.
Nothing else grows on the island except breadfruit and coconut. The coconut crabs are illegal to eat and fishing in the lagoon is prohibited. A good thing as it attracts the larger gray sharks.

As we checked out we left our departing gifts to our hosts.  A dozen eggs, 2 pampelmousse, and 2 additional beers. We were sad to leave this magnificent place, so pristine and different from south Fakarava.

The sail to American Samoa, a touch of home for the homesick sailors is next.

Some photos from Marqueses

diane on spiriton horses HOHorse riding on Hiva Oa along the mountain top. Overlooking the anchorage. 15 kilometer ride on “Spirit” – Diane’s horse, and “Wallis” – John’s fast horse. Highly spirited horses from Chilean decent. Exhilarating, scary, down muddy jungle canyons and steep ridge tops. Horses were very sure-footed and loved to gallop.

John trying to reign Wallis for the photo almost backed him of the edge.

 

 

 

drum at churchWe rented a 4×4 for a day with buddy boat Athanor. We stopped at a village church and wandered into a vacant classroom. Loved the drum at the head of the class. It had an amazing rich sound.

 

After getting lost and driving all over Hiva Oa, it turned into a quest to find the “Smiling Tiki”. smiling tikiLate in the day after talking to a few different locals, we finally found the right trail. We missed a fork in the trail and walked through ankle deep muck to end up at a pig farm. Backtracked one more time and found it just before dark.

 

The Passage From Mexico

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!

Hiva Oa Marqueses

There is so much to write about: THE Passage including footnotes from Other PPJ’s and Their Passages – Makes it look like our passage was a picnic; and Fun Days and Adventures for Konami Crew. But let’s start with the beautiful and mostly – Land of Paradise.
Hiva Oa is a beautiful, paradise setting very similar to Hawaii in landscape, everything is green and lush. The small village Atuona is about 2 miles away, a very easy walk on the nicely maintained highway if you’re not carrying backpacks and packs of provisions. Giant banyan trees, forests of banana trees, wild Thai chili pepper, loaded down coconut, pamplemousse (giant grapefruit), guauva, and papaya trees grow across the mountainsides down to the roads edge. Lime trees with shiny green leaves loaded with golf-balled limes, breadfruit trees with broad leaves provided shade from the beating sun and heated pavement. Hibiscus, gardenia, and ginger fill the air with euphoric scents, even out to the anchorage when the offshore breeze blows. We would stand in one spot and inhale deeply. Various birds, bugs, animals but no snakes. Rivers and creeks. The mountain ranges are steep, rocky and treacherous and covered in banyan trees. The highest peak is always in the rain clouds – it’s the rainy season now. When the heavy downpours end we can look up at the mountain peak and see 6 or 7 waterfalls dropping nearly 500 feet or more, and it’s a long distance to the peak from the anchorage. That is a lot of water flowing!
The first thing we bought was a baguette and fresh brie cheese. It was so delicious it brought on a voracious appetite for more food, mostly for crispy, crunchy green veggies that we haven’t had for more than 2 weeks during passage. It took a few days to find green veggies and it’s limited in variety. Chinese green beans, seedy cucumbers, eggplant, chives, onions were about it. Prices? Some of it was no more expensive than US prices during off season shopping, about $1.50/pound. But 3 golf ball sized tomatoes cost us $0.95; 1 small carrots (not pounds) was $0.92. I picked up a stalk of celery and didn’t realize we paid a whopping $6.76 for it until we got back. Where was this grown? Looked at the wrapper – Salinas, California! We decided to idolize it first, take pictures and then eat every bit of it including the dirty root. We didn’t feel so badly about the expensive celery when our buddy boat Sababa purchased a pound of grapes for $17.00 !!! . Nice fresh eggs imported from Tahiti is about $4.94. Hunks of fresh caught yellow fin Tuna is $2.50/pound. We feasted on sashimi for a couple of days.
I provisioned well in Mexico, especially for expensive items in FP such as powder milk, booze, rice, Kraft mac & cheese, salami and packaged meat. Coconut milk is SO cheap in Mexico, but trying to be practical about weight, I figured why carry coconut milk across the Pacific when we’re going to the “Land of Coconuts”? I found canned coconut milk imported from Thailand for $1.80 a can. Fresh coconut cream brought in from Tahiti is $12.00/liter. So we’re down to drinking water downed fruit juices from Mexico. There are no fresh fruit juices sold in the store, not even coconut water – only water-sugar- fruit juices that cost $6.00 per liter. WTH.
The anchorage area is crowded in the peak cruising season – April thru’ June. Boats are crowded in with bow and stern anchors, some boats parking on one another’s anchors – a real fiasco when wanting to up anchor and depart. Sharks swim around with the manta rays and a group of spotted rays, too bad the water is so filthy from mountain runoff and boat scum. We try to be very careful about dumping dish soap, and with the composting head, we aren’t adding to the sewage discharge. The dinghy dock is just a concrete platform that is extremely slippery and hazardous when the swell drives the dinghies under the platform – scrapping and gouging it. The first week we were here three dinghies slipped under the platform and popped. The swell is big and at high tide the water washes up over the platform creating a strong backflow. A local had to come down and hang onto me to keep me from being washed out into the anchorage. Getting back into the dinghy is a hyper extension leg stretch with back bending twist trick. On one occasion the dinghy was swept too far from the dock and I was left hanging 5′ below the platform hanging onto just the rope and a concrete post. Fortunately, abled-bodied Capt John leapt forward and grabbed me around the waist pulling me back into the rolling dinghy just as I started to lose my grip (literally too). I nearly cried from fright!
We catch rain water when we remember to set up the system at night. It rains nearly every night, a very cool breeze sweeps down and brings the refreshing rain. The water is clean enough if it hasn’t rain too much to wash down the sediment. We have an external filter to remove sediment and then treat the water with a chlorine solution. The boat is clean, the cushions get washed. We, on the other hand reek! The humidity is stifling, we sweat profusely and even after showering and washing laundry in the mineral rich river runoff, our clothes can’t dry in the humidity so we wear damp clothes all the time. Our clothes will have to be thrown away when we get back. We have grown accustomed to smelling like a horse, the other cruisers smell too, some of them like wild goats. It’s a zoo smell so we all get along and are happy little cruisers with drinks in our hands starting right after lunch.
Cruising life is hard at times. It takes a lot of physical strength and energy just to maintain upright stability on the boat in the rolling swells. The heat and humidity zaps our energy, we walk over 4 miles to get food, wifi is nil, and when we have weak wifi – the fokking (a new word we learned from the Irish cruiser) computer battery dies. The solar is at half output because of the clouds so we fiddle with the solar panels all day, shut down the fans and fridge to conserve power. It takes guts to land the dinghy and with the last few scary incidents we limit our shore excursions. The latest scary story is the shark biting someone’s dinghy oar. (Note to self: don’t fall in the water!) The bank shut off our bank cards for nearly 5 days, thank heavens for my brilliant sister and her tenacity, we now have purchasing power. The diesel is cheap with the duty-free discount – $2.78/gal., otherwise it’s nearly $5.00/gal. We used an agent to check into FP that cost us $260 but with the fuel discount good anywhere in FP and for our 90 day stay, it just about pays for itself.
We’re off to Tahuata, a small island southwest of Hiva Oa where the water is blue and clean, we will see the bottom 35 feet below us. There is a beach, we can swim without lurking sharks and fewer boats. No water or food in the anchorage, some coconut trees on shore. We’re stocked up with fresh fruits from a farm on Hiva Oa, lots of baguettes and 2 large hunks of creamy brie cheese.

Adventures to Puerto Vallarta

Girlfriend Lou arrived from Portland with a bag of goodies and a nice bottle of bourbon for us. We spent a couple of days in Mazatlan highlighting some of our favorite areas, stocked up the fridge and prepped the boat for a 3 day passage to PV.

We departed at 5:00 p.m for an 85 nm passage to Isla Isabella. The island is less than half a mile wide and about three-quarters of a mile in length. It was made a National Park in the 1980s, and it has been called the “Galapagos” of Mexico. Isla Isabel is a major breeding and nesting area for frigate birds brown boobies and blue-footed boobies, which are all very tame.

It was wonderful to have Lou on watch with me, John was able to get about 5 hours of sleep. When we arrived at the anchorage there were 3 boats and that was a crowd. The entry has 2 large submerged rocks and we couldn’t take any chances especially with large swells driving in crashing waves. We motored back to the east side hoping to day anchor but the only spot had lobster pots planted directly in our desired depth. The waves were large and crashing on the beach, there was no way we could’ve landed the dinghy there either. Disappointed, we departed for Matanchen Bay, 40 nautical miles away, about 5 miles SE of San Blas, Nayarit.
All was well in the cockpit, John went down for a nap, Lou was reading. All of a sudden something very large appeared along my side of the boat. I immediately lunged for the transmission lever yelling “WHALE” pushing us into neutral. Startled Lou jumped up and yelled “What’s wrong?” and I again yelled “It’s a  whale, whale”! It continued to slide out from under the bow, touching the boat and it was damn scary! They come in pairs, they breach, blow lots of water, they could get mad! Only it wasn’t a grey whale, and when you haven’t seen a strange creature before your brain goes to warp speed, trying equate it to something – it’s a sea monster!! About 30′ in length, nearly the length of Konami, white and brown with spots, and had a large head shaped like a square shovel. Lou and I were speechless, imagine that.
Hearing my “whale” shout, sleepy John figured it was too late to see anything, came into the cockpit just as we passed it. We believe it wasn’t injured, as it continued to float on the surface, its  3′ pointed fin tail began to wave back and forth. It didn’t really move very fast. My heart rate and breathing went back to normal and we slowly throttled up and watched for several minutes looking for any other whale sharks in our path.
Whale sharks actually float on the surface skimming the water for plankton according to the ocean mammal book.
We arrived at Matanchen Bay, dropped anchor in calm water, enjoyed a great swim and wonderful dinner in the cockpit with a beautiful sunset.

The next morning we departed for Chacala Bay, again we motored in calm winds. Dropped anchor in 28′ depth, the swells were coming out of the west right into the bay. Konami hobby horsed, rocked and bounced, and I didn’t feel comfortable enough to leave the boat unattended to go ashore. We swam in warm water and enjoyed another beautiful sunset. Since the weather forecast was for lots of wind and steep seas near the Punta Mita point where we were headed, we decided to leave out at 1:00 a.m and run into Banderas Bay, about a 12 hour passage. We didn’t get any sleep as the wind shifted, and Konami went sideways to the large swells. Roll from side to side, pitch up, roll the opposite direction, pivot and pitch down. The half moon helped us out motor out, and of course a motor ride with light winds, confused chop and short seconds in the beginning. Roll this way, roll that way, slap and bang.
By mid afternoon the winds and swell died down, and we caught a perfect size skip jack tuna. Just as we finished cleaning the fish and got settled with the line back in the water, the bow of the boat hooked the line to the a flagged pot about 200′ off to the right. John threw the boat into neutral, ran forward and grabbed the boat pole to unhook it and watched it slip from under the boat just as we realized that our 60′ fishing line was still in the water! Sure enough, our fish hook caught the pot’s line. Another “oh crap”.  We were lucky it wasn’t a heavy line that could’ve wrapped around our prop. One more exciting moment in a mind numbing motor ride.

About 2 hours prior to rounding Punta Mita, the sea built back up 5 knots of wind  and 6′ waves, just enough to make it uncomfortable. We passed between the Marietta island and Point into beautiful sailing conditions. 10 – 15 knots of wind coming from our aft quarter, the waves smoothed out and Konami responded immediately to her sails. We sailed across Banderas Bay bound for the La Cruz marina 10 miles away.
Just as we finished dropping sails a manta ray with a 7′ wing span was gracefully swimming 15′ from the boat. We watched in awe as it swam away. A beautiful ending to a 3 day motoring adventure.

The La Cruz marina is a cruiser’s paradise. It has all the desired amenities, superbly clean, the beaches nearby are fantastic and perfect for sunbathing. The town is quaint with nice cafes serving eclectic food, shops and a great bus service. We had 2 fun days with Lou in La Cruz before she departed. It was wonderful to have a friend visit, a peace of home with us.

Mazatlan – Part 2

I thought I’d have pictures ready to upload but somehow time flies by and the wifi is either down or overloaded with frustrated users.  Maybe at midnight. So here’s the second part sans pics.

The snowbirds are so attracted to Mazatlan!  The beaches, the incredibly beautiful Cathedral of Immaculate Conception completed in 1880, the Mercado plaza in historic central, street vendors, music blaring from every store front, throngs of people shuffling down the sidewalks, and shopping at the modern, upscale Gran Plaza mall attract visitors.  We met so many Gringos who migrate from the cold US winters that have condos or rented apartments here, they do look so happy!

Restaurants cater to the foreigners’ food tastes or you can enjoy a very cheap, authentic local meal from a vendor cart on the street corner. Iron stomach John indulges in large quantities of cart cuisine without consequence. Having had my fair share of “tourista” (upset stomach), I tend to eat very plain food. “No mayo, crema or cheese por favour”, and carry extra packets of Pepto Bismal and Imodium at all times!

The old marina was a 10 minute bus ride or within 20 minutes walking distance. The quickest transportation was the “Pulmonia”. Chopped up, open Volkswagen cars that keep you hanging on to the side supports as they zip through the traffic and narrow streets listening to blaring music. Cheap thrill ride for an average cost of $3 to cross the city.
The sidewalks here are no better than LaPaz, but it’s a fun hike through the city, greeted by the locals with a cheerful “Bueno Diez”. The historical center plaza – “Machado” is defined by the cathedral with park setting surrounding it for a couple of blocks.  The fresh food and clothing shopping center “the Mercado” covers several blocks. In the enclosed Mercado – you find specific meat stands with butchers standing ready to slice to order – fish,chicken, beef, or pork. Multiple fruit and vegetable stands, cheese and butter, bakery goods, canned food stalls, lunch counters, and cheap clothing. It’s crowded, filled with different smells, noisy and very colorful, much like the Pike Place Market in Seattle. The food is very fresh, though cheaper compared to the US public markets. A fun place to hang out and people watch for hours.

The beaches are mesmerizing blue, it’s warm and inviting. Across the street are restaurants, shops, and roaming sun weathered vendors wanting to sell various trinkets and cheap jewelry. You get accustomed to saying “no gracias” without feeling guilty. Our favorite lunch cafe was on the malecon along the beach front. We met up with Dan and Tammy on several occasions for lunch, Puerto Viejo cafe became our favorite eatery. They had the cheapest, frosty glass draft beer on tap in all of Mexico, and delicious food!

Interesting that the sailing community is considerably smaller than LaPaz and Puerto Vallarta. Perhaps it’s too far north for the Pacific Puddle Jumpers (boats that depart for the So Pacific) or the newer marina entrance is too difficult to go in and out for day sails. Whatever the reason, most of the sailboats that come in are stop overs bound for Puerto Vallarta (PV) and beyond. And there are the ex-pats living on their boats that found Mazatlan too enticing to travel on, they have weathered with their boats.

Our days were filled with going in to the city for movies, museum, architectural viewing, looking for places that sold boat parts, water filters, chain, and other misc. hardware and grocery shopping, and eating. Never did find most of our boat parts, so we’d stop for beer instead.  On to PV for the boat parts.

We waited for our friend Lou to show up and departed Mazatlan for a 3 day passage to PV. Our plan was to visit Isla Isabella, Chacala Bay and round the Point at Punta Mita into Banderas Bay. Sailing and weather don’t always follow “the plan”!