The Ice Maker

Greetings from Nuku Hiva.

We arrived Saturday afternoon at 1:00 PM Sophie time (UTC – 8), which means we made the passage from San Diego in 18 days and 21 hours. I am told by some of our new friends here that we had a fast passage. Personally, I am thankful that we had a great crew, no one got hurt, and nothing really broke on Sophie.

Here is the view that greeted us Saturday morning after 18 days at sea.

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It’s hot here at anchor in the harbor, and now that we are no longer sailing I think that the ice maker has replaced the bimini and the Kindle as my favorite thing on the boat. We’ve been going through about 5 loads of ice a day since we arrived.

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Once our anchor was down, we opened a bottle of champagne and toasted our successful voyage. We then opened another bottle, and we then switched to margaritas. I broke out the barbecue and cooked a couple of pounds of sausages.

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After that we all jumped into the warm water and swam around for an hour.  (We’ve since cut back on our harbor swimming because we’ve been told the gray sharks are 12-14 feet long here).

Then we all dried off and dinghied into town and went for a walk. It was really, really hot. I mean HOT. We found a store and bought a baguette and a case of Hinano (50 cl bottles) and then headed back to Sophie for another swim. Dinner was a birthday pizza party, after which I immediately fell asleep on the couch. Rich and Dan still had some gas in their tanks, so to speak, and dinghied into town after dark to attend a Polynesian masquerade ball. Rich was impressed by the drums. Overall he felt that he had a wonderful birthday.

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Sunday was the first full day of our cruising life. Everyone slept really well Saturday night. We woke up and went for a swim. Jenna, Leo  and I each paddle boarded. Rich and I went into town and bought two more baguettes. Dan and Leo went fishing. We met a German couple with a 5 year old girl in town, and Katerina and Hazel were soon sitting at our aft cockpit table making puppets. ice-5

Dan caught a 20 pound fish in the harbor, but we later learned that it really wasn’t safe to eat.  So we had a tuna barbecue instead and invited the German couple along with Dave and Kathy from the Atlantic 48 “Lightspeed” over for dinner.

Monday was hot. We played around with making shades for the aft cockpit. We met Gaston, a 12 year old French boy from the steel schooner “Valhalla” that had just arrived from Chile, and he and Leo because immediate friends. Gaston joined us for a flank steak dinner followed by a sleepover.

Tuesday centered around our big ATV adventure. We rented 3 vehicles and followed the French cruiser Ofred to a beautiful valley and some quiet bays on the eastern side of the Island. We then visited an archeological site. ice-6ice-7

Afterwards Dan spent about 6 hours getting a tattoo, followed by a pizza dinner with everyone at a restaurant in town.

Finally, today we had to drop the boys off at the pier in town so they could catch their flights home. It’s a sad, quiet day for Sophie. Rich and Dan are gone. ice-8

We couldn’t have asked for better crew for the trip. They were cooks, crew, family, friends, fishermen and cleaners, all rolled into a single package. It won’t be the same without them, and both Hazel and Leo have been a little sad and grumpy today. Rich and Dan have become friends, though, and Dan is already planning a visit to Rodental for one of Rich’s summer festivals. We will miss both of them very, very much.

We’ll be a cruising family of four for the next 6 weeks as we explore the Marquesas and the Tuamatos.  We then pick up Max and Becca in Papeete in mid-May to kick off our summer social season. We’ve made it, we’re healthy, school is going well, nothing on the boat is broken, and we have an icemaker. We’re in pretty good shape.

Day 18

Night Light

When we left San Diego, the moon was in it’s last quarter and was rising right before sunrise, which meant that for the first 2 weeks of the trip we basically have had no moonlight at night. For our night watches we relied on headlamps while working the boat, and had the opportunity to enjoy incredibly bright and vivid starlight.

We now have a night light. For the last couple of nights we’ve enjoyed a half moon, and it has completely changed our night vision perspective. When you come up on watch now it seems like their is a big spotlight shining brightly down on the boat (Jenna’s words). It is amazing how bright everything has become due to the new moon. We don’t need headlamps, and we can’t see as many stars. We are really looking forward to experiencing next week’s full moon.

The time of our sunrise and sunset has shifted pretty dramatically as well. When we left San Diego, the west coast was on UTC-8 time. We (I) decided to keep that time for Sophie for the entire trip, but I somehow forgot to tell everyone else. We ran into a little problem a week ago when the clock on everyone’s phone “sprang forward” with the time change, but my wrist watch and Sophie’s clocks did not. Rich, Dan and Jenna all showed up an hour early for their watches and were a little annoyed. We sorted that out, remained on UTC-8 time, but now that we are 1,000 miles west of San Diego the times for our sunrises and sunsets have shifted over an hour. It’s still pitch dark at 6:00 AM Sophie time, but in San Diego at 6:00 we had already turned off the navigation lights. All of this will change tomorrow when we switch to whatever time the Marquesas are on.

And we will get there tomorrow …

Our current position is 08.09 s 137.41 w. This positions us 2717 miles from San Diego and only 151 miles to Nuku Hiva. We made 179 miles in our last 24 and have averaged 184.3 mile days over our last 6 days in our “let’s celebrate Richy’s birthday at anchor with the ice machine” push. That’s an average speed of 7.68 knots over a stretch of 1100 nautical miles. Granted, half of that involved an engine running, but have I told you lately that Sophie has 2 dishwashers and a washing machine? Speed AND comfort. This boat is SMOKING!

Not much else going on. We came within a mile of a rusty Chinese fishing boat yesterday. It was going in reverse.

Since we are so close to land we have decided it’s OK to take the electricity hit and are playing tunes on Sophie’s outdoor stereo system. The kids are dancing. Last night was Mexico night, and I made tacos with seasoned organic ground beef, organic refried beans and a black bean/corn/cilantro salad. It was our first five can meal on the trip, and I was told it was delicious. Also, we’ve received word that our SPOT isn’t working. It seems to be functioning on our end, but it might be having a weak satellite connection in this neck of the woods.

Finally, I think this will be my last blog update while underway on this leg of our little family voyage. Hopefully we can post a photo or two tomorrow from land.

Day 17

Decisions, Decisions

Over the last day we’ve gone back and forth on whether to make Hiva Oa or Nuku Hiva our landfall destination. Hiva Oa’s advantage is that it’s allegedly prettier, gives the boys a chance to see two islands, and right now is 20 miles closer to us than Nuku Hiva. The downside to Hiva Oa is that we would have to do a 100 mile night sail on Monday to get to Nuku Hiva well in advance of the boys’ departure flight on Wednesday.

Well, it’s dawning on the grownups on Sophie right now that none of us have had a complete night’s sleep in almost 3 weeks. We are doing a double watch system at nights, and it is beginning to catch up to us. I think we might be a little tired. We also realized that if we hit Nuku Hiva first, we can always sail 35 miles over to the island of Ua Huka if we want to provide some island variety for the boys before they fly home. After Rich and Dan leave, Jenna and I are planning to take Sophie down to the southernmost island of Fatu Hiva and then do a leisurely east-to-west (meaning with the tradewinds) tour of the entire island group, so our landfall decision will not affect Sophie’s longer-term tourism plans here.

So we have decided to go to Nuku Hiva first.

The other big decision involves tattoos. The Marquesas have one of the richest tattoo cultures in the world, and it is quite common for cruisers to get some memorial ink to commemorate their arrival here after the long passage. Some go a little over the top … I’ve seen photos on cruiser blogs of men and women who planned to get no tattoos here and left the Marquesas with ink from their bicep to their neck.

I definitely plan to get a Marquesas tattoo. I already have some small tattoos on my legs that were used to calibrate my radiation therapy when I was undergoing treatment for cancer, and I always told myself that I would get at least one more tattoo to mark a more happy occasion. This is definitely it. I think Jenna is in and is leaning towards a tattoo of a sea turtle about a quarter of an inch across. She hasn’t told me where, yet. Dan is thinking about getting one. Rich has clearly said “no”.

Let’s see if anyone revisits their decision after we’ve had the ice machine plugged in for a couple of days. (Sigi, if you haven’t yet seen the film “The Hangover, Part 2”, then please do so.) (FYI everyone else, Sigi is Richy’s wife).

Because we most definitely plan to plug in the ice machine tomorrow night. Sophie is rocking right now. We’ve been sailing on a beam now broad reach in 14 knot tradewinds under jib and full main for over a day now and have covered 183 miles in the last 24 hours. Nuku Hiva is only 325 miles away, and it is looking increasingly likely that we will drop the anchor in Nuku Hiva’s Baie do Taiohae Saturday morning. We’ll then break out the barbecue and have a surf’n’turf birthday celebration for Rich. Then likely go to sleep.

For those of you keeping score at home, San Diego is now 2563 miles away and Seattle is only 3313 miles to our northeast.

It’s been a low key 24 hours on the boat. I lasted about 10 minutes on “the Iliad” and switched to watching the films “Captain America” and “Moneyball” on my Surface during watches last night. These were my first video watches on the trip, and they definitely helped the time go by a little more quickly than reading 150 year old translations of Homeric verse.

Last night Jenna made a warm chinois and rice salad with diced organic chicken breast, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes and olives. It seems we’ve been on a Mediterranean food kick lately. It was delicious.

Day 16

Motor? What Motor?

Our great Marquesas Motorsail Adventure ended around 10:00 PM last night. During that time we covered 586 nautical miles over a 78 hour period for an average speed of 7.5 knots (otherwise known as 180 mile days), motorsailing with one engine at a time through an equatorial zone with 2-8 knots of wind. Our Yanmar diesel engines ran smoothly the whole time without burning any oil, and we still have a little less than half of our diesel fuel left.

Why did we turn the engines off at 10:00 PM last night? It turns out that we finally found the southeast trade winds! At the time I was on watch with Rich after a rain squall had come through, and we saw that we had a true wind speed of 12 knots. We turned off the motor to see what would happen, and we started to sail under jib and full main at at a speed of 7 knots. Since we were under beautiful moonlight with no waves, we decided to fly the code zero. For the next 2 hours we had a remarkable, memorable night sail: calm, flat, warm and fast. I then went off watch and immediately fell sound asleep. Three and a half hours later I awoke to some loud banging and a lot of wind. Another rain squall had come through, the halyard for the code zero slipped a foot or two in its stopper, and the strength of the 20 knot squally gusts caused the bow sprit –the 3 foot long piece of aluminum that holds down the code zero and is attached to the spar that connects Sophie’s bows together — popped out of it’s socket. I’ve never seen that happen before! Rich, Dan and I dropped the sail, saw that nothing was broken, and rerigged the sprit. While we did all of this work, the squall passed and the true wind dropped to 6 knots. We put the code zero back up and resumed our 8-10 knot speed over the ground.

While doing all of this, we somehow managed to wrap the remaining meat line around the port propeller. We were subsequently able to salvage most of the line along with the “Four Hook Surprise”, and we will see how much is still on the prop or skeg after things calm down a bit.

Anyway, for the next 2 hours I took the helm with a keen eye on my Speed Over Ground, Average Wind Speed and True Wind Speed. As these numbers began to consistently hit 10, 19, and 16 respectively, I began to think we needed to drop the code zero. At that moment Rich popped his head up and said “Do you think we should drop the code zero?” We dropped that sail, replaced it with the jib, and my three numbers switched to 9, 16, and 14 with a much smoother motion. The wind and seas continued to build, and those numbers rose to 9, 22, and 17, so for the next few hours we sailed under jib and a reefed main. In the last hour the wind has calmed down, so we shook out the reef and are now cruising along at 8+, 12, and 9 on a course of 214 magnetic with the trade wind blowing 70 degrees off Sophie’s port bow.

What does all this mean? Sophie smells the barn. Our 24 hour total is 189 miles, a new record for us. Our speed remained basically the same with motor on vs. motor off throughout the day, and we hope to make the rest of the trip without needing the motors. Hiva Oa, which given our recent burst of speed is now our destination, is only 486 miles away. At our current course and speed we will arrive there sometime Friday night. This would mean an 18 and a half day passage, much faster than any of us expected! It also means we are plugging in the icemaker at noon Friday. 🙂 If we actually pull this off, we would celebrate Rich’s birthday in style at anchor in Hiva Oa ove rthe weekend and then sail up to Nuku Hiva on Monday night, giving the boys plenty of time to catch their Wednesday flight. We’ll see if we can keep this speed up without breaking anything.

Other than that, there is not much to report. Dan is rigging another meat line. Jenna and Leo are up top taking in some air. Hazel is lying on the floor under the salon table doing … something. I finished “Robinson Crusoe” and have moved on to “The Iliad.” Rich has a Euro sunburn which he plans to show off when he shovels snow in Rodental in 10 days.

Last night we dined another Richy creation: seared yellowfin tuna fillets complemented by a cold penne salad with pesto, sun dried tomatoes, and greek olives along with a side of steamed organic baby carrots. It was delicious.

Day 15

Crossing the line

We crossed the equator yesterday around 2:00 PM at 00.00 n 128.55 w on a bright sunny day with little wind. To celebrate, we rigged a life preserver on a line that we towed behind Sophie, and then each of us jumped into the water one at a time and went for a little equatorial ride behind the boat. Hazel and Leo each went twice. We then toweled off and drank a celebratory drink (with Trader Joe’s Sparkling White Chardonnay Grape Juice, of course). As part of this, Leo provided an excellent memorial toast to mark the occasion.

In general right now, Sophie is a HHB (Happy Hot Boat). Believe it or not, the temperature seems to get warmer as we continue to head south. Our current position is 02.07 s 130.44 w, which means we have traveled 185 miles in the last 24 hours. Our “trade winds” remain 7-10 knots from the east, so we continue to motorsail with one engine at a time along with the main and jib. Hiva Oa is only 675 miles away, and we have covered 2228 miles since San Diego. At this course and speed we will arrive at Hiva Oa on Saturday March 23, which just so happens to be Richy’s birthday. However, I am not sure we have enough fuel to use the engines all the way there, so our arrival may wind up being Sunday or Monday. We may also decide to arrive in Nuku Hiva, which is a little farther away but is where the boys will catch their flight home on March 27. We’ll decide as we get closer.

We’ve been motorsailing for 68 hours now, and although the fuel gauges indicate that we still have half of our fuel left, it’s been our experience (Bodega Bay) that the gauges are not always the most precise instruments on the boat. Reading them is more art than science. We’ve covered almost 500 miles traveling in this mode, and no one on the boat is complaining about the distance we are making. But we will watch the gauges quite closely as we finish up the trip.

With this heat and sea motion, everyone is sleeping quite well. I finished “Moby Dick” and have moved on to “Robinson Crusoe”. The Kindle Paperwhite is perfect for reading during a nightwatch and now rivals the bimini as my favorite piece of equipment on the boat. Dan is making tuna melts for lunch (using fish he caught and bread he baked), and Jenna’s linguini with clam sauce was a big hit at dinnertime last night.

Day 14

It’s starting to get hot

It’s 86 degrees in the cockpit shade right now as we continue to motorsail under main, jib and a single engine. We are now on a 215 course magnetic heading towards the Marquesas. The sea is pretty flat with 1 foot waves and a 1-2 foot swell. The wind is blowing 7 knots form the east. We have the fishing lines in but doubt we’ll catch anything because we’ve stopped seeing birds or flying fish. Why would anyone want to live here in the doldrums?

From a distance perspective, we’re cooking! Our noontime position is 00.10 n 128.44 w, which puts us 10 miles due north of the equator. We’re currently proceeding at a speed of 8.5 knots and knocked off 182 miles in the last 24 hours. Hiva Oa is now only 859 miles away, and that number will drop by 1 with every additional mile we cover. San Diego is increasingly becoming a distant memory, with 2058 distant miles and 2 weeks of sailing behind us.

We’ve been running one motor at a time @ 2400 RPM for 43 hours now, and both tanks are still way over half full. From my perspective, we can continue at this 180-mile-day motorsailing pace for a few more days based on our fuel capacity, but the easterly trade wind should increase by tonight, so hopefully that won’t be necessary.

We’ll pass the equator in less than 2 hours. Needless to say, Sophie is a happy boat.

Last night was full of weather action. Our radar screen was lit up with large, intense rain showers from 10:00 PM to 4:00 AM, and we were able to avoid all of them except two. That’s OK because they combined to dump an inch of rain on us, thoroughly decrusting Sophie of her 2 weeks of salt buildup on deck.

Dan and Hazel are baking bread right now. Jenna is giving Leo a spelling test. Rich is about to make turkey and cheese paninis for lunch. Last night’s Irish one pot meal was a big hit, especially the fresh cabbage from San Diego. (Remember that place?) Tonight for dinner we’ll go back to yellowfin tuna. It will be three days old, but who said this was a luxury cruise?

Day 13

Moving faster through the zone.

We continued on our spinnaker run approaching the ITCZ until 4:30 yesterday afternoon, when we all intently watched a big rain cloud slowly — and then quite quickly — approach us from the east. Our latitude was 05.29 n, right on the cusp of the ITCZ. We finally decided it might be prudent to douse the chute, and just as Rich reached for the line to pull down the spinnaker sock we were hit with a 20+ knot gust of wind. And then rain dumped on us for the first time since we left San Diego. Chute down, main and jib up. But then we did something different.

We turned on the motor.

Specifically, we turned on our port diesel engine and set it @ 2400 RPM. Our goal was to motorsail Sophie as quickly as possible on a due south course through the ICTZ from 05 n to the equator, especially for the first 100 miles where we were told there were thunderstorms. So far, so good. Our current position is 02.55 n 127.24 w, which means we have traveled 188 miles in the last 24 hours. We motorsailed at 8-9 knots in an 8 knot easterly throughout the night. This is our best mileage day so far on the trip, and we would have cracked 190 miles if we hadn’t stopped the boat for 30 minutes this morning so I could swim under it with a knife to cut away some line from the propeller.

Remember from a previous post how I told you that it is a bad practice for sailboats to back up over lines? Well, we decided to switch from the port to the starboard engine at midnight last night, but when we did so the boat lost 2 knots of speed and produced a loud vibrating noise. We assumed that we had Double Takedown meat line wrapped around our starboard propeller. Once I was in the water at 8:00 this morning I saw that we had the entire meat line assembly — lure, leader, line, shock cord, and elaborate alarm system — all neatly coiled around the closed folding prop. I was able to cut it all away, and it was a little fun to swim in water over 1,000 miles from the nearest land, especially since the water temperature here is 40 degrees warmer than the water temperature present the last time I had to cut lines of of Sophie’s propeller, in sunny Puget Sound off of Marrowstone Island a few Augusts ago.

The only other issue last night involved the port diesel engine’s failure to charge the batteries. Dan and I poked around this morning, tightened the engine’s fan belt, and it is now charging properly.

We are currently in the “doldrums” and are motorsailing at 7 knots in 8-10 knots of wind, no waves and bright sunshine. We will continue doing this for at least another day. The equator is 177 miles away, which means we’ll have our line crossing ceremony late tomorrow morning. Then we will turn 45 degrees to starboard and sail on a rhumb line to the Marquesas. Hiva OA is 1033 miles away — otherwise known as a week — and we still have plenty of diesel in our tanks if we want to have a few more 190 mile days in order to get there sooner.

The Bavarian pork dinner last night was truly spectacular. I think it was our best meal of the trip. Tonight we will dine on corned beef and cabbage in honor of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland and the namesake of my mother.