Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fair weather in Fatu Hiva

We arrived in Fatu Hiva and our jaws dropped. The Bay of Virgins (formerly Bay of Phalli) was both breathtaking and crowded. We dropped anchor, closer to the rocks than seemed comfortable, and added to its numbers – 12 boats altogether, huddled in a niche between towering phalli – er, spires. We became comfortable with our anchorage, and appreciated the unobscured view it afforded, but had to tiptoe around other boats and their anchors to get there. Every evening at sunset the bay glowed golden-red. It was almost unnatural, that glow.

There’s not much there but the little village of Hanavave, with its mini minimart and its church (the bells ring every day at 5pm to invite the villagers to evening prayer. It seems only the women attend.) We explored the little village, greeting and being greeted at every corner by the friendly locals, stray cats, “wild” chickens and tethered dogs. Most of the animals were in some need of medical attention, but the first, most obvious candidate for our interventions was a young, pregnant cat belonging to the local policeman with whom we’d checked in. She was walking around with a fishhook impaled in her paw, though the policeman most decidedly didn’t care. First off he offered to give her to us (he had 11 cats roaming around his place – and the number had grown to 12 before we left Fatu Hiva, with the birth of another kitten). We told him we’d be back with medical supplies, and didn’t give him the option to decline. So, we returned and got the job done, surrounded by and audience of children who were eager to help. The kids were friendly, but strangely silent.

Next on our walk we met an outgoing local woman, Desirée, who showed us the recently abandoned, week-old kittens she was trying to care for. Later that afternoon we brought kitten milk replacer and a make-shift nipple (fashioned out of a latex glove) for her to nurse them with. There we encountered a couple men (Jacques and Roland) with whom we had earlier traded for fish. They encouraged us to sit and chat awhile, offering us wine and regaling us, in pidgin French, with old wives’ tales and theories about their Marquesan heritage.

For example: It is commonly accepted that the Marquesan ancestors were much larger in physique than their modern counterparts. Why should this be? In older times youths under 18 were not allowed to engage in any substantial labor – couldn’t lift or carry stones bigger than a fist. This allowed them to grow larger, of course. Now that modern Marquesans work and toil from a younger age, they are stunted by the loads they heft. Stands to reason, no?
I gave Desirée a lesson on stimulating kittens to pee (they were fascinated by this) and, before we left, we were loaded up with fruit and given an invitation to Roland’s house the next morning.
At Roland’s place we were treated to a grand lunch of flame-grilled fish and pork (from a boar he had hunted), poisson cru (Polynesian-style ceviche), fire-roasted bread fruit and rice. We met his kids (Mélissa, age 8, and twins Cécilia and Roland Jr., age 4), who were happy to have the play dough we had brought for the occasion. I examined his kittens (healthy but, strangely, tethered to a tree) and his pregnant dog, and we visited. After lunch we took a walk to the river so the kids could bathe and play, and learned about the legend of the eels that inhabit the rivers here. The kids were delighted to see themselves on camera, so I took lots of video footage of their river antics.

As we were heading back to our dinghy we were approached by a local woman (Thérèse) who explained that her dog was aggressive and asked if I could castrate him (word had traveled that I’m a vet). We promised to see him the next morning.

Back in the bay we met Daryl (from Liberty Call), an American single-hander who had just made landfall after a 29-day passage from the Galapagos. As our boat was obscuring his otherwise unblemished view of the bay’s rocky phalli as he was taking photos, he offered us a bunch of pictures of Pangaea in the foreground of this lovely tropical bay. We made out well on a book swap, too.

The next morning we took a bunch of gear (surgical instruments sterilized in our pressure cooker, what drugs I have on hand, etc) and found Thérèse’s house. We met “Rex,” who really is friendly in an over-enthusiastic, pent-up way (he lives on a tether). But as soon as we’d try to exert any degree of control over him he’d lunge and threaten to bite. Ben had a way with him and earned a wee bit of trust, but it required two injections of sedatives, and finally some man-handling restraint to give him an IV injection. It took 45 minutes and two men (and me) to get ourselves to this point. Once he was out the rest of the procedure went smoothly. We were watched by a couple neighbors and a passer-by who himself castrates adult male dogs by stuffing them in a sack. He wanted to see my technique, and may have been disappointed that no sack was involved. We were sent home with more fruit (by now we’re drowning in bananas), fish and bread.

We then met up with Roland and the kids and took them to the boat. Roland explained that the kids had been buzzing with excitement all morning for this little excursion). We gave them copies of the pictures we’d taken the day before, accepted more fruit gifts, and gave them a tour. After a short time of play and excitement, Mélissa threw up and all three became subdued by motion sickness (even though we weren’t actually moving). After our visit we sent them home with a headlamp, 2 tupperwares, fingernail polish for Roland’s wife, colored pencils and a pair of sunglasses. You’ve probably gotten the gist that money is seldom used on Fatu Hiva – trades are preferred.

We left Fatu Hiva the next day with a boat full of fish (delicious Wahoo), lemons, limes, pamplemousse, guavas, pommes verts, bananas, bread fruit, coconuts, guava jam and 2 baguettes. And here we experienced a change in plans. We were planning to visit other islands (Tahuata, Ua Pou and Ua Huka) but Ben just had to check his email, only to discover that his presence was required in China to check on an important production stage of the new, little version of the Flying Tiger. We knew he’d have to make a trip but didn’t expect he’d have to go so soon. We made a bee-line back to Nuku Hiva so he could make arrangements to fly out. So, here I am, hanging out back in Taiohae Bay. Ben left a couple days ago for the 3-day trek to China (via LA, of all places, and with a one-day layover in Hong Kong). Time to get adventurous on my own. So be it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A hop to Anaho

We had an upwind, somewhat squally five and a half hour sail from Hakatea to Anaho Bay, along the uncharted west and north coasts of Nuku Hiva. Will it get old if I continue to repeat that the scenery is dramatic? Black rock, lush greenery, sharp ridges, steep cliffs, sand beaches (white or black) rimmed by coconut palms. And, outside of Taiohae Bay, NO grand hotels or condominium complexes, few man-made anythings and even fewer roads.

So, we found "remote."

Anaho Bay is tucked in a bit, and so is the calmest of the anchorages in the Marquesas. No swell to rock us about. We anchored in the northeast corner of the bay, tucked behind Pointe Mataohotu, near a pass through the coral that allows the only passable dinghy landing. The entire shoreline is otherwise protected from surf by a swath of coral shallows. The water is warm and relatively clear, and the boats are visited by schools of small gray/blue fish looking for handouts. We were one of a few boats in the bay, but our numbers gradually increased over a few days time.

Our first day we walked along the beach, waving "bonjour" past the four habitations in the bay, and followed a trail over a ridge to the neighboring bay, Haatuatua. En route we walked by a field of watermelon, and stopped to ask a little boy playing in the shade of a leaning lean-to, if we could buy some fruit. He found his parents (one Marquisan, one French) and we chatted for awhile, examined his skinny cat, and took a tour through his fields. He grows watermelon (3 types), taro, manioc (tapioca), pamplemousse, bananas, and more. There are no roads here so he loads up his fruit on horseback and hikes over a ridge each day to sell his produce through a little grocer in Hatiheu Bay. There he can also take his load by car to Taiohae for the weekly market. We ended up with one watermelon and more pamplemousse, and continued our walk to the beach just beyond. Now this bay is pretty much devoid of anything but this one farm. The farmer's emaciated horses roam the dunes (despite all this greenery, evidently not enough of the right stuff to sustain horses very well). As you approach the water, you get the sensation the beach is moving. That's because of all the crabs. Since their eyes are on stalks, as you know, it's hard to sneak up on a crab. They could see us coming and always maintained a wide perimeter of avoidance. Their tracks and holes decorate the beach. After sitting awhile, in hopes they would cozy up to us a little, Ben finally took matter into his own hands and set out to catch a crab. One was caught, harrassed just long enough for a photo op, and then released. (But I bet he would have tasted good...)
The next day we hiked a taller ridge to Hatiheu Bay. This is the same village we had visited by car the week before. We stopped at a nice little restaurant, hoping for lunch, but it was Sunday and they were officially closed. On the other hand, Yvonne, the restaurant owner, cook and mayor of Hatiheu, was happy to give us a seat and sell us something to drink. Yvonne ended up sitting with us and told us all about the village, its history and its future concerns. She had fought a Club Med proposal for Anaho Bay, and continues to rally the villages of Hatiheu and Anaho against building a road between the two valleys.

We hiked back to Anaho and, later that night, we made the social rounds. We ended up eating a potluck dinner with some Seattleites (Brad and Sally) on Pax Vobiscum, and with a French couple (Didier and Chantal) from Sea Lance. The French had been cruising for 3 years so we heard many stories of their adventures, evading pirates in the Red Sea, staying with natives along the Amazon, diving with hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos. We have met several people in the process of circumnavigation. Maybe one day...but not today.

Here and there we get some things done. The autopilot is in good working order. Ben installed an outlet in the main cabin so we can bring our fan in there. I cleaned out the fridge (the eggs had cracked and leaked...). Our cushion blew out of the cockpit and had to be rescued from the beach. You know, the little things that keep it all civilized.

We could have stayed in Anaho Bay much longer. But, time presses on and we thought it would be prudent to visit another island (or two, or three) before we leave the Marquesas. So, we're on our way again. Next stop: Fatu Hiva, the southernmost island of the group.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Kaoha! from Nuku Hiva

We still find ourselves exploring Nuku Hiva, our landfall in the Marquesas. There's plenty to see and keep us occupied!

We spent 6 days in Taiohae Bay, the capital village, needing time to unwind, launder, bathe, email and reprovision. We spent one night in a lovely bungalow hotel, many thanks to Dad and Kristin, and enjoyed some luxurious meals to give Ben some time off from the galley.

We rented a car, a 4 x 4 beast, as all vehicles are on Nuku Hiva, and picked our way around on a tour of the island. Kristin maneuvered ruts, grooves and precipices as Ben and I bounced along in the back. The terrain is rugged, and the ridges, pinnacles and cliffs are steep. Our altitude varied, and the road often lead up into rain and clouds, then back down to the sunshine. The tallest peak on the island is 1250 meters - i.e. tall. Along the way we passed horses, cows and goats, some tethered, some free to roam. One herd of goats had taken up residence at the foot of a defunct satellite dish and had made themselves quite at home.

This was May 1st, a holiday in France, so villagers were in a festive mood. We stopped for lunch in Hatiheu Bay and found the entire village celebrating outdoors. A tent was erected for the occasion, with vendors selling typical Marquesan food. The women sat at grouped tables, playing bingo, and the men played petanque in the street. We talked to some kids who were visiting Hatiheu from Tahiti, on a week-long class field trip, and a couple boys sat playing the guitar and the ukelele.

We got in after dark, with just enough time for Dad and Kristin to pack up their things (and a few of ours). Early the next morning we set back out on the four-wheeling roads to drop them off at the airport (at the opposite corner of the island), for their flight (and 2 day layover) to Tahiti. Then we set about doing some chores. First things first, check into the country. All in all not too painful an affair, but we did have to pay a refundable bond (~$1600) since I'm American. (They don't care that we're married.) With bank fees and the like, not as much as we'd hoped is actually refunded - c'est la vie! Given my non-EU status, I am limited to 90 days in French Polynesia. Tant pis. Next chore: clean the hull. We scrubbed algae and immature gooseneck barnacles at the waterline, from the (dis)comfort of the dinghy. The remainder of the hull will require diving to scrub clean, but there were recent reports of 4 tiger sharks in the bay, and the villagers sent out advisories not to swim. These aren't your run of the mill reef sharks. They're big (12 - 15 feet) and more aggressive than most. We weren't about to tempt fate. Finally, shopping at the market (which operates Saturday mornings, from 4 - 7 am). If you don't get there before 6 most of the food is gone. The market was small but we found what we needed. Vegetables aren't a traditional part of the Marquesan diet but a select few are now available to please the western palate. So, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, green beans. Now, we're set. Meat, though, we have found harder to come by. We wrangled up some sausages and (but, of course!) duck breast (this is France, after all). Oh, and did I mention the prices? The islands are expensive enough, but add a weak dollar, like a cherry on top, and the cost is a bitter pill to swallow. A roll of paper towels is, get this, $7. We decided to make ours last.

One evening we attended a local dinner and revue. We paid for the entertainment only as seating for dinner was already full. First, a small chorus, singing French and Polynesian-style gospels. The people here are quite devout, mostly Catholic. Then the hula dancers. Much like, or just like, Hawaii. The performances were good (especially the little girls, really), and it was good people-watching, as the Nuku Hivans were all dressed up and wearing flowers for the occasion.

Finally we were ready to leave Taiohae Bay and its amenities. Time to get remote. We motored a short distance into Hakatea (aka Daniel's) Bay. There was only one other boat in the anchorage, and the scenery - breathtaking. The bay is made up of two small coves, surrounded by tall cliffs that take the plunge straight into the sea, and extend to form the walls of a lush river valley. We took the dinghy ashore to a lovely white sand beach (in front of Daniel's house, thus the bay's unofficial name). We watched crabs, looked for shells, and made friends with an affectionate little cat on the beach (pregnant, of course). Daniel usually greets cruisers but was away in town for a few days.

The next day we took the dinghy to the adjacent cove and up a short way into the mouth of the Hakaui River. There we wandered through what I would imagine Robinson Crusoe's homestead to look like. Pretty, quaint, hand-hewn, clever and utilitarian, and very tidy. The trees are heavy with fruit of all sorts (pamplemousse, the local, green-fleshed and sweet, sweet grapefruit; bananas; star fruit; mangos; papayas; pineapple; pomegranate; lemons; coconuts; and more we can't name) and fruit litters the ground, giving the place an off-aroma of fermentation. The grounds are well-kept, even landscaped, and the path is peppered with holes occupied by hefty, hairy land crabs.

Onward we walked by several homes, a small chapel, and continued on our way to a waterfall, the third tallest in the world. The hike took us through lush forest, several passes through the river, and through boar territory. We could see where they root through the soil. Local men often hunt the boars (actually their dogs do all the work), and display their teeth and tusks strung on necklaces they wear. They can be dangerous so I was none too anxious to meet one. In the end we actually did, from a distance; we tiptoed by and kept to ourselves, hardly wanting to announce our presence. So, we finally made it to the waterfall, and found that it was easier to see and appreciate from a distance. From the pool's perspective, and at this end of the dry season, the waterfall is tucked away in to the folds of the cliff, leaving it partially obscured. Anyway, it's beautiful.

The fresh water pool is purported to be perfectly swimmable, but as we approached the pool's edge, we were greeted by an enormous eel. As long as I am tall, and thick as Ben's shin, at least! She swam around some but always returned, and watched us. She was surrounded by dozens of fresh-water shrimp; they pretty much ignored each other. Ben took a few tentative steps into the pool, and there she sat - didn't budge. So, what could it mean? Is she curious, friendly or hungry? We decided not to find out and instead relaxed at the pool's edge, dousing ourselves with DEET. (Sidenote: the nonos (tiny biting flies) are absolutely relentless, and could pretty much care less is you're skin is wet with toxins. I have already been devoured a few times over.)

On our return from the waterfall we passed by a few dogs that looked to be in need, but found no owners at home. We stopped to talk to their neighbor,Emile, an old man ready to greet the cruisers walking by, en route to the waterfall. He offered us some bananas and pamplemousse and we sat to talk for awhile. He asked Ben's assistance in evaluating his generator's electrical problem so Ben gave a cursory look and promised to return the next day with a voltmeter and his electrical "bible." We told Emile to spread the word to his neighbors that I would bring veterinary supplies the following day and would be happy to hold a little "clinic" for the local dogs. Emile's dogs are his pride and joy, and were in good health, he told us. We left and passed by a few other villagers, and they also claimed their dogs were perfectly healthy.

The next morning we came to town, electrical and veterinary supplies in hand. In the end, the electrical problem was beyond Ben's capability but he gave Emile plenty of advice. And, there were no takers for my veterinary services. We found the owner of a dog we had seen the day before with fresh open wounds but he preferred to "let nature heal them." Thanks, but no thanks. But, we spent several hours with Emile, learning about the history of the Hakaui valley, and of the island, and learned a few Marquesan words to boot. The entire valley, and beyond, was owned by his father, and divided among his 12 living children. He had many stories and was eager to talk. We took a tour of his living quarters and sat near the coconut fire (always burning to keep the nonos away). He sent us on our way with a pineapple, pamplemousse, lemons and star fruit in exchange for assistance with his generator.

Later that night we had a potluck dinner with Anke and Martin, a German couple aboard "Just Do It." Now that leaves us preparing for our next destination, Anaho Bay, on the north end of Nuku Hiva. More on that as it comes....

Friday, May 2, 2008

Notes from the Passage

April 11

Pangaea and crew departed the Mexican coast April 9th, Wednesday night, for our south Pacific-bound passage of roughly 2800 nautical miles. Our first half day out was miserably windless and glassy and we clocked only 34 miles. Joining us as we bobbed and drifted were a host of sea turtles, lifting their heads to watch us float by, nodding in a knowing way, sympathetic to our slow pace. Running the engine isn't really an option as our fuel will need to last the entire way to keep our batteries charged and powered up. The refrigerator, the autopilot, the computer, and of course lights and stove, are pretty greedy for electrons. The solar panels are helping too, when the sun is shining....

On day two we meandered into some steady winds and have since been sailing on a broad to close reach. Our first full 24 hours saw us make 160 miles.

Much better.

Life conducted on a slant takes some acclimating, but we're gradually getting our sea legs, minimizing the shuffle and stagger. You quickly learn to brace, wedge and counterbalance. Negotiating the head (nautical for bathroom) remains a challenge. I won't go into detail.

We've been eating well, working strategically to consume the perishables, and trying to clear up a little space in our fully-packed refrigerator. Getting anything in or out of the fridge requires a solid capacity for geometric and spatial orientation. If you want an egg, the lettuce, spinach, cherry tomatoes, parsley and various cheeses will need to be unpacked first. If the mustard slips into the hole vacated by the deli meat, you may never see it again. You may wonder what we do with all the free time on a passage such as this. If you factor in the added time and energy required to do something as simple as change a pair of pants, or pour a glass of water, maneuver to the cockpit and jostle for a place to sit (not to mention attempt to get comfortable), you'll see that our time is equally precious.

Looking ahead, the weather forecast poses a bit of a dilemma. The usually steady and reliable northern trade wind belt (created by circulation about the Pacific high) is expected to dissipate in the next few days. These winds are our driving force to the equator so we may be facing slow days, and some tactical deviations, ahead. Currently, though, as we have just reported on the progress of our 2nd full day, we're happy to report a distance made of 182 miles. A day of beautiful weather and great sailing. Just now our wind seems a little less robust so we'll see where it takes us next...

April 14

Day 4 (and a half) and we're humming along. But let's review day 3 (and a half).

Yesterday, in the early morning twilight, Kristin and I heard a metallic object drop on the deck. After searching the deck for any missing pins or nuts, employing headlamps to examine the boom gooseneck and vang, Ben decided to check out the mast for the absence of anything important. So, we took turns hoisting him with the winch and up he went, under sail but in calm winds and seas. A model of bravery in my book. Anyway, the rig checked out ok, all parts accounted for. And of course this provided a good photo op, from both ends of the mast. The provenance of the metallic ping remains a mystery. An avian plot (as we’re often surrounded by birds) has not been ruled out.

Speaking of calm winds and seas, yesterday's progress was painstaking. We were sailing surprisingly well for want of any real wind, willing the boat forward despite the lollygagging conditions. Finally we hoisted the spinnaker for some extra power. It's a tricky affair learning to steer with a spinnaker, especially in light, fluky, fickle winds. None of us (the crew) were comfortable steering the "kite" at night so Ben valiantly pulled an all-nighter and, man, was he grinning. A 360-degree view of heaven, the billowing clouds and billowing kite backlit by the moon's silvery airbrush, like a starlet filmed through cheesecloth. Since then, with daylight, we crew are back on track with the spinnaker and learning how to keep the sail full (now sailing at 8 to 9.5 knots in 14-15 knots of breeze).

Ben struggled with whether to maintain yesterday's course, in winds half as strong as the weather files reported they should be, or whether to jibe and head due south (earlier than we had originally planned), in search of wind. But, as that course was getting us nowhere pretty quickly, he decided to do it - and now we're reaping the benefits. In fact, it looks like we might just have found the trade winds! Our next report will let you know whether this will have turned out to be the case, or simple optimistic exuberance.

Our current position (1900 UTC time) is 13 degrees, 53 minutes north, 113 degrees, 27 minutes west.

April 15

A daily delight has been the frequent visitations of our curious avian companions, mostly masked boobies, pink-footed shearwaters, Leach's storm petrels and a few others that we have struggled to identify. They approach in the morning, circle the boat in a meandering way for an hour or so, land on the water in an apparent conference of sorts, and float away. An hour or two later they return. They appear fascinated by the sails, and, we think, smitten with us. It didn't dawn on us until recently that perhaps their visits are more self-serving and less adoring. Our path through the water often disturbs flying fish, making an easy meal for the birds who await. Or perhaps they are playing a game. Whichever booby pooped on our spinnaker no doubt scored points for his bull's eye. Are they using the wind off the sails as an aerodynamic elevator? Just now we've observed a different kind of game, as a shearwater circles in a spiraling way (clockwise, in case you're wondering) until he kamikazes just ahead of the bow, and swoops back up to a soar. Several times he has also approached the spreaders of the mast, hovering near this moving target in an attempt to land. He thinks better of it and sets back to circling.

Yesterday's great excitement was stirred by the joyous approach of a large pod of dolphins. Really, a lot of dolphins -- I mean it. Maybe a hundred? What enthusiasts! They leapt, darted and competed for a ride at the bow -- gymnasts with a sunny disposition. I imagine them to always be smiling, and I always smile back. They were preceded by a large flock of birds, likely tracking the dolphins' whereabouts as a beacon for hapless fish prey below the waves.

In fact, we wonder how far out along our Pacific trek the birds will be chaperoning us. Over the past couple days we have been sailing over an extensive seamount -- an area of submarine peaks and ridges that create shallows and upwelling currents -- a haven for fish, and their respective predators. This underwater mountain range is named Mathematicians Seamount, a conglomerate of Newton’s, Euclid’s, Lagrange’s and others. We’ve passed over many seamounts off the Mexican coast, always the destination for sport fishermen. Now, of course, we’re quite a way off shore, so it’s only us and the sea life. (We haven’t seen a ship in days). Once we pass this seamount, will we encounter this much sea life? We’ll soon find out.

In the meantime, we manage our daily tasks pleasantly, but not always gracefully. A recent change in course has us at the mercy of swell and waves from the side. We’re rocking, roaring and cruising right along. The heat is a constant bedfellow, but steady over the past couple days. The trick is to sprawl out just so – limbs akimbo, avoiding contact with your sweaty neighbor. Evenings are better…but not much.

My Dad and Kristin were the guinea pigs for solar showers in the cockpit. A sudsy floor compounded by the boat’s motion made for a slip and slide adventure for the two of them. From below Ben and I heard frequent peals of laughter to suggest the process was fun, in the least, and luckily lead to no lasting injuries. Meanwhile, he and I were working on a quick sail repair, as we had torn the foot of the spinnaker during a jibe. No major structural importance for the sail itself, and the repair went smoothlhy.

So, our current position (1900 UTC time) is 13 degrees, 20 minutes north, 118 degrees, 53 minutes west. We’re on a rhum line to our next way point, 900 miles away, where we’ll turn due south to cross the doldrums. More on that later….

April 19

We are speed demons. We all let out a cheer when we surfed down a wave at 17.03 knots. Shortly thereafter, Ben suggested we might consider taking a reef (ie, shortening the sails). After taking the reef, it still appeared we could tow a water skier, and now it was dark out. So, we took down the jib top. Since then we've been humming along at a more sedate, but more tolerable for the nerves of the crew, 8 - 9 knots with a single-reefed main sail alone. Not that the weather is dark and stormy. Really it's just steady, in the way trade winds tend to be. Dark clouds do occasionally threaten, but we've only had a couple sprinkles of rain, and one episode of sheet lightning (on my watch, of course). We are now, officially, HALF WAY THERE, having sailed 1238 nautical miles fo far, and we're one day out from our way point, where we'll take a left turn and head as due south as the wind and sails will allow. Headed straight for the doldrums. Fee fi fo fum.

We've had our eyes on the prize. For a monohull sail boat, that would be a 200 mile day. This is calculated simply as a straight line from point A to point B, and so underestimates the true distance, as a sailboat never sails in a straight line. But, we still fall short. Anything over 180 miles in a day is to be appreciated though, and we've reported now 4 of those (183 miles, 195, 183, and today's 191). We'll see if it is yet to be done...

We hooked two fish a couple days ago, but lost both when reeling them in. Then we neglected to take up the line as night fell and, as we were flying 17 knots down the wave, it disappeared. Oops. Lures don't really like to be dragged along at that clip.

A malaise has settled over us. Don't worry, we are neither depressed nor despondent, simply lazy. And really, that comes with the territory on a passage. When we wake up for the morning (a relative term dependent on one's watch schedule), we'll usually contemplate what one task needs to be completed. Anything exceeding the ONE task can not be expected to get done. So, for me, it will be cleaning the bathroom today. After that, if I'm not steering the boat or preparing a meal, I fully expect to be lounging -- napping, reading, chatting, sleeping (as distinct from napping). We could blame the weather, but that would be only partially true. Though these days the cloud cover has given us some relief from the sun's intensity (It's only 81.9 degrees in the cabin, as opposed to 84)

Speaking of watches, here's how we've divvied them up: Kristin 6 -9 (am and pm), Dad 9-12, Ben 12-3 and me 3-6. Our auto pilot ("Otto") has been doing a fabulous job,on occasion outperforming some of us crew. But, sadly, he's now on sick leave (we hope temporarily), as he's got a bit of an alignment problem. Ben knows what to do to fix it, but we need to wait until calmer wind and seas to get it done. In the meantime, hand steering it shall be.

April 23

We are no longer speed demons. Welcome to the doldrums.....

To review the days preceding, though:

We took a left turn a little west of our waypoint, trying to position ourselves for the ITCZ zone to come. The cloud cover became gradually denser and increasingly ominous. A little more lightning, but no close calls. Little squalls would come and go, but none carried big wind shifts below. Finally, two days ago we got the real weather, with rainfall of biblical proportions and wind howling at a decent clip. The helm required more muscle to keep us on track so Ben and my Dad braved the forces while Kristin and I holed up below decks. Regardless, everyone was soaked. Soggy layers were stripped off, replaced by dry clothes, which there then, again, thoroughly soaked. With the hatches and companionway closed, we had a virtual steam bath in the cabin. Can you say muggy? The wind and rain abated about 4 hours later, and we set to trying to dry ourselves out. Dinner was simple fare that night.

The next day (yesterday now), the wet wool blanket cloud cover finally lifted, giving us back our searing direct sun, and an ever-changing view of cotton candy clouds. Our soggy selves dried in short stead. We occupied ourselves with cooling measures when not on watch, and enjoyed gin and tonics and the pate supplied by the Souquet family for a leisurely "cocktail" hour before dinner.

Ben said something he shouldn't have, though. "I think we punched through the ITCZ already." Famous last words. Come yesterday evening, the wind became squirrely and confused, like it couldn't remember what it had come to this corner of the globe to do. It then shrugged and wandered away. Actually, we were just getting our first glimpse of the ITCZ. For those of you who haven't sailed, you should know that it is much more fun to steer a boat that's moving. The wallow and swing, left at the mercy of any wave's whim, is a frustration. By the end of my first watch last night, I was cranky and peevish. Oops, a slip in morale.

The views, though, are spectacular in this dead calm dead zone. The clouds gather and tower, white and angelic, or dark and foreboding. Squalls march right on by, dumping more rain and giving us a brief period of wind to sail. And they can't really sneak up on you. Finally, at 4 am, we turned on the engine. We've been using our fuel stores efficiently and have some to spare for just such an occasion. Can you envision the mid-oceanic Pacific to be glassy? Well, believe it. I guess it was named Pacific for a reason.

Now that we have calm winds and seas, though, this gave Ben an opportunity to attend to "Otto." The good news first: the autopilot appears to be, in and of itself, functional. The bad news is: the rudder is stiff in one direction (Ben speculates due to algal growth or an issue with the rudder bearings) so he doesn't want put "Otto" in a compromising position, at odds with the force of the rudder. So, he plans to dive on the rudder once we're in port and anchored but, in the meantime, it looks like we'll be finishing out the last 2/3 of our crossing with a constant hand on the tiller. With four people to share the load, that's not so bad.

Our supply of fresh meat and produce is now dwindling (but not officially dwindled). Tomatos, avocados, cucumbers and oranges are no longer with us, the last of the lettuce was dumped overboard this morning, and the carrots suffered my error in judgment, having become pure mush when stored in plastic. So meals are getting a bit more creative. Despite this we've been eating in style, with compliments to Ben, on dinner duty, all around. Last night: omelets with carmelized onions, roasted peppers, sausage and gruyere, served with roasted potatoes. Yum.

But what awaits?! As of this writing, we are now 98 nautical miles from the EQUATOR! As you know, cause for celebration. We will report on this soon!

Current position: 1 degree 38 minutes north, 132 degrees 29 minutes west. (0300 UTC time).

April 25, 2008

Here we are, down under, where people walk upside down and toilets flush in reverse. Our momentous crossing occurred yesterday at 6:15 pm, as the sun was preparing to set. And we were prepared. We had appetizers and champagne, cameras on the ready, and festivities planned. We even had a short but much appreciated increase in wind, which made sailing a pleasure instead of a slog, and gave us a breeze to cool by. In short, it was a beautiful afternoon and spirits were high.

Ben was disappointed to find that the equator itself, while indicated by an orange line on the charts, is not really orange. It appears it is the same blue as the surrounding sea, making identification of the demarcation reliant upon our GPS. We ticked off the miles, then tenths of a mile.....and finally arrived -- latitude 00 degrees, 00.0000 minutes north (and/or south). We crossed at longitude 133 degrees 17.79 minutes, in case you're wondering.

As mariners have long celebrated the occasion, so did we. King Neptune presided over the ceremony, introducing our vessel and its crew to the creatures of the southern latitudes. He appeared enrobed and crowned, carrying a trident of brilliant silver. King Neptune requested that members of the crew present him with a doggerel verse or poem for the occasion, which he then judged. Ben, as captain, presented the crew with certificates of equatorial passage, and we all thanked Pangaea for having taking us there safely. Ben followed with a quiz, geofacts about the equator itself, which none of us passed. (In case you didn't already know, 9 countries straddle the equator: Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Indonesia, Uganda, Gabon, Somalia, Kenya, and Rep. of Congo). Anyway, I didn't already know. The ceremony was concluded by a long-time (eons long) Ferguson family tradition, an oral history that stretches back generations, detailing the accomplishments of our ancestor, the giant, Fergus. In this account we were introduced to our more ancient, and more giant, ancestor Ferg, who roamed the earth back when all continents were conjoined...... To cap off the evening Ben cooked a darn tasty pasta dish, with bacon and sausage in a tomato base. After dinner we used my handy planisphere (thanks Kristi!) to orient ourselves with the southern skies. The Southern Cross indicates our way.

So now we come I've mentioned calm winds and seas, remember? Well, this is now day 3. We are officially becalmed, with winds ranging 2 - 5 knots. Ben is remarkably talented at making Pangaea inch ever forward despite the dismal conditions. An added challenge is 1 knot of current acting against us as well, though we appear to be breaking through the cross-current, at long last. The bummer is, this is officially the southern trade winds, and it appears to be worse than the doldrums we just passed through en route to the equator. The weather forecast predicted 10 knots of breeze in this region -- we'd love to find those 10 knots if we could. As we were speeding along prior to the ITCZ, our hopes were high for a fast passage, but these past 3 days have taught us not to count our chickens..... On the bright side, we have 584 nautical miles left to traverse so there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

Anyway, it looks like there will be plenty of time for more passage notes to come....

Our current position: 1 degree 11 minutes south, 133 degrees 37 minutes west.

April 26

Today is Ben's birthday, as good a day as any to sing his praises, as he has been the STAR of the voyage.

It's no exaggeration to say that Ben's seamanship, judgment and intuition are top notch. He has an uncanny ability to keep Pangaea humming along in almost any condition of wind and sea. The doldrums, the vast expanse of it, presented perhaps the biggest challenge, and yet we managed to keep on keeping on. A little tweak of sail trim here and there brings about immediate and noticeable results, and even the faintest breeze on the cheek is translated into speed. His need for speed is not a mark of impatience, as he keeps his cool and steady morale even when becalmed. More than anything he loves the process of milking the wind's power and making the most of whatever we've got. It seems a perfect balance between a deep, second nature understanding of sail theory, and a "feel" and a "touch" that must also be innate.

But a captain must be so many things besides a sailor. He's a navigator, a meteorologist, a boss and an example. Throw in instructor as well, as Ben has enjoyed teaching us crew the finer points of helmsmanship to boot. Ben studies the charts, the wind speed and direction, sail configuration and the forecasts, and mulls it all over until we've got a plan. How to account for and optimize it all. He pays attention - any shift in conditions is considered, and the skies are scanned for what weather this way comes. Who's to say which decision will be the right one until reviewed in retrospect. Well, in retrospect, Ben has made an awful lot of right decisions.

When a sacrifice of sleep is called for, Ben's more than happy to comply. He's endured more than one sleepless night and, somehow, inexplicably and unncecessarily, maintains an upbeat mood. It's not like we'd begrudge him a little grumpiness but, no need. And then, of course, he has to manage US, the crew. He's patient, persistent, flexible and gracious, taking our slip-ups and inattentions in stride, with just the occasional sigh or grimace. And I haven't even mentioned his cooking.

For those of you who know him well, you'd sure smile to see Ben in his element. His nerve endings are all atingle and alert, his temperament is even, his morale is good and his spirits are high. If a person could glow, Ben would be brilliant.

From me, an ocean of gratitude. HAPPY BIRTHDAY BEN!!

April 27

A brief update on our whereabouts:

And, you could set your clocks because the countdown begins....

As of this writing, we are only 267 nautical miles from our destination. IF we maintain our current pace, we would arrive in 1.5 days, Tuesday morning, shortly after sun-rise. Oh, yes, about our pace. You have surmised correctly -- we have escaped the doldrums!! The wind picked up two days ago, carrying us further south and west, through one squall after another. They're a wet affair, but make for spectacular skies. We are currently sailing 8 knots in 11 knots of breeze. Respectable progress. Hallelujah!!

Oh, and about our destination. We had planned to make landfall on the island of Fatu Hiva, but have since changed our sites and have settled on Nuku Hiva, the "capitol" island of the Marquesas. We have in mind a one-night stay in a hotel; sweat-free sheets; long, deep-cleansing, loofah-scrubbing showers; laundry; and dinner out on the town.

Sidenote: Since running out of cigarettes, nearly 2 weeks ago, Ben has been sharing pipe tobacco with my dad. Not free of the habit, but at least not inhaling smoke, so, an improvement. But, with Ben's added consumption the pipe tobacco is running in short supply, so we have some desparate smokers aboard. The voyage has been renamed: The Great Tobacco Race of 2008. We'll see how they fare over the next one and a half days. It may run to foul play as they jostle ashore on our puny dinghy, elbowing each other out of the way en route to the Tabac. As long as no injuries ensue....

Our current position: 5 degrees 49 minutes south, 136 degrees, 52 minutes west (0400 UTC time).

We'll be in touch soon!

April 28

96 nautical miles to go...

April 29

Land ho!!

As day broke, around 4:30 am, Ben made the first sighting of land, Ua Huka on our port. Just beyond, our destination paradise, Nuku Hiva, popped into view as the sun started its rounds. We were greeted by new flocks of birds and a pleasant breeze.

As we approached Nuku Hiva, the sun's rise started to put the island's geography into relief, and finally colors joined the mix, a green wash over the ridges, right up to the steep-sided, reddish brown cliffs plunging into the blue. The island's tallest peak (1225 meters, 4000 feet) hid in the clouds. We rounded the southeastern point (Cap Martin) and followed the coastline 6 miles to our bay of choice, Taiohae, set back beyond two "sentinel" rocks on either side of the bay's entrance. Ben hoisted the tricolore, got on the VHF radio and hailed Wayne from Moonduster, who promptly boarded his dinghy and zoomed up to escort us in. And look where we ended up...

19 + days and 3056 nautical miles (2800 as the crow flies). We thanked our crew, grateful for their help, their positive attitudes, their flexibility, their conversation, and of course their turns at the tiller! It was a great passage to have shared with family and seasoned sailors alike. Special thanks, hugs and kisses to Dad and Kristin!!

We hadn't slept much but, anyway, we were wired. Happy to have done it. Happy to have arrived.
Update May 3: We have been exploring and enjoying Nuku Hiva, finally cleaned up and rested up, and we're preparing now to let the island hopping begin. Our internet access has been spotty, and will soon be non-existent until we arrive in Tahiti, in about 1 month. We'll have plenty of stories and plenty of pics to regale you with by that time. I have videos waiting in the wings for a good internet connection, so stay tuned!