THE PUDDLE JUMP - MEXICO TO FRENCH POLYNESIA
We are traveling with about 30 other boats, with about another 24 boats waiting in Puerto Vallarta for some wind so they could join us. One of the first boats to leave before us lost its rudder 4 days out. After attempting to build another rudder out of his cabin door, the Mexican navy finally ended up towing him back the 500 miles.
The first night out, we saw the distant light of another boat, but soon after we were all spread apart and did not see any other boats for a couple of days.
We took comfort in hearing the voices of Puddle Jumpers within VHF range but our positions changed every day. The "Puddle Jumpers" radio net provided support and camaraderie and we all checked in every day, giving our position, wind, speed, sea condition, etc. and that was useful in course planning. We also checked into 3 other nets a day. The Pacific Seafarers Net used our info to post our position daily on the internet for friends and family to track.
Winds so light at 3 to 6 knots that the boat is just rolling and bobbing around like a cork with the sails flogging and slamming and shaking the mast with every swell. We are resisting running the engine because we need to conserve every drop of fuel since we still have 2800 miles to go. Also we were told that fuel in the Marquesas is hard to come by and very expensive.
With no wind to accompany the motion, sets of waves seemed to come from several different directions ... and that’s not comfortable. The boat would top the peak of a wave and corkscrews down the front into the trough below. Just sitting still or sleeping in the bunk is major boat yoga as your surroundings in the cabin screw themselves through some indescribable path. Lots of "boat bites" as we were bounced around the cabin trying to do even the simplest of chores. It certainly was a challenge to prepare anything to eat and even more of a challenge to keep food on a plate long enough to eat it!
I suppose it will take time to get used to the motion and the routine of the night watches...we are finding out that sleep deprivation certainly can be debilitating. It is very hot during the day so we are very glad we had the bimini made in PV.
Spotted a freighter off our port beam during the early morning but no other vessels in sight.
I had made an extra effort to buy the freshest produce I could, traveling by 2 buses to get to the market. But by the fourth day out, my cantaloupe was mush and had contaminated all the rest of my fruit. Even the oranges, which are usually long lasting, were mouldy. I had followed the instructions of some cruising books and wrapped my fruit in foil. Big mistake. The fruit just cooked and rotted twice as fast. Best to leave fruits and vegetables unwrapped with good air circulation. It was very hard to pitch all my fresh provisions overboard so soon.
We have traveled about 575 miles so far but we have barely got our toes wet in the puddle. We expect that this journey will take about 23 or 24 days before we see land.
The wind eventually picked up enough to hoist the spinnaker, making the ride instantly more comfortable and we finally are cooking along at about 7 ½ knots once again. We sailed 140 nautical miles today and we finally feel like we were getting somewhere.
March 29 (140 nautical miles)
In the stillness of the morning, a helicopter appeared out of nowhere, it’s presence first made known by its thundering vibration piercing the peacefulness of the day. From what we could tell, with the skull and crossbones on its side, it looked like a US military chopper. Very intimidating as it hovered so close to us that we could see the faces of the military personnel looking down on us, one of them taking pictures. They circled us several times and when we attempted to contact them, they did not respond. We waved but they didn't wave back. At one point the turbulence from the chopper almost caused our boat to broach as the 100-knot wind created by them filled our sail and hit us broadside. Later someone in the fleet suggested that they were only looking for bare breasted women!
(109 nautical miles)
The wind has remained settled at around 12-15 knots for a couple of days and we are sailing under our spinnaker averaging about 6.5 to 7 knots. We were delighted when a huge group of spotted dolphins came to visit for a while. They darted under the boat and challenged each other in some sort of game involving our bow wave. You could easily watch their antics through the crystal clear water, which was the most amazing color of indigo blue.
What amazes me is the constant flock of birds, boobies and terns, circling the boat. They seem very curious and just hang around, way out here. The boobies are always trying to spot a place to land and hitch a ride. A Boobie flew right into our wind generator, knocked himself out, rolled down the bimini and landed on the side deck with a thud. He woke up and was staring right in at me through the open port light where I was trying to nod off in the aft cabin. Gave me quite a start!
After seeing no one for days, amazingly enough we met up with Emerald out there in mid ocean. It was a fun rendezvous, as we took pictures of each other's boats sailing under spinnaker. It was a real treat to have someone to converse with again for a while. Pictured right is Ascension under spinnaker.
(111 nautical miles)
We both tried to catch up on sleep today without any luck. It's just so hot and there is so much movement. It's hard to stay put on the bunk. Not as bad as the first couple of days out but I must say I feel like I am on one of those Mad-Hatter Tea Cup Carnival rides. Daily routines of cooking and doing laundry are difficult and take a lot more energy than you would imagine.
We are trying to do 3 hour watches at night and a less regimented schedule during the day. Every 8 minutes or so I check the horizon and radar for that illusive white flicker of light that verifies that I'm not the only one left on earth. However, I have not seen even the merest pinprick of light or signs of a vessel for days and nights. We are out in front of the fleet that we had been conversing with, including Matarua, who is 75 miles behind us now. We are out of range of VHF radio contact that gave conversation and company during the night. The radio is silent, not even any Mexican fishermen, ships or anyone.
My shift over, it's time for the first net of the day, and we look forward to hearing familiar voices check in. Just before tuning up the ham radio, Gord usually does a sweep around the deck to clear off all the flying fish and squid that accumulate during the night.
Flying fish all around, hundreds of them, all taking to the air at once as we approached. They can even get enough altitude to get as high as the deck, and when they get going they can easily cover a hundred yards or even more in distance flown . Last night, Gord was smacked upside the head in the total darkness by a huge flying fish, about 10 inches long. It left a greasy smear of fish scales down the side of his face! A flying fish even somehow managed to torpedo itself between the bimini window and the canvas cover, which is a very tight fit! We had to take the cover completely off to get the critter out.
Speaking of sea life, the bottom of Ascension has become a farm for a thick green slime that covers the waterline. Around the transom and rudder is a crop of gooseneck barnacles that flourish at an amazing rate. Some of them are well over an inch long. I am told that these barnacles only attach themselves to moving objects and will fall off naturally when we are at anchor. We will see.
April 1 (130 miles)
At 5 pm today, we celebrated the conclusion of our first week offshore. We have traveled 860 miles with an average daily distance of 120 miles. However, we still are not looking at our position on the chart in relationship to how far we still have to go because it would be too daunting.
We were feeling quite settled about the passage with good speed, still under spinnaker and a moderately comfortable ride. But suddenly an unexpected 20 knot gust twisted the boat and slewed us down the backside of a wave back-winding the spinnaker. When the sail filled again, there was an enormous whommmph! as it exploded into a dozen pieces. I guess I should have made a more ceremonious effort to pay homage to Davy Jones as we left PV.
Luckily since losing our spinnaker, we've had 20 knot winds consistently which keeps our speed up. Unfortunately, the ride turned rough again and I am getting tossed around the cabin like a rag doll. Had peanut butter sands for lunch & supper. Glad we didn't catch any fish today because I couldn't have dealt with it. The cockpit is the best place to be ...although it is 90 degrees and similar humidity, at least there are no flying objects above deck.
We are now way out in front of the entire group that we were traveling with. Over 100 miles from Matarua. No more VHF radio contact for a chat in the middle of the night. The boats in front of us left 2 or 3 days ahead of us at least so it is unlikely we will catch them.
April 2 (131 nautical miles)
Night watches can be truly mind altering. It's like riding a comet through the night. The moon's not up yet and the dark night sky is peppered with stars. From beneath the boat, an unbelievably bright trail of phosphorescence streams aft. A yard wide and fifty feet long, the glow from beneath the clear water's surface is accented by bursts of swirling star-like plankton that announce their awareness of our passage. It’s like a trail of fairy dust on either side of the boat, a foamy light show of its own.
April 3 (128 nautical miles)
The winds have been a good 15-20 knots all day, and our usual sail configuration is a double reefed main with full foresail.
Today, another group of boats left from PV, including Tackless II and Ocean Girl. They finally got the winds needed to get going after a week of waiting. Unfortunately, they are so far behind now, about 1000 miles, that we can't even hear them on the ham radio nets without a relay.
We jibed today to correct our course and get further south instead of west. The course change put us behind Emerald whom we had passed 2 days ago. The wind is blowing 27 knots, swell 12 feet and it's raining. There has been a series of squalls that we have been going through, making night watches challenging. My keyboard flew off the nav table onto the floor & broke. Cup a noodles was all we could muster for supper. Am losing weight but that's okay after all the Happy Hours in Mexico.
We are officially half way there! Having sailed 1500 miles in the past 11 days we have gone further than the entire trip down the West Pacific coast. A pilot whale surfaced right beside the boat earlier today, I’m sure in celebration of the landmark.
Squalls bringing torrential rain continued intermittently for several days, sucking all the wind away from our path as they passed. Iron Jenny called into action reluctantly, but we need to preserve our sails that have been banging and slapping around in the swell. Black ugly angry clouds all around and lightning everywhere, sometimes striking so close that you could smell the ozone.
Here we are, a big lightning rod in the water. Wondering if it really does any good to put the GPS and the computer in the oven.....Gord has not yet figured out how to use the sextant and we hope it never comes to that.
Last 24 hours have been a mixed bag. Squally, torrential rains, lightning, no wind at all, then a burst of wind that gave us a great sail for a while. We are having trouble making a good course, dodging storm cells and just trying to keep the boat moving forward. Only made 99 miles in last 24 hours but that was course made good. Who knows how far we actually sailed.
The sun set on building ugly black clouds ballooning into threatening monstrous shapes, with their entrails of rain streaking the distance sky. By night we were hit by major squalls and torrential downpours accompanied by lightning several times. It was so black out and with the driving rain, you couldn't see the front of the boat. We managed to get the sails down and we were motoring when the 30 knots gusts hit suddenly.
By early morning some wind finally came up so we tried to sail, but the wind direction put us many miles off course. Since then, we have had flat calm seas, with a 3 foot swell and no wind. We are having to run our engine traveling at a snail's pace of 3.5 knots to try and conserve our fuel. Today was our worst mileage ever. Supposable, the doldrums we are in last at least 300 miles, which is a long way to motor.
It is stifling hot in the cabin, about 95 deg F and 2 am with the same humidity reading. The engine running makes it worse but at least with the calm seas we can open a hatch. Am getting use to always being very sweaty.
Just did our routine check into the Pacific Seafarers net and heard a call from a young couple approached by a Columbia ship who shone a spotlight on them and were acting suspicious. The Net immediately patched them in to the US Coast Guard who instructed them what to do and tried to verify the identity of the Columbian vessel. It was quite interesting. Good to know that the nets are available for assistance.
After 2 weeks and sailing 2000 miles without seeing land, we are getting cabin fever. The winds have kept up enough to keep us moving along as we are trying to get to the equator before the doldrums are predicted to set into this area. Gord and I have both been completely dragged out. Sleep deprivation and the unbelievable heat/humidity is very draining. It's a good thing we now have a good watermaker because it's hard to drink enough water to combat dehydration.
Just to get to the frig to pour a mug of water takes tremendous effort. Our bones and muscles are so sore from the constant "boat yoga" necessary just to stay put on your seat or bunk or to get around the boat handrail to handrail and leaning into whatever is handy to keep your balance. And all that cool inviting water all around. Oh how I wish we could take a dip.
But of course the boat is always moving and the swell is considerable so we have no desire to get off the boat and have it sail away without us!. Our lifejacket/tethers are designed to inflate when wet, so we wouldn't want to waste a $60 cartridge if a jacket was activated.
My first watch last night (from 10 am to 1 am) was under a clear moonless night with bright stars everywhere. I took out the star chart and tried to find some constellations. The Southern Cross stands boldly at our bow keeping us on course. Too bad you don't see those stars in the Western Hemisphere. By my second watch (4 am) the sky was all cloudy and the stars were gone.
Amazingly enough we can once again see Matarua in the distance. After traveling thousands of miles in this huge ocean, not having seen anyone in weeks, Matarua, who was 100 miles behind at one point, is now a dot on the horizon. We are about 6 miles apart!. That's amazing. We are still at least a week away from land.
April 13 (125 nautical miles)
We were really missing the spinnaker as we motored across flat calm glassy seas for 2 days. We were surprised that the "magic line" of 0 degrees latitude seemed to produce a breeze and before long we had the sails back up and were clipping along at 6 knots once again.
At 1 am we celebrated our Equator Crossing under starry skies, the Southern Cross at our bow at 131 degrees longitude. I had baked a chocolate cake as I hear that it is King Neptune's favorite. The tradition amongst sailors is that you hold a celebration and make an offering to Neptune.
In return we will advance from the ranks of "pollywogs" into the fraternity of "shellbacks". We decided to serve him a glass of red wine as it will go well with his cake so I hope he enjoyed his glass of our cherished last bottle of Merlot, horded from San Francisco all this time.
We are proud of our major accomplishment to reach this landmark (although the scenery is exactly the same as it has been for the last 2000 miles) About 2 hours later, our friends Joyce and Peter on Matarua joined the fraternity of Shellbacks, Joyce dressing up in her hula skirt and lei to celebrate the occasion. We congratulated them on the radio as they popped open their bottle of champagne.
It feels good to officially be South. Looking forward to our landfall soon.
April 14 (127 nautical miles)
We celebrated our Three Weeks at Sea Anniversary today. We are less than 300 miles from our landfall in the Marquesas. I think we have finally left the doldrums behind us and are clipping along at over 7 knots reefed. We encounter squalls every night which makes for a bumpy ride and it's still stifling hot so sleeping is difficult. We are so looking forward to dropping anchor and just sleeping and sleeping.
Whisper, another boat in our fleet, hit a whale but there was no damage.
April 16 (151 nautical miles)
April 18 LANDFALL!!
After 23 1/2 days we finally sighted land just as the sun was rising. As the sun woke, the magical island of Fatu Hiva came into view clearer and clearer. At 7:00 AM Marquesan time we rounded the corner and saw fellow cruisers at anchor so prepared for our landfall.
We were exhilarated about finally reaching the French Polynesia, knowing a new chapter in our adventures were just beginning.
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