Passage Photos: Sailing

Here is our final set of photos from our crossing in March. It covers our daily sailing life from the colds of San Diego to our arrival celebrations in Nuku Hiva.

And in case you haven’t noticed this yet, Jenna has taken almost every one of these photos. She throws a tremendous amount of energy, focus and care into creating these.

Enjoy!

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Passage Photos: FISH!

Now let’s get to the important content. Here are shots of the fish we bagged on the way to Nuku Hiva.

For starters, for most of the trip we had 2 lines out. One was a “meat line”, meaning 25 feet of 300 pound test line tied directly to Sophie. Here is a shot of the tin can alarm Leo constructed to alert us to meat line hits.

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The other line was an offshore pole in a holder. This is where we got our first fish, an Ahi tuna that Dan landed.

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We also landed an Ahi on the meat line.

Of course, our big fish event was the “double takedown” of 2 yellowfin tuna at the  same time.

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This is what 38 pounds of tuna looks like an hour after being caught on Sophie:

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Of course, tuna weren’t our only Sophie fish. Here are some of our almost daily flying fish found on deck.

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Once we were in Nuku Hiva, Dan kept on fishing and landed this bad boy while we were at anchor.

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We also had a lot of fish that got away, including this one that I fought for half an hour.

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All in all, fishing has simply become a core part of our lives on this trip. It’s a blast, and it keeps our freezer full.

Passage Photos: Equator

We are taking advantage of the Wifi here in Fakarava to get caught up on some of the photos Jenna has taken during our trip. This collection covers the day when we crossed the equator on the way from San Diego to Nuku Hiva.

For starters, here is our money shot. This is the screen on our Raymarine chart plotter when it said we were exactly at the equator. Please note the 00.00.00s on the screen.

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It’s a once in a lifetime moment. To celebrate, we all decided to jump into the ocean.

First the grownups.

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Then the kids. Since we were dealing with a 2 knot current, we rigged a life ring on a line behind the boat so we wouldn’t lose them. (Jenna and I would also like to point out that these are excellent “before” photos of us, we are now in much better shape. 🙂 )

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Then we celebrated with some sparkling grape juice. (Jenna’s wine would remain untouched until we had our anchor down in Nuku Hiva). Leo provided a wonderful toast.

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And that was the equator.

Fakarava

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We arrived in Fakarava 2 days ago. Fakarava is the second largest of the Tuamotos and will be our last stop before we get to Papeete to join Max and Becca, our first visitors since the boys left us in Nuku Hiva.

Right now we are anchored in front of the little town of Rotoava. There are four other boats here, but three of them appear to be permanent residents of the harbor. Fakarava seems to have a bit of a tourism industry going, the first we’ve really seen since our arrival in French Polynesia. In addition to the 2 stores in town, there are 3 dive shops and a snack bar. Four hotels are farther down the lagoon, and we actually see people on vacation and not from other boats wandering around town.

There is no diesel though, so we will have to mostly sail until we can fill her up in Papeete.

What Rotoava does have is Wifi. Incredibly crisp, fast, cheap Wifi. That’s the main reason why we are hanging out here for a couple of days before we go spend a week anchored off the pink sand beaches on the southern end of the island.

We had gone over two weeks without access to the Internet. But after spending a bunch of time yesterday on Facebook, email, amazon.com and boston.com/sports/baseball/redsox, I have to say that I haven’t really missed the Internet that much. I’ll be just fine next week without it while lounging on the pink sands.

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On our way to Fakarava, we wound up staying in Apataki for a week, including 5 nights moored in front of Hassan’s pearl farm/boat yard. (That’s a photo of an Apataki rainbow above). A low pressure system passed through the area while we were there, bringing torrential rains and squally gusts ranging up to 25-30 knots. It seems that all of the anchorages on Apataki are marked by huge coral heads that climb over 20 feet up from the sea floor, and we heard stories of boats that sank there after their anchor chains wrapped around the coral and then broke during storms. We were very happy to be moored in a safe, protected and beautiful spot during the bad weather.

We had a great week hanging out in Apataki. The kids had good home schooling sessions. There was excellent snorkeling every day by the shore. The locals gave us coconuts, papayas and bananas, then sold us eggs that were laid that morning. We never even bothered going into the village.

But we wanted to get to Fakarava, and when we had what we thought was a good weather window we left Apataki via it’s southern pass and then sailed 20 miles upwind to the Island of Toau where we spent a night. The following day we motorsailed around the top of Toau and then sailed another 25 miles upwind to get here. During this last run, we had 2 reefs in the main and a reef in the jib due to the 20-25 knot easterly winds and 6-10 foot waves. For us, this type of open ocean sailing has now become quite normal. Sophie likes to be reefed, and Jenna and I just hung out up top and read books (Portrait of a Lady for her, the Nabokov memoir for me).

We learned in Fakarava that the small “sharks” hanging out under our boat were actually large remora fish and were completely harmless (unless they tried to attach their 6 inch head suckers to your back or thigh), so we immediately jumped back into the water around Sophie for over an hour. It’s absolutely the best way to beat the 100 degree midday heat.

We did have a bit of a tragedy here the other night. I accidentally dropped my beloved tactical flashlight — the Chinese-made, lithium ion powered device that Karl Riebeling gave me — into the water off of Sophie’s back step. I was tossing a small piece of raw tuna into the water to see what kind of fish action I could get (remoras, of course) when the flashlight slipped out of my hand. I watched it blink as is descended the 50 feet down to the ocean floor below us, then watched it blink down there for the next 2 hours before I finally went to bed. It’s probably still down there, blinking forever.

Jenna and I are both a week in to 7 Weeks to 100 Push-Ups. We are both sore. I’ve lost 20 pounds since San Diego. Hazel is learning how to be a blonde. Leo’s hair as it gets longer has developed curls matching those of Shirley Temple in her prime. Jenna looks fabulous.

From a food perspective, we are doing quite well. Last night we had organic chicken breasts with roasted red peppers and onion in a Trader Joe’s Thai Red Curry Sauce. We’ve been working on some of the tuna we’ve caught and have had that a few times in the last week. Jenna made a carbonara with some of the farm fresh eggs, and we also had a pesto.

We provisioned almost 2 months ago, and I think we have enough food to make it to Papeete. In the freezer there is still a pork loin, 3 pounds of organic hamburger, 4 nights of tuna and a couple of chicken breasts. There is one remaining hamsteak in the fridge. (We started out with 6). We have enough pasta, rice, crackers, canned olives, fruit and veggies along with various boxes of “Pomi” brand tomato sauces to last us for the next 2 years.

We also have decided that Jenna’s wine collection that is now on the boat will go bad within the next year due to the tropical heat. So we have to drink it. I have to say it’s kind of ridiculous to open the bilge and sort through various bottles of Leonetti and Opus One to determine which one goes into the fridge to cool down before dinner.

Beer here is expensive, so we are not drinking too much of that. I did buy a couple of cartons of local fruit juice, and they contributed to some nice Mai-Tai’s the other night.

Jenna says the ice maker has transformed the tropical boating experience for her. We run it for a couple of hours every other day. It draws only 12 amps from the batteries. We then have these beautiful ice cubes whenever we want them. It makes a material difference in our 90-degrees-in-the shade lives.

We’ve only been gone for 2 months, but it feels like 2 years. Tahiti, the Cooks, Tonga and Fiji all lie before us. It keeps getting better.

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Stuck in Apataki

Well, we’ve been in Apataki for 4 nights now, and it looks like we will be here for at least a few more. Our general plan is to sail from here to Fakarava and its famous pink beaches before doing an overnight sail to Tahiti in advance of the arrival of Max and Becca on May 12. The only problem is that Fakarava lies 50 miles to the southeast from us, which is exactly where a 16 knot breeze will be blowing for the next few days. We don’t have enough fuel or desire to pound through the waves to get there. Tahiti is to the southwest, so we always have the option of heading there whenever we want.

So we are forced to sit and wait. Bummer.

We are moored (yes, moored) off of the Motu of Totoro in the lagoon here where the Assam family has their pearl farm and little boat yard. There are 3 other boats moored here, along with an extended family living on shore. There is no town, store, wifi, or boat traffic. It is extremely quiet. We are surrounded by coral heads, each with hundreds if not thousands of fish. The snorkeling is fantastic.

We were playing on the beach yesterday when Assam’s son wandered up, asked if we wanted some coconuts, then proceeded to hack the tops of 3 green ones so we could have a cool drink. He then asked if we wanted some papayas and gave us 5 big ones.

Hazel and I took a break from schoolwork yesterday to hop into the water and immediately saw a 4 foot shark swimming under Sophie. It wouldn’t go away and in fact kept swimming closer. We got out. I need to learn how to swim with sharks.

We discovered last night that the sliding glass window to the aft cockpit makes an excellent puppet theater. It even has the curtain. We used socks as puppets and now have a new art project for the kids lined up.

There is a school of pink perch-like fish that gathers under Sophie at sunset. They are 8-12 inches long and hit our blue steel minnow lure within 5 seconds of it going into the water. We have to ask the family if they are OK to eat. Hazel enjoyed reeling in a couple.

Dinner last night was grilled bluejack tuna. The night before was grilled lamb chops with homemade mac and cheese. The night before was chicken Masala. We’re not starving. I’ve started the Nabakov memoir, and Steve Speirs’s “7 Weeks to 100 Push-Ups” is staring up at me from the salon table. If we hang out here for a few more days I may even have to open it.

Apataki

OK, this is getting ridiculous.

Today we left Manihi and motorsailed south in basically no wind for 70 miles to Apataki, an atoll in the middle of the Tuamatos. We are now anchored in the corner of a 100 square mile lagoon. We see another sailboat anchored 4 miles away from us. Otherwise there is no one here. No one. No fishing boats, no fires on shore, no nothing. There is spectacular sky, palm trees on the shore, and 100 square miles of mirrored sea surface, just there.

It’s a little past sunset. Jenna is editing photos. I am cooking frozen Costco organic carrots, Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley and Double Takedown Yellowfin Tuna (thanks again Rich and Dan!). Leo is doing comparative fractions. Hazel is assembling toys into various dessert combinations. We just finished listening to Alicia Keys, and the Lumineers are now on. It’s Friday, which means Family Movie Night. It will be a musical from our Warner Brothers Musical Collection. I am leaning towards “Viva Las Vegas”, Jenna is suggesting “The Music Man” or “Singing in the Rain”. L and H want “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

We are very happy. Are only regret is that we are not sharing this in person with our friends. Friends: please get your collective acts together and come join us for as long as you’d like. You won’t regret it.

In case you were wondering, Manihi was wonderful. When we woke up after our night arrival, the Oyster at our anchorage was gone. For the next 4 days we were the only sailboat there. I had the pleasure of meeting Xavier, the retired French Navy admiral who runs the Sailmail Manihi station from his private island in the atoll. He was incredibly kind in helping us navigate safely to an anchorage at night and then showing me around the compound he has been building with his wife for the last few years. We met Fernando, the local baker/fisherman/black pearl farmer/Herbalife rep who brought a barrel of 200 liters of diesel out to Sophie, then manually siphoned it into our tanks, then took me, L and H grouper fishing outside of the pass at sunset because he’s a fisherman and “if you don’t work you don’t make money.” We caught 3 fish in 15 minutes. L pulled in 2, and H pulled in 1. There was one other boat out there, and they caught a 40 pound yellowfin. Their technique involves a baited hook at 120 feet, and when the they get a hit they release the rest of the line tied to a 20 pound piece of coral along with a big buoy. They landed the fish and were happy.

To enter a lagoon in an atoll in the Tuamotos, you have to go through a pass. Passes here can be pretty hairy, because currents can run as high as 8 knots and there can be razor sharp (meaning hull piercing) coral on either side. And there are no easily accessible tide books. So needless to say I was pretty focused as we entered the northern Apataki pass when the biggest dolphin I have ever seen jumped clear into the air 5 feet off Sophie’s port bow. If dolphins were animals, then this one was a horse. It was that big. And it had a friend. So we are motorsailing into the Apataki equivalent of Active Pass, Jenna is running for her camera to get horse-dolphin dressage shots, and Hazel suddenly appears on the trampoline. We made it through.

In terms of reading, Jenna and I just finished Jeanette Winterson’s “Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?” It’s a powerful, moving memoir from the English writer most famous for the novel “Oranges are Not the Only Fruit”. My daughter Sara gave it to us. In the book, Jeanette describes her local library reading quest through the canon of English literature via an A-Z route. When she got to “N” and started to read Nabokov, she actually went to the librarian and complained that he was so bad he didn’t deserve to be included in the category of English literature.

What’s way funny for me is that the next book on my reading list is Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir “Speak, Memory”, courtesy of my son Max. He said it’s one of the best memoirs ever written. It’s been literally sitting on top of the anti-Nabokov book on my bedside for the last 3 months. I will read it.

I love all of my children.

I do want to point out that my beloved firstborn daughter Sara decided 5 years ago that she wanted to pursue a career where she could make a difference in the world by becoming a health care professional, with a special focus on helping women. This decision required a journey involving post-BA science classes in Worcester, Mass. followed by 3 years at Yale’s nursing school. She finishes within the next month. Words can’t begin to describe how incredibly proud I am of her and what she has accomplished. The world is a better place because of her.

Back on Sophie, “The Music Man” won the draw for Family Movie Night tonight. H and L started out being laser-focused watching it. I am thinking of all of my Iowa friends, starting with JB. You know, I’ve still never been to that state.

By the time the movie is almost over, it’s just me and Hazel. She assumes that the more she watches, the more chocolate she’ll get. The next time she asks, I am going to offer some fish.

Linguine with Clam Sauce

For starters, Max sent us a quick note about Boston. Our hearts go out to everyone there. it’s awful.
We’d like to share some more positive news with all of you.
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Sophie arrived safely at the atoll of Manihi in the Tuamotus last night. We did the 500 mile passage from Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas in 3 days and 11 hours. It was our first offshore passage where Jenna and I were Sophie’s primary crew, and we have to say that we felt pretty comfortable driving the boat by ourselves over a long distance.
We even had to get through a couple of decent problems along the way. Our first night was pretty squally, and at one point we had to get the spinnaker down in 35 knot gusts. No problem. The next night our Raymarine chartplotter and radar integrated display system stopped working, and we sailed 30 hours without our primary electronic charts and no radar. Based on the diagnostics from the CPU unit, Raymarine customer service told us that the system was experiencing a video processor failure and would have to be replaced. I eventually figured out that it was a bad cable and got it working again.
We spent much of the time while the Raymarine was down discussing whether or not we would skip the Tuomotus — an area known as “The Dangerous Archipelego” because all of the islands are quite low (15 feet above sea level) and surrounded by dangerous coral reefs. In order to give us breathing room while we made this decision, we sailed Sophie quite conservatively at night, with 2 reefs in the main and a reef in the jib. It turns out that the boat is pretty darn comfortable when it’s not being pushed. It also helped that a high pressure system came in, and we had no more rain or winds over 20 knots after the first night of the trip.
We were 100 miles away from Manihi at daybreak on the 15th when we got the Raymarine working again, and we decided to go for it and try to make Manihi and it’s narrow inlet into the lagoon before dark set in. We turned on a Yanmar and motorsailed at 8-10 knots throughout the day. We also contacted Xavier, the guy who operates the Sailmail station in Manihi, to see if he could offer us any assistance getting in through the passage, which can experience currents up to 6 knots and has coral on either side.  It turns out we didn’t make Manihi until after dark, but Xavier tracked our position via AIS, kept in contact with us on VHF, and even had another boat turn on their AIS so we could see where the anchorage was located. He was very cool.
We got to the anchorage, dropped the hook, and opened a bottle of champagne. It was quite dark. Jenna and Leo made linguine with clam sauce. Leo has decided that he would like to become chef of the boat in order to learn a skill while being able to contribute to our overall effort in a positive way. He is inspired by his uncle Richy, and we gladly accepted his offer.
After Leo’s excellent dinner, we then all fell asleep watching “Bridge over the River Kwai”. Anchoring in a lagoon is like anchoring in a lake. There is no swell. We all slept.
Today we woke up, ate a pancake, cleaned up the boat, did 3 loads of laundry, then guided the kids through a half day of schoolwork. At one point we even saw a 4 foot long shark swimming lazily past Sophie. By the time we dinghied into the little village here, it was during the 1:00 – 300 PM period where French Polynesia apparently shuts down.
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It is a pretty little town, but there was nothing open so we went back to Sophie. Lunch consisted of prosciutto and cheese from Costco along with mangos we hand picked in Fatu Hiva, all washed down with a rum coconut cocktail with our first ever hand picked coconut and flavored by hand picked limes. It’s 90 degrees in the shade in the aft cockpit, and the ice maker is on.
I’m not sure what the weather is like in Seattle right now, and I am sure work is as exciting as ever. But we are pretty happy anchored by the palm trees, coral and sand.