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We made it! We dropped our anchor in Fatu Hiva this afternoon, and we settled in now. We left Santa Cruz, Galapagos on April 7th. That makes our passage 18.99 days long (David would be upset if I rounded up!). We averaged 6.84 knots and covered 3,142 nautical miles.
Watch Our Video of Sailing Across the Pacific
Pacific Crossing Sailing Journal
Apr 9th: A Mixed Bag
I would have to say that these past 36 hours or so have seen the most varied weather conditions we’ve ever had to start out a passage. Here are the highlights:
– Winds 15 knots faster than forecasted
– Winds 10 knots lower than forecasted
– True wind speeds of less than 5 knots
– True wind speeds of over 30 knots
– The wind was coming from the northeast, rather than the forecasted southeast
– Continuous squalls for the last 24 hours (including a massive 5-hour storm which we’re still in)
– Confused waves coming from multiple directions thanks to squalls and shifting front lines – A bit of lightning thrown in for good measure
As you can imagine, this has made finding the sailing groove a bit tricky. We’ve constantly been adjusting course and the sails to try and keep them filled and sail as much as possible. Unfortunately, there’s just not a lot you can do when the true wind speeds drop below 5 knots. The good news is that the trade winds appear to be pretty strong, though we apparently have to keep making our way south and get through these storms in order to find them!
Apr 10th: Route planning
Written by David
Perhaps the biggest mystery to me that still remains about open ocean sailing is proper route planning/tactics. It is like an art form that the creative side of my brain struggles to grasp. We have enough miles under our keels that I have a relatively good idea how Starry Horizons performs in a variety of conditions, and I think we’ve proven that we’re at least capable of sailing from Point A to Point B.
But getting there in the most efficient manner possible… That’s the real trick.
We chose to cut our time in the Galapagos a bit short because a fairly decent weather window seemed to be opening up for us. The forecasts were indicating that the trade winds could be found around 3 degrees South latitude, which is fairly high for the doldrums, and that there was some decent wind speed. Given that this is an El Nino year, characterized by fairly light trade winds, we figured this sounded pretty good, so we left.
Our plan was to head almost due south to find the trade winds around 3 degrees latitude, at which point the forecasts showed that the winds would be out of the southeast, and we could point almost directly towards French Polynesia. Everything started out well, and we actually were able to sail much more than I thought coming out of the Galapagos. With a bit of motor sailing overnight and into Friday, we were exactly where I wanted to be when I wanted to be there.
Except the wind wasn’t there to greet us.
Turns out, the forecast had changed. Now instead of the trade winds filling in at 3 deg South, they were supposed to fill in at 4 deg South.
Except they didn’t.
What we found instead was almost a day and a half of storms that ushered us through the convergence zone. We tried to make our way west as much as possible, but the winds didn’t really cooperate. Instead, we just had to bite the bullet and head further south until the trade winds finally filled in. It isn’t particularly fun watching your VMG (velocity made good) dip to less than 1 knot, but we didn’t really have much of any other choice.
Fortunately, I’m pleased to report that the trade winds eventually did fill in this morning around 4 am (famous last words I know) so we’re at least making good progress west now. I was slightly mollified to discover another sailboat on AIS, s/v Blue Raven, emerging into the trades about the same time we did. They left the Galapagos slightly before us, so at least I’m not the only one who chose this route.
Now I am just hoping that the winds stay with us for the rest of our passage and our route planning stays simple: sail straight to the Marquesas.
Apr 13th: Attack of the flying fish
Written by Amy
As I type this email up, I am sitting at our main salon table. It’s two am, and I heard a thunk with a bunch of slapping noises. I hollered at David, who was already up for his shift (but now that’s I’ve hollered, he’s WIDE awake). I thought a flying fish landed on the deck and needed rescuing. NO, the dang thing actually made it through our forward hatch and onto the shelf behind the couch and was flopping around behind me. Don’t worry, I grabbed him and tossed him overboard – I think he lived, but now our salon smells like fish.
The passage has been going pretty well. We have found the tradewinds, and are in a nice band of 20 knots expected to last as far as our GRIB file goes – till Tuesday. We’ve had rain and clouds for the past few days, but yesterday was actually quite sunny.
We’ve gotten into the groove of things. I have my shift from 7 pm – 2 am, then David takes over and I sleep until about 10 am. David gets a nap in the morning, and then we both relax together in the afternoon. It takes a few days for me to be able to sleep that late, otherwise, I have to nap in the afternoon, but I like it much better when I don’t need to nap – I get to spend time with David!
We have had one bit of excitement – David noticed some chafing in our main halyard, where the mainsail head block sits. Unfortunately, that meant David had to go up the mast – twice – while out at sea. He’s pretty banged up from it, with bruises on his arms, chest, and back. Good thing he’s young and spry! He cut the halyard line and re-attached to the top of the mast, and it seems to be working fine, although now his reef point markings are all screwed up.
For the first time, we’ve been chatting with a neighbor boat, Blue Raven. They were anchored near us in Santa Cruz, Galapagos, although we haven’t met them. They left the same day we did and have been on our AIS (within 10 miles of us) on and off for at least half the trip. We’ve chatted with them every day on the VHF, and I hope we get to meet them in the Marquesas. They are a family of four, New Zealand flagged, and have been cruising for 2 years. A lot of cruisers organize a buddy boat with other cruisers, and this is almost like an unplanned buddy boat. We are also finding that we wish we had an SSB. There is a net every day for people crossing the Pacific, but since we don’t have an SSB we have to sit it out. Maybe we’ll try to get one in New Zealand.
We’ve had flying fish and squid suicide on our decks all along the trip and most of them don’t get noticed until it’s too late. We landed our first Mahi Mahi on the 12th and had some delicious ceviche the next night for dinner. Good thing I stocked up on tortilla chips, limes, and red onions! The next day, we had a sailfish bite, and David put all the tension on the line and it was still paying out! Fortunately, the line snapped, so we didn’t lose our rod, but we did lose the lure. But once again – I’m not sure we want to land a giant sport fish – although Tasha and Ryan on Cheeky Monkey recently landed (and ate) one.
Julie, David’s sister, has been emailing us the comments on our blog and facebook page, so it’s been really nice to hear from everyone who’s reading and keeping up with us. As for entertainment, I’ve been reading up a storm!! I checked out 10 digital books from the library before we left the Galapagos (the maximum allowed) and have read 7 of them already. Good thing we have a big library of kindle books to fall back on.
I can’t seem to put down the guide to French Polynesia. David and I talked about how our 26-day Atlantic crossing was an end goal of Miami. Not to knock Miami, but we’d been there. This passage is shorter, but in the end, we have French Polynesia to be all excited about. It makes a difference!
Apr 16th: Halfway Baby
Written by David
This morning we hit a big milestone in our crossing, halfway! Not only is this another tangible sign of progress, but Amy has some Nutella stashed somewhere hidden on the boat (I’d be upset about the apparent lack of trust, but she does know about my sweet tooth) and we’re both pretty excited to have some as a celebration.
Other than the main halyard chaffing issue, the bruises from which are just finally starting to go away, and all the flying fish attacks, I’ve been exceptionally pleased with our progress so far. Here are some of the highlights:
-Overall Speed Over Ground (SOG): 7.35
-Average NM per Day: 176.33
-Average SOG over the last 4 days: 7.71 (185nm/day)
-Highest SOG: 13.9 (surfing down a wave)
-Engine Hours: 46.4
-Generator Hours: 9.7
-Remaining Fuel: approx 135 gallons
-Boats Seen: 1 (s/v Blue Raven)
We’ve been incredibly lucky with the wind once we got far enough south for the tradewinds to really fill in. The last 4 and a half days have seen us on a deep broad reach with apparent winds between 15-20 knots. That means one reef in the main and we’ve been reefing the genoa as needed. This setup has kept us within a few degrees of exactly where we want to go, so our VMG has been fantastic. Winds a bit more from the south and averaging AWS of 15 knots would allow us to probably go even faster (with full main and screecher) as the surfing and sliding down waves has likely kept us from getting closer to 200nm per day. However, that is just being picky.
We had about two and a half days of light winds coming from weird directions as we made our way through the convergence zone and that accounted for the bulk of our motoring. Anytime our speed fell under 5 knots, an engine came on. The rest of the time has been for battery charging. We’ve made water twice and that accounts for the generator hours.
Given that this is an El Nino year, which is typically characterized by light winds, I’ve been thanking our lucky stars for the amount of wind we’ve had so far. Or perhaps Neptune was appeased by our equator crossing ceremony. Who knows? Either way, I’m thrilled to be halfway!
Apr 18th: Now Comes the Hard Part
Written by David
Well, I knew it wouldn’t be all this easy… We’ve enjoyed pretty much ideal conditions so far on our crossing, but that appears like it will be changing. The winds have started their shift to come straight out of the East. We have done quite a bit of wing on wing sailing before, especially during our Atlantic crossing, and even though that configuration isn’t all that fast, it is easy.
Unfortunately, the shift in the wind looks like it will be accompanied by a decrease in the wind. Instead of the 18-22 knots of true wind that we had been seeing, the next week looks more like 10-15. Going dead downwind in those conditions is very slow, and moving off to sail at a broad reach would add a lot of miles to the trip. We’re going to have to do to a lot of playing with the sails to figure out what will be the fastest.
In other news, we have a ship “sighting” this morning. At least I think it counts if we can see it on AIS. They’re beyond visual range but in this age of electronics, it still qualifies. Also, we had some UFO’s visit us last night in the form of birds flying around. They reflect the light from our Navigation Lights and it was rather disconcerting until we figured out what was happening. I just can’t believe that there are birds, and not big ones, over 1,200 miles from land in any direction. They’d be welcome to land on deck and take a breather, just as long as they don’t try for the top of the mast like those damn frigates did on the way to the Galapagos.
Apr 20th: Ode to Spreadsheets Part 2
Written by David
Way back at the beginning of our blog, I wrote a quaint little post discussing how I was using spreadsheets to keep track of all the options and decisions we had to make during the build process of Starry Horizons. (As a side note, it is absolutely stunning to me that we signed the contract for SH over 2 and a half years ago at the Annapolis Boat Show!!!) Well, since that time, I may have a few thousand more miles of ocean sailing experience and know 1,000x times more about boat repair than I did, but you still can’t take the spreadsheet loving financial analyst out of me.
Long passages like this leave you with an abundance of time. Trimming the sails only takes so much of that time, especially when the winds are the exact same direction and almost the exact same speed for days on end. So we must find ways to spend the rest of our time. Amy is perhaps the most voracious reader I’ve ever met and has been churning through novel-length books in about the same time it’d take me to a read a Clifford the Big Red Dog children’s book.
Rather than compete with her growing stack of completed books (well… they’re all on Kindle, but I always appreciate the visual reference) I decided to let free my inner analyst and build out a spreadsheet model.
Now, this isn’t just any old model, this one is about boats, which makes it extra special (and cool if we’re being honest). For our Atlantic Crossing, I built a very basic spreadsheet to keep track of how many miles we sailed each day, calculating our average Speed Over Ground, as well as a way to keep track of how much fuel we were using. On this passage, I’ve taken that spreadsheet and expanded its functionality. It can now:
-Calculate ETA’s based on our Current SOG as well as our overall passage Average SOG
-Calculate the Velocity Made Good we must average in order to arrive at a certain point in time
-Take this calculated VMG and use an estimate for hours of motoring/speed motoring to calculate how fast we’d need to sail for the rest of the day in order to average out at that VMG (useful for when the winds are light)
-Calculate our current Fuel Level based on average fuel consumptions of our engines/genset
-Calculate how many hours we can motor/use our generator based on that fuel level
I also went back and consolidated information from prior passages so that we can now compare Passage SOGs, the Average NM sailed each day, the Total NMs of each passage, and the Length of each passage. For those of you who are curious, our fastest passage was from Grenada-Panama at 7.45 knots, our slowest was Maine-Bermuda at 6.22 knots (spent 2 days going extremely slow to arrive during daylight) and our longest passage was the Atlantic Crossing at 4,146nm and 25.65 days.
It certainly isn’t all that pretty to look at (yet) but it is certainly proving quite useful and my inner analyst will be satisfied for a bit longer. Man, I love data.
Apr 23rd: West Bound Milestones
Written by David
It hit me on this passage that we are actually sailing west again. Pretty much since we left the Bahamas, we’ve been sailing North, East or South, with a tiny bit of West mixed in. But now we’re back to crossing time zones, watching the sun come up later and later and requiring us to adjust our clocks as we see fit. This is pretty obvious proof of our westward direction, but I finally realized something else this morning.
We are finally further west than the furthest edge of the continental United States.
Actually, we passed that point about 275 miles ago, but it took me this long to notice since I usually focus on very small portions of the charts for the purposes of navigating and tracking weather. Regardless, it’s pretty cool to think that we have sailed the entire distance East to West of the US, as well as almost the entire distance South to North (we missed the furthest point north by 170 miles while we were in Canada).
I’ll bet not a lot of other boats out here can say that, and to be honest, it makes me feel pretty proud of what we’ve accomplished. We’ve got a lot more milestones ahead of us, but for now, we’ll savor this one.
Apr 25th: Decisions, Decisions
Written by David
This is the time in the passage where you have to make some hard decisions. With how slow we’d been going due to the light winds recently, we had been pushing back our expected arrival to some time on the 27th. However, we got a slight reprieve and actually had some wind (like 15 knots) over the last 30ish hours. So many thanks to those of you wishing for more wind and doing ancient wind dances!
That meant we were able to cover significantly more miles than I was anticipating and has put us in striking distance to be able to arrive by sunset on the 26th. Here’s how the math works out:
We have a bit under 200 miles to go.
To arrive by 7 pm (sunset) on the 26th, we have to average 5.67 knots. To arrive by 7 am (sunrise) on the 27th, we have to average 4.25 knots.
To arrive by 1:40 pm (the start of our 20th day at sea) on the 27th, we have to average 3.73 knots.
The forecasts look like we’ll be lucky to see 11 knots of wind (straight from behind us) for the rest of our trip, so trying to sail will be slow. Even with that amount of wind, we should be able to sail an average of 3.73 knots, but that is painfully slow (It works out to about a 14 min/mile pace so you could literally run faster!). When you factor in the amount of time we need to spend motoring to charge our batteries, we should be able to average the 4.25 knots needed to arrive after sunrise.
However, to arrive by sunset on the 26th, we’d need to motor/motorsail perhaps 2x as long as is necessary to charge our batteries. We’ve done pretty awesome with fuel usage so far and have just a bit under 3/4 of a tank left (thanks to our 50-gallon fuel bladder and some jerry cans) so we could easily motor the rest of the way and still have plenty of diesel remaining.
The honest truth is I’m pretty frustrated by these slow winds, so I think the extra diesel usage will be well worth saving my sanity. Sunset arrival on the 26th, here we come!
There are 10 boats here in the Bay of Virgins, and we plan on staying for two nights only. Tomorrow we will hike to the waterfall, and then on Thursday we will leave to sail to Hiva Oa.
Thanks for everyone’s comments while we’ve been out at sea and especially thanks to Julie for passing all those comments along.
Glad to sleep in the same bed with David tonight, glad to be setting foot on land tomorrow.