We made it!!!!
I am sitting in the cockpit of Wind Cutter listening to children surf the shore and the wind blowing softly in my face. My view is spectacular: lush green hills covered with coconut palms, pandanus and halophile bushes. Sugar cane, gardenia and purau trees (a variety of hibiscus) dot the narrow dirt road that follows the coastline.
It is tropically humid here but my skin loves it and moisturizer is no longer needed. I am in the Marquesas Islands, the youngest of the islands of Polynesia formed by an underwater volcanos thousands of years ago. I am on the island of Nuka Hiva (N8degrees56 and west 140degrees06) anchored in about 20 feet of water in Taiohae Bay. The bay is 8 miles wide and has a good sandy bottom. Magellan discovered this island in 1520 but he did not go ashore due to unfriendly inhabitants (cannibals once inhabited the island). Walking around the island, you can hike to a waterfall, or take numerous trials by foot or horseback into a lush rain forest. The town is small, the people friendly. Tikis dot the island shore and a beautiful cathedral houses carvings that are spectacular!
Fruits and vegetables are plentiful here (especially during the market on Saturday and Wednesday) and the bananas are the best I’ve ever tasted! There is a bakery and fresh bagets are available every day. There are no indigenous land animals here but herds of sheep, goats, cattle and pigs roam the island as well as several chickens and horses!
The primary language is French. We share the small crescent shaped bay with several sailing vessels and one or two power boats (brave souls!) Since this island is in the heart of the trade wind belt, easterly winds are most prevalent although a strong southern blow often winds around the bend and rocks our boat!
This was our second attempt crossing the Pacific Ocean! On April 7th, 2014, after sailing over 500 nautical miles, we limped back to shore (Puerto Vallarta) to repair our generator. We knew we had a short time to repair the generator before hurricane season made the passage dangerous! Thanks to Craig’s awesome mechanical abilities and friends who helped diagnose the problem, the generator was up and running in a week! A small carbon dioxide leak was also diagnosed and repaired! We took another week to re-provision, say goodbye to friends, test the generator by anchoring in the bay of La Cruz, and wait for Carol’s stitches to come out (explanation below under Health and Fitness!)
On April 21, 2014, satisfied that we were ready, we set sail again (minus our good friend and crew, Guy Young). The first few days were perfect! Sunny skies, calm seas and winds averaging 14 kts kept Wind Cutter sailing along at 6.5 kts on a beam reach! But on the third day, the ski turned cloudy, the seas rose, and the battery conked out! Frustrated beyond description, Craig turned Wind Cutter around and headed back to Puerto Vallarta while Carol pouted and tried to convince him that we didn’t need the batteries to do this (not)! Finally, Carol relented, prayed quietly for a battery “healing” and then watched in wonder as Craig (again) resolved the problem by checking connectors, wires and such. We lost 24 hours (going the wrong direction) but both delighted that we were able to turn Wind Cutter back towards the South Pacific! We were not the last boat in the Fleet that left Puerto Vallarta, but we were close!
Although the weather remained cloudy, the seas calmed down and the wind picked up and for two days we made excellent time! After that, the seas and weather remained inconsistent ! Some days there was no wind, and the sea lay flat…a luminescent , milky substance that reminded me of a scene from the movie, “Life of Pi”.
Other days, the wind blew near gale force ( 34 kts) and seas broke over the bow! I can best describe the inconsistency of the sea by comparing it to rides at Disneyland! Somedays, life on Wind Cutter was like riding “Small World” over and over again. Other days, it was like being on “Mr Toad’s Wild Ride” (you never knew which way the wind or the waves would take you). Other days, it was like the downhill ride on “Splash Mountain”, thrilling yet frightening! One thing we discovered is that the weather and the seas are NOT predictable and can change in a heartbeat! Trying to sleep in rough seas is challenging and you often wake up on the wrong side of the bed, or even the floor!
Since it was just the two of us, we agreed to keep lifejackets and tethers on at night no matter what the conditions! During the day, we kept the same rule unless the ocean was flat and we were both on deck. We had a few “scary” moments. The first being when our mail sail ripped during a squall (about 600 miles out) and we could not reef her in! We sailed the remainder of the way with the main half reefed. Another time, during light winds, we were sailing the asymmetrical when suddenly the winds picked up to 20 knotts! We scrambled to the deck to bring her down and almost lost Craig as he tried to put the sail back in the sack (winds lifted him off the deck!)
But the scariest moment was about 4 days out from the Marquesas Islands, when a nasty squall (wind 30 plus knotts and high seas that crashed on the deck) took the hub from the genoa sail. This caused the roller furling to stick so that we could not bring in the sail. Our choice was to head into the wind and wait, or ride her out and pray we didn’t breech. Since the weather forecast looked worse if we stayed put, we decided to ride it out…three days of crazy seas and high winds! At one point, late at night on my watch, I was sure we were going to roll. My father drowned at sea and because I promised my mother that I would not do the same, I knew I needed to get down below. Healed over almost to the point of falling out of the cockpit, I stumbled below and woke Craig who yelled , “carry on” ! I told him I would “carry on” from safely inside the boat (he agreed)! I set a timer for 15 minute intervals so that I could pop my head up and look for ships! Those of you who know me, know that I don’t frighten easily, but that night I was worried! The rest of my watch I sat on the nav floor, holding on, staring at the wind speed, and the auto pilot (praying it would hold!) We traveled 3 days like that with high, confused seas and winds that at times reached 35 knotts!! Just before we reached the island, the winds and seas calmed down enough (14 knotts) so that Craig could go on deck and unwind the tangled line. For those of you who said you were praying for us…thank you! I can’t imagine how we would have anchored in high winds had we not been able to lower that sail!
During the first 1,000 miles or so, several large vessels crossed our path and watches became tense! We didn’t see other sailboats but we knew four other boats that left around the same time and were able to stay in radio contact with one of them the entire trip! Nervous about the traffic, we knew it was important to keep a good watch so we experimented with different ‘watch’ schedules for a week before finally settling on a night schedule that worked best for us! We did best with six hours on, and six hours off resting as needed during the day. Although we were tired at the end of this voyage, we felt pretty good for the majority of the trip because we got our “rem” sleep! By nature Craig is a “night” person, and I am a morning girl so Craig took the first 6 hour shift (from 8 -2am) and I took the early morning shift from 2am – 8am. We spent the morning together, and eventually worked into “nap” routines as well! Most of the time, we felt well rested , alert and considered crewing “with two” a piece of cake! We avoided several collisions with large tankers during that first 1,000 miles at sea! After the equator the only vessel we saw was an orange helicopter that appeared out of no where! It circled our boat a few times with it’s door open and crew hanging out. Was it a rescue mission or were they checking me out sunbathing on deck? LOL! We did see debris float past us that day…a heeled shoe, a bright blue fin and something pink and round. We know of a boat from the fleet that went down around the same area and surmised that the debris might have been from that boat…
We bought enough food to last Wind Cutter a year! The problem was organizing it, storing it and remembering where you put everything! I ended up making a list for each compartment and taping it to the inside of the cabinet. When I needed an item, I could easily scan the list before pulling everything out to find an item. Sometimes I had to tether myself to the stove in order to have “hands free cooking” and when the weather got really rough, we were thankful to have purchased, pre-made meals (freezer ready to be steamed or microwaved!) I even managed to make homemade bread and chocolate chip cookies along the way! Our friend, Doug from La Paz gave me his famous “Igor” Sour Dough Starter recipe which I accidentally left rising on deck in the sun. While taking a nap, I heard Craig scream and rushed on deck to find “Igor” had exploded and covered our deck with sticky dough! Igor walked the plank that day (lol!) We both craved pasta, fruit and veggies and devoured what we had in the first few weeks! We were thankful for the beverages we brought along that had ‘electrolytes’ in them! You loose energy if you don’t keep your body well supplied with fluids and electrolytes! We both fought dehydration a couple times until we figured out we were not supplementing enough! We caught two fish; a tuna and a dorado! We had hoped for more but honestly didn’t try very hard to catch more (cleaning and storing was difficult!) We lost several lines to big fish (the ones that got away) and lost our best knife overboard during a squall.
A day after returning to Mexico (after our first attempt sailing to the South Pacific), I developed an abscessed tooth that could not be saved! It turned out to be a blessing that we turned back that first time! I had the tooth pulled, and surgery was needed to dig out the embedded roots! We had to wait a week before the swelling went down, and the stitches came out (we left the day they did!) During the trip, we both had mild dehydration but remedied that by increasing our fluid and electrolyte intake . Craig’s blood pressure went up and down with the weather and he started seeing ‘spots’ in his right eye. It has since lowered (it’s the islands!) We both took at least one ‘bad fall’ and have the bruises to prove it! Rule of thumb: hold on with one hand (or foot) at all times! I often use my toes to grip a rail, or hang onto an item! When I use the crank washing machine, I sit on my bottom and hold the thing with my toes while cranking it (thank you dance for strengthening my toes!) My only fall was during CALM seas when a rogue wave decided to visit just as I was climbing up the companionway with a bucket of water (leftover from doing laundry with our hand crank washing machine) in my hands. My goal was to throw the water on our salty deck but instead, I fell off the ladder and threw the water all over the galley! I landed hard and hit my head and for a few minutes, saw spots myself! Craig took a tumble during foul weather and luckily landed on his behind which is still admittedly bruised! Another day, I caught a rusty fish hook in my wrist while walking on the deck (Craig had it hanging and I didn’t see it until it was in my arm!) Did I get that tetanus shot? I hope I did! Open wounds heal slowly in the tropics and can easily get infected! I am keeping it clean, covered and dry until it heals and also staying out of the water (don’t want to encourage the sharks!) As far as “fitness” is concerned, it goes without saying that working out on a moving object is tricky at best and dangerous at worst! When the weather was calm, I was able to use the boat’s bow to get a wonderful stretch and got in a few sit ups, pushups and leg lifts but overall working out was difficult! What was I thinking bringing along those fitness DVD’s? Maybe now that we are anchored?
We have repaired the main sail with sail tape and think it will last until we get to Papeete, Tahiti where we have ordered a new sail. We are waiting for the ‘hub’ to arrive (it should take two weeks) before we set sail to explore more of the Marquesas and onto the Tuamotu islands. After that, a brief stop in the Society Islands (Archipelago Islands) and then on to Bora, Bora, Raiatea, and Tahiti. We hope to be in Tahiti (Papeete) for the annual Tahitian Festival on July 4th. From there, we are not sure! It will depend on the weather! We hope to visit Fiji and are considering wintering there but since it is officially an “El Nino” year, we might need to change these plans in order to be sure Wind Cutter is in a safe place during the hurricane season! We will keep you posted!
I am looking over our ‘log book’ and can honestly tell you that most of the trip was pure joy! The spectacular sunsets, sunrises are indescribable! At the equator, the ocean appears to touch the sky! Rare birds fly thousands of miles out to sea and hitch a ride on your boat. Hundreds of dolphins play at your bow and a few roll over and seem to wink at you! Iridescent sea creatures spring to life at night while millions of stars blanket the sky. The Southern Cross for the first time. Clouds arising from the sea in magical shapes, color and form. Squalls that appear out of no where splashing warm rain on your face. Quiet time to reflect, pray and find the answers to your questions.
The “downs” are there too. I am thankful for an upbringing that included camping and “roughing it” outdoors because it helped prepare me for this adventure! Somedays it’s too hot to sleep. Fatigue can make you irritable. You better love the one you are with because the space is small and there is no getting away! It is not a life of comfort. You learn to sleep, eat, and sit in sometimes uncomfortable positions. You often get wet, and sweaty and at times you smell (because there is not enough water to shower twice a day). If you are prone to seasickness, you will get sick. Projects are hard to accomplish because the ground keeps moving. That guitar you brought will stay on the shelf and all the grand plans to catch up on reading, writing, and creating will become tasks too cumbersome to complete at sea. You can’t work out without bruising yourself. We did manage to play a game or two of chess!
Most of you see our lifestyle in a romantic sense. We ARE living the dream. You see the beautiful pictures and our happy smiles and think how nice it would be live such a perfect life! In a sense, you are correct. We are lucky to be free from the commitment of a job, responsibility of a house, slave to a dying economy. But this lifestyle really is not so different than yours. It carries it’s own worries, it’s own “ups and downs”! We just have a different setting! The more I think about it, the more I understand that happiness is not WHERE you are but WHO you are with and HOW you deal with life’s little curve balls! It’s experiencing life, but all the more fun when you are with the ones you love! Family is sooo important and I can’t tell you how much we miss ours! While on this journey, Craig’s grandma passed away and his father had a stroke. We were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and felt helpless knowing there was no way we could be there to support our loved ones! Craig and I agree that none of this means anything if our family is not happy. They are our true magnetic North. So before you grumble and complain about your current situation, take a minute and a good look at the ones around you. Be thankful they are well. Be thankful you are well. Life is a journey for all of us. It is by God’s grace that we come and go and live and love and learn. We are THANKFUL to have safely traveled so far and look forward to what God has for us in the future…not sure what that will be but sure we are open to change. I still believe this is “The best thing I have ever done” and will always be grateful for the opportunity!