Friday, April 3, 2009

Land Ho! We Sailed Across The World's Largest Ocean!

We made it!

We successfully sailed across the Pacific Ocean!

Wow, long trip... approximately 3000 miles, or roughly the equivalent of sailing from SF to NYC and then back to Chicago. All at around 8 miles per hour...

Although it took some serious patience-- 22 days at sea on a small boat-- it was overall a safe and speedy voyage; We had some adventures and tribulations for sure, but no limbs lost to sharks and no knockdowns from rogue waves; we arrived intact.

Here is a quick and dirty highlight reel, along with a sampling of photos from the trip:

Day 1: Left Puerto Vallarta as crew on "Apple" at 10:30 am; Immediately saw huge whale breach 3x; Caught large dorado but he snapped the line; Everyone still getting their "sea legs" on (meaning we're all a little clumsy and a little queasy).

Day 2: Fast passage-- this is a fast boat! Did 156 nautical miles in 24 hour period; Wind in 12-17 knots; Captain got seasick; Everyone sleeping alot, still getting used to sea motion.

Day 3: Flew spinnaker for first time; played CD from fellow cruisers Hypnautical (they are musicians); NB hand-steered his night time watch; Winds mellowing slightly to 10-16 knots.

Day 4: Flew spinnaker but chafed through halyard and sock; Nightime, mostly becalmed, leading to "challenging" sailing (difficult to keep the sails from flogging); Lots of open time to think about a book idea called "Startup: An Owners Manual"; Made 111 miles in 24 hours.

Day 5: Spinnaker halyard again chafing; Some dischord between captain and Naomi; Received first weatherfax from Hawaii; However, SSB radio does not seem to be working correctly.

Day 6: Saw many dolphins! After sunset, we did 'squall avoidance practice' which quickly led to squall avoidance reality (squalls are short lived, violent thunderstorms that happen when the air cools after sunset).

Day 7: Captain Mike not getting enough sleep so he changes up watch schedule, now 4 hours on, 8 off; 15 knots wind, choppy seas; More squalls after sunset, we use the radar to monitor them, like a video game.

Day 8: Saw another ship for the first time (a cargo vessel); Boat is running out of power and fresh water rapidly-- moratorium on showers; Naomi's parent's called on satellite phone; Caught huge fish but it snapped the line, which wound up in the wind generator; Crossed the 1000 miles mark, had rum and coke.

Day 9: Fixed wind generator; Apple the dog poops all over deck; Friendly 'debate' about number of miles made good in previous 24 hours (Nathan estimate: 134 vs. Captain's 247 nm); Further 'discussions' about power and water management.

Day 10: Nice fast sailing under spinnaker; Closed down the forward head (bathroom); Veronika got out guitar; Nathan ate candy bars all day; Naomi made nice dinner; Rained a little; Everyone got along.

Day 11: Halfway mark! Took showers for first time since day 5; Watch schedule moved around again; Nathan composed catchy little guitar ditty called "Log HO!"

Day 12: Flew spinnaker all day; Saw large ship, probably a research vessel? Also saw lights of a ship at night; Everyone getting along well; Nathan made "english pub food" for dinner; Moon has gone, leaving us with "billions and billions of stars".

Day 13: Flew spinnaker half the day, then trade winds suddenly shifted direction to come from SSE...could it be we were through the ICTZ (doldrums)? Flew along at 8.5 knots for the next 18 hours, very encouraging; Nathan hand steered his night watch, saw 2 shooting stars and caught one flying fish; Everyone getting along well; Saw Southern Cross constellation for first time.

Day 14: Captain wanting us to hand steer, which is a bit of a 'sticking issue' (very tiring when you have 8 hours on the helm each day); Overall, good wind and smooth seas.

Day 15: Turns out, NO-- we are not through the doldrums. Wind dies down to almost nothing, seas flat, cloudless sky; With swells running, sails just "whap" back and forth, very maddening; But, major highlight-- we crossed the equator on Naomi's watch in middle of the night, woo hoo! We had champagne and made toasts to Poseidon and Neptune, and we officially became "Shellbacks"; NB made sushi and stirfry for dinner.

Day 16: Still in doldrums, flat calm water-- very peaceful and would be enjoyable if we weren't still 1000 miles from land; In morning, we spot sailing vessel "Hypnautical" and with spinnaker flying, we cruise by; Nathan dove in after diesel funnel and deck brush that was sinking...swimming out in middle of ocean is oddly unnerving, it's so empty flat and blue.

Day 17: Still becalmed; NB and Captain 'debate' about strategy for getting through doldrums; Lack of forward motion, utter stillness and heat is probably frying people's patience; SSB not working so no reliable communications or weather forecasts. But fortunately, on NB's night watch, winds finally pick up...we run spinnaker at night over glassy seas and lots of stars! Very nice sailing...

Day 18: Somewhat choppy seas, but under 500 miles to go! Sailed close hauled most of the day; Water is turned off-- we're under strict rations; Some 'discrepancies' between rules and to whom they apply, but...what can you do? However, NB's night time watch is near-perfect...8-10 knots of wind, nice warm night, no helm attention needed, so NB finished reading "Mutiny on the Bounty".

Day 19: Calm seas, good wind, very nice sailing all day. Everyone getting along. During night watch, wind became erratic; Naomi and Veronika had squalls virtually all night.

Day 20: Nate had very nice morning watch-- 7 knots boat speed on 10-12 knots wind; Rocked out to Neil Young's "Unkown Legend". Made massive cheese, salami, hummus plate. Hiand steered the night watch, with winds continuing strong all day and night, with moderately choppy seas. Probably our record day: 167 nm!

Day 21: Good wind continues! Under 100 miles to go, which is somewhat hard to believe. We're flying along--- actually, we are going too fast and will likely arrive in the nighttime (which is a no-no). We reduced sail to triple reefed main so we don't go in an night. Some 'boat tensions' running high...good thing we're so close!

Day 22: Land Ho! Arrive! We motored into the bay at Hiva Oa right at sunrise. The smell of the land was intoxicating...a blend of bougainvilla, citrus, and soil. Anchored bow and stern in the bay, which is bordered by steep dramatic green cliffs. Nate and Naomi got off boat, walked on land on wobbly legs indeed! Walked around the tiny town of Atuona (pop 1300) then back at sunset...3 other friendly boats had arrived! Big party on the catamaran Carinthia, with crews from Bravado, Hypnautical, Lovesong, etc...Flor de canha rum flowing smoothly...Naomi and I get toasted and cheered by everyone from all the night!

Plan Vs. Reality

Ok, that's the daily log; but what was it really like? To be certain, it was different than we had expected. On the plus side, the actual passage was easier than we thought it'd be. The sailing was quite nice, with wind most days in the 8 to 15 knot range-- steady trade wind conditions-- and we ticked off the miles.

Further, we fell into a pretty rigorous daily routine-- wake up, brew a coffee, go on watch for 4 hours, have lunch, do an hour or so of boat chores, read during the afternoon, have a communal dinner, nap briefly until nighttime watch, and then sleep. Repeat pattern. This structure made the days fly by, and there weren't many dull moments.

On the other hand-- there's no way to sugarcoat it-- it was a darn long sail. As much as I love sailing, the reality is we were on a small boat in constant motion for three weeks. We only paused once, when becalmed near the equator, to go for a swim. The rest of the time, life was lived at an angle (as the boat heeled) or occasionally, with the boat flying around in multiple directions (during the 3-4 days when the seas were choppy).

Naturally, it was also tough to be in a small space with other people for that amount of time. I think this is always true whether those people are family, friends, or new acquaintances, as in our case. Tensions fly sometimes, usually when the night before was a squally one and nobody got any sleep. But we all made it through unscathed, and I only threatened 'mutiny' once! (Kidding.)

But other highlights made up for the "challenges." For example, in 22 days we only saw 3 other ships. With 6 billion souls on this planet, it was pretty amazing to be truly "out in the middle of nowhere" with nothing and no one for as far as the eye can see...such emptiness and isolation is rare, and in my opinion, pretty cool.

Another highlight was the night time watches, when everyone else would be asleep, and it was just me and the boat under billions and billions of stars. It really does take getting out there away from all light sources to appreciate this. We had a book of constellations, and each night I was able to recognize a few more patterns...Southern Cross, Taurus, Draco, Cepheus, etc. Later on, I learned a few of the constellations used by early Polynesians to navigate between Tahiti, Hawaii, Samoa, etc.

And finally, the destination at the end of the journey was a major highlight....French Polynesia! Few places on earth are as beautiful. Would we do it again? Absolutely, although we would definitely take our own boat next time. Stay tuned for more on our travels...


Diana Benedikt said...

awesome Nate! the trip of a lifetime! let us know what's next for you - and what tahiti is like :)

Dee Dee said...

Yeah! They speak! Congratulations on making the trek - can't wait to hear the details!