Alex’s Photo Picks from the Last Two Years

As you are probably aware Sarah and I have been in Thailand for the last 6 weeks or so, bar a one-week side-trip to Cambodia for the sake of getting our Thai visas renewed inexpensively. It’s been wonderful spending time with Sarah’s parents and exploring places by land. There have also been moments of nostalgia. I’ve spent this morning looking through our photographs for the last two years and there are a few that really stand out for one reason or another, so I thought I’d share them with you here. Many of them you will have seen before but there are a few that we either didn’t have (because they were taken by someone else and we only acquired them later on) or which didn’t fit in with the subject matter of whatever blog post we were writing at the time.

We’ve had so many incredible experiences that it was hard to cut down my selection (it’s probably still a little long- sorry about that). There are also one or two that I would have liked to have included here – some videos from the first passage from Bermuda to St. Maarten – but which I don’t have access to at the moment because they are on an ipod that I left in New Zealand. I will post these later; they give some insight into my mental state during that passage and why I don’t think I’m well-suited to single-handed sailing.

So, without further ado, in chronological order:

 

 

Leaving the Las Perlas Islands on the way to Galapagos we caught our first fish of the voyage! Unfortunately, something else got there before I could pull it in…………….

 

 

This view was a welcome one –  making landfall at Pitcairn Island after three weeks at sea. At the time we assumed that this view heralded an opportunity for a rest. Little did we know we’d soon be trundling off to Mangareva at full tilt on an emergency medical evacuation!

 

 

Pitcairn’s reputation for less-than-ideal anchorage conditions is not ill-deserved. We woke up one morning during our second visit to the island and were excited to see another yacht in the vicinity. AIS identified them as S/V Maya. We hailed them on the radio but for some reason they seemed reluctant to stop by for a visit, so they sailed on without anchoring. These pictures of Bob taken by Asma give some inkling as to why they may have decided on that course of action, and why they sounded so baffled on the radio when we told them that we were comfortably re-anchored at Bounty Bay. We have since become very good friends with Herbert and Asma and have laughed merrily over our first encounter with one another. Apparently Asma turned to Herbert and said “I’m sure they were very nice people but now they must be dead, so we’ll never know!”

You can just see Bob’s mast beyond the breaking wave 🙂

 

And here we are nonchalantly raising the anchor:

OK, that was a lie. It wasn’t nonchalant at all. I couldn’t actually stand on the foredeck so I had to do everything braced against the pulpit railing and supported on one knee. Despite my best efforts to control things, the windlass and bow roller came under tremendous load as the anchor was torn from the sand by the rise of a particularly large swell. There are other pictures of the situation above where you can only see the boom and the tops of our heads, but I like this one because you can at least see that there is a boat in there somewhere!

 

 

Now we move on to the Gambier Islands. Below is the stunning view from the peak of Mount Duff. You can see the capital town of Rikitea in the bottom left. The tiny strip of land in the upper right of the photograph is the airport island. The Gambier Islands were truly spectacular. Sarah and I have already discussed that if we were to do a similar trip again we would prefer to sail direct to Marquesas from the Galapagos Islands and then head South to spend the bulk of the cyclone season here in the Gambiers instead of the other way around.

 

 

 

Provisioning in the Gambier Islands was sparse. Being Bermudian, I have a physiological NEED for mayonnaise. So, we decided to try to make it. Below is one of the earlier attempts. Since it wasn’t working by hand-power alone I decided to try an electric whisk………. which we don’t have. So, we improvised!

Note the not-remotely-mayonnaisish gloop in the jar in my left hand. I was not a happy bunny, as you may be able to tell. Fortunately, later attempts were much more successful.

 

 

A typical afternoon scene from the island of Taravai, where we ended up spending the majority of our time in the Gambiers. Complete with grumpy, sneaky horse who attempted to steal lunch, dinner, or rum whenever possible. The problem with being a horse is that one struggles to be inconspicuous, but Dior put in a good effort and was sometimes successful.

 

 

 

We spent a day clearing away the brush from beneath the coconut palms, and made several big fires to dispose of it:

 

 

Unfortunately the heat of the fires produced an unforeseen hazard – spider rain. It literally began raining spiders as they leapt from the trees to the ground. This one landed on Jesse, and Sarah somehow managed to convince him to remain motionless for long enough to snap this shot. He wasn’t taking his eyes off it though, and was poised for some quick action in the event that it should have decided to make a run for it upwards!

 

 

During a sail from Taravai to Rikitea to pick up some supplies, David from S/V El Nido got this shot of Bob. Sarah particularly likes it because if you zoom in on us in the cockpit you can see a lovely bit of impromptu romance 🙂

 

 

Finally for the Gambier Islands, a beautiful shot of Bob lying to a home-made mooring on the South Coast of Taravai, on a wonderfully calm evening.

 

 

 

We both love this shot, taken during a hike in Marquesas. We are on the island of Tahuata. In the distance is the big island of Hiva ‘Oa, and between the two runs the Ha’ava, or Bordelais Channel.

 

 

In Nuku Hiva Sarah took a few dance classes in the local style, and was honoured to be invited (well…… to be honest it was more of an instruction than an invitation!) to perform with the dance troupe in front of a crowd of a couple of hundred people. Here she is in her dance regalia.

 

 

Better yet, for the first time we are now able to offer you a video from one of the performances (yay for fast internet!). Along with some other cruisers and the troupe of local girls she performed two dances, of which this was the final section of the second. I apologise for the shoddy standard of the work on this one. The reason for it is that Sarah is dancing and I have been tasked with capturing the moment. The sound is particularly poor, because it seems I had my finger over the microphone for most of the performance.

Sarah has stipulated that I must make it clear to you here that she only had two days to learn both of the dances, and wishes it to be formally noted that she is opposed to the publishing of this movie in the first place. Ah well, win some lose some. For the greater good, here it is:

 

 

This spectacular waterfall is located on the island of Fatu Hiva. We were fortunate that it hadn’t rained for a little while when we visited. If it had we would not have been able to get anywhere near it. It was a beautifully refreshing swim after a hot hike.

 

 

 

Down to the Tuamotu Archipelago now, to the uninhabited atoll of Tahanea. Sarah snapped this beautiful shot of a yacht that was anchored astern of us as a small squall came through. I love the misty effect caused by the rain pelting down onto the surface of the sea, and the yawing and slight heeling of the boat as the first gust of wind hits.

 

 

 

The squalls soon passed, and we sailed across the lagoon accompanied by a pod of dolphins to a spot known as ‘7 reef’. It was probably the most spectacular spot that Bob has ever anchored. When this shot was taken we had nipped over to a motu about a mile from the anchorage to collect coconuts, and stopped off on this spit of sand for a snorkel. Bob is just out of frame to the right.

 

 

The diving at the South Pass of the atoll of Fakarava was the most spectacular we have done. The site is famous for having a particularly high density of sharks – a sign of a healthy reef ecosystem.

 

 

This shot of a friendly rooster in Rarotonga cracks me up every time. Doesn’t it look photo-shopped? I promise it’s not!

 

 

Leaving Niue we were a little nervous, as the rigging had just broken and been repaired for the second time. As we came out from behind the island we were greeted by a large black cloud. Fortunately we managed to outrun the worst of it and were treated to this beautiful backdrop:

 

 

A day of ‘racing’ with our friends Rick and Jasna aboard their boat ‘Calypso’. At the pre-race skipper’s meeting Rick warned the other skippers that anyone overhauling Calypso was liable to be mooned. One skipper complained and implied that his children would be psychologically damaged by such an experience. Rick responded that he was terribly sorry but he could not afford to be discriminatory and that for moral reasons he was obliged to treat everyone equally. Fortunately for the family with the delicately-dispositioned children they were out of range, but these guys, one of whom was our friend Asma, ended up in an unfortunate tacking battle with us and were subjected to the view not once, but several times. We were dubbed ‘Team Los Culos Blancos’ (why Spanish I have no idea – we were in Tonga!) and awarded a special prize at the prizegiving! Let’s face it though, we weren’t going to win prizes for anything else……….

 

 

At the ‘Coral Garden’ in Tonga we met this incredibly brazen anemonefish. Perhaps a male guarding the eggs, it had no qualms about challenging a creature many, many times it’s own size. I was not intimidated……….. but then I did swim away, so I’m pretty sure he’ll chalk that up as anemonefish 1, biguglyungainlything 0. Fair enough.

 

 

Also in Tonga: Sarah must have taken a hundred shots of the fruit bats trying to get a really good one. I think she managed it with this:

 

 

And finally! Videos can never do justice to actual, real-life experiences but I really like this one. It is a short video of a swim-through at a reef in South Minerva. We spent hours exploring these channels and caves. It was the best snorkelling either of us have ever done. Here’s a small taster of why:

 

Finally, just a quick note to say that we will (I promise!) do one or two blogs soon about our travels in Thailand and Cambodia. Until then, stay warm and enjoy yourselves!

The Slog to Marquesas

Well,  the Tuamotus aren’t happening at the moment. The trade winds have shut down and we spent three weeks waiting for a weather window to leave the Gambier Islands. We’re heading directly for the Marquesas Islands now, hoping to get there by November 6th in time for Charlene’s arrival.

There are 833 miles as the turtle swims between the Gambier Islands and the Marquesas Islands. In an average 24-hour period with half-decent winds Bob covers 120 miles. On a good day that figure might go up to 135, and on a bad one it might be as low as 90. Pessimistically I estimated that this passage would take us 8 days and secretly hoped that we might get there in 7. The weather forecast when we left was perfect – 12 to 15 knot winds on the beam all the way. Today is day 10, and we still have 200 miles to go. Our average daily run has been 78 miles, and never in the right direction.

The forecast upon departure was correct for one day. Then the wind died and we bobbed aboard Bob. For three days. Then the breeze shifted to the North and increased in strength. It built to 18 knots and came from exactly the direction that we wanted to go in. And it stayed that way for 4 days. We went West, we went North-East, we fought and clawed for each and every mile against the wind, tacking back and forth and have, under the circumstances, made reasonable progress. Today was supposed to be the big break. The forecast yesterday told us to expect reduced winds overnight followed by a rapid shift to the East and building to 8 to 10 knots – perfect. Unfortunately things haven’t panned out that way. The wind did indeed die last night and we spent yet another night Bobbing, but today has been the most frustrating day of them all. South West, 12 knots. Nothing. North, 8 knots. Nothing. East (yay!) 13 knots. Nothing. Rain, big wind shifts. Currently we have 6 knots of wind……….. from the NNW, exactly the direction of the Marquesas Islands. The forecast for tomorrow is for no wind. And the next day. And the day after that.

You can probably detect a hint of frustration in my writing. That would be a gross understatement. Sarah has been amazing at putting up with my grumpiness, exasperation and despair. This morning I very unfairly snapped a snarky comment at her, and yet inexplicably she continues to put up with me! Mind you, I suppose she doesn’t have many prospects at the moment when it comes to getting away………………… maybe the ‘tolerance’ is all a façade. Or maybe I actually control the weather and have thought up this plan as a cunning ploy to trap her here for eternity! Har har har har.

I think I’ve been at sea for too long. I’m exhausted from night after night of not being able to sleep for more than an hour at a time, at the most, before something needs to be done. I’m disheartened to think of all the wear that has been sustained by the sails from banging back and forth in the light airs as the boat rolls with the swells. Most of all, I’m just tired of putting in all this effort and being thwarted at every turn, as though Neptune himself has chosen to torment us for his mild amusement.

There’s a line of squalls ahead of us and it’s moving in the same direction we are –NNW  toward the Marquesas Islands. It stretches from horizon to horizon, East to West, in one big dark band of menacing clouds, with intermittent towers of grey-black cumulo-nimbus expunging plumes of rain from beneath them. I thought that maybe if we could catch up to the squall line and punch our way through we might find our much-sought-after Easterlies on the other side, so we’re motoring with the mainsail up but it’s just getting further and further from us. Maybe it’s for the best – I’ve just seen two water spouts form and then dissipate again without quite reaching the surface. There’s a new clicking noise coming from the engine and the oil seems thinner than usual. The level in the sump isn’t going down as it usually does either. I think there’s diesel in the oil.

It’s going to be another long night.

Update from Bob!

Hello all,

This morning at first light, 1515UTC, we successfully transferred Ryan and his mother Nadine to the merchant vessel Taporo VIII in order to expedite Ryan’s arrival in Mangareva. At that time our position was 23 47S, 132 57W, about 120 miles from Mangareva and 180 miles from Pitcairn. After some discussion we have decided ourselves to continue on to Mangareva rather than returning to Pitcairn as we could use a rest in a secure anchorage. We hope to return to Pitcairn at some point in the next few weeks if weather conditions promise to be conducive to that.

On board now we have me, Sarah and also Andrew, the Pitcairn Islander who came with us to help stand watches. I have re-installed the wind vane auxiliary rudder (which i removed prior to departure in order to be able to motor at higher speed) and we are finally under sail with the wind vane once again doing the hard work. We hope to arrive in Mangareva some time tomorrow afternoon if all goes well and the wind gods are kind. Ryan and his mother should arrive there this evening at about 9pm and, if his condition does not deteriorate rapidly, will catch the commercial flight to Tahiti on Saturday. If it does deteriorate however, once in Mangareva they have the option of dispatching an air-ambulance to take him to Tahiti sooner. When he left us this morning Ryan was experiencing more pain than yesterday but his appendicitis (if indeed that is what he has!) had not yet progressed to the acute stage, so things are looking good for him.

All is well. Sarah is taking a well-needed nap, I’ve just had one and now I’m having a glass of rum 🙂

Hope all’s well with you guys!

Lots of love

Us

Almost 3 weeks at sea

The motion of the boat is really starting to get to me. Just as I was beginning to get used to it and my sea sickness subsiding, the wind changes direction and I find myself back at square one – lying in a horizontal position trying to hold back the vomit. We do, however, have some wonder patches (Scopoderm) which are small patches you stick behind your ear to suppress the feeling of sea sickness. They really are brilliant and it’s largely thanks to them that I can function at all on board. The only downside is that they don’t stop my nausea completely if conditions are bad. Also, one of the side effects is that they leave a foul, frothy taste at the back of my throat, so I feel the need to brush my teeth a million times a day. I suppose the dentist will be happy at least.

Over the past 24 hours we’ve turned up wind and are now heading into the swells. This means that even the simplest of tasks, like sitting down, becomes much more difficult as the boat gets picked up by a swell then slammed back down again on the other side. About an hour ago I felt a particularly steep swell pick the boat up as I was sat on the toilet. As the boat was lifted by the swell, I felt the downward force push me into the toilet seat, as though it was trying to suck me through. Then, as the boat dropped back down to earth again, for a split second I was levitating clear off the toilet seat, the pee going everywhere!

We’ve had typical British weather for the last day or so which is now starting to get a little better. All day yesterday the sky was full of dense grey clouds which rained on us pretty much constantly. Now the grey skies are subsiding and even though the sun is now shining, the wind is from the south and feels pretty chilly. I’ve not showered in about 5 days because I just can’t bring myself to stand on deck, in that cold wind, and wash myself with cold water. I’ve noticed that Alex is doing more things independently today…. I must smell pretty awful!

Anyway, it’s not all bad. In fact, overall there is a lot more good than bad. I feel like I’m getting to know the boat much better and I’m finally starting to understand how everything works. It’s nice to actually feel useful when we’re doing manoeuvres rather than Alex having to go out of his way to show me every little thing. I also saw my first whale the other day, it was probably about 50 feet from the boat and quite small as far as whales go. I’m not sure what species it was, maybe some sort of pilot whale? I’ve also had a lot of time to read, play games and watch tv series’ which is very relaxing. I can’t remember the last time I got to relax and rest as much as this, it’s very pleasant.

Alex has been wonderful company and a great skipper. He’s gone out of his way to look after me when I’ve been feeling ill and has been very patient with me learning the ropes (literally as well as metaphorically). This lifestyle is very different to the one I had planned a little over a year ago. If someone would have asked me back then where I thought I would be in July 2016 – I think ‘the middle of the Pacific Ocean’ would have been the last answer I’d have given. However, I feel completely at home on Bob and that old lifestyle seems so far in the past that I can barely see it. It feels so alien that it must have belonged to someone else – not to me. It’s been a difficult road to get here and in many ways I was heartbroken for the life I was leaving behind. Now I’m fully settled in and couldn’t be happier. I think that says a lot for two people stuck within 36 feet of each other for 3 weeks, with no one else for company. It feels like I’ve hit a big personal milestone and I can’t wait to see what else is in store over the coming years.

So Close yet So Far

It’s July 1st (happy birthday Dan Burton if you’re reading this!) and Bob is motoring through drizzle under an overcast sky. Frankly, we’re quite pleased as it’s a distinct improvement over what we’ve had over the last 24 hours. Sarah has just made us two mugs of hot chocolate and we’re snuggled up down below. It’s chilly outside (by our standards) now that we’re so far South.

The weather of the oceans of the world can be broadly divided into 4 bands that run around the planet on each side of the equator. Near the equator is an area extending from about zero degrees latitude to about 5 degrees (both North and South) known as the doldrums. There is often little or no wind here. Between about 5 degrees and 20 or 25 degrees is the prime real-estate for cruising sailboats. Here, a band of wind runs consistently around the planet (broken up by land masses) for most of the year. It’s known as the trade wind belt, and is the reason why 99% of cruising boats embarking on a circumnavigation of the world do so from East to West. The trade winds (named for the days of the great sailing ships that would utilise these winds to propel their cargo around the globe) can occasionally drop out and can occasionally be quite strong, but for the most part they blow at between 10 and 20 knots and make for some lovely, usually down-wind sailing.

Between the trade wind belt and about 35 or 40 degrees is an area of variable winds known as the horse latitudes. They are named as such because ships would occasionally get stuck in the horse latitudes for quite some time such that the crew were obliged to eat their horses. Or so I’ve been told. Beyond the horse latitudes is a band of winds that blow from west to east. These are strong winds and, in the South Pacific at least, occupy an area of the world that few but the hardiest of sailors dare sail in. We are not them!

This year the South Pacific trade winds extend down to about 20 degrees South before giving way to variable winds. Our latitude is now 21 degrees 30 minutes south, and yesterday was our first day out of the trades and into the variables. We tacked for the first time in 17 days and enjoyed a brief good sail with the wind coming over the starboard side of the boat. Unfortunately, it didn’t stay friendly for long.

Throughout the course of the afternoon the density of squalls increased and they became progressively stronger. We were sailing under a double-reefed mainsail and a sliver of genoa unrolled and having a poor time of it. After each squall we’d be left wallowing in the chop with the sails banging all over the place due to a lack of wind. During each squall we’d be over on our ear screeching along with the wind howling in the rigging. At about 2300 a squall hit which was the longest-lasting squall I have ever encountered. It went on for about an hour and a half. We don’t have radar and the visibility in those conditions at night dropped to virtually nothing, so we had no way of knowing when, or if, it would ever end. The forecast was for 13 knots of wind from the north east, but it had backed rapidly and was now blowing 35 knots from the W. I became afraid that this was not, in fact, a simple squall, but rather a strong, un-forecast low pressure system that had crept up on us rapidly, and that this was a semi-permanent state of affairs. On the plus side, the wind coming from the West, if this was true, would mean that the low was to our south and would soon be moving away. Our barometer hadn’t budged much, but I’m beginning to suspect that although the thing goes up and down every now and then a touch it might have lost it’s accuracy and is perhaps not showing what it should. It is, after all, probably as old as the boat.

Anyway, having decided to play it safe rather than continue to try to go in the direction we wanted to go in, we tacked back over in order to head north and away from the low. Furthermore, we decided that now was the time to rig up the storm jib since it might not be possible to work on the foredeck safely if conditions continued to deteriorate. It took much longer than it should have to set up the storm jib – perhaps an hour, but we got the inner headstay in place, tensioned the running backstays opposing it, ensured that the mast was perfectly in column and set the storm jib having rolled away the remainder of the genoa. 30 seconds later the wind dropped to nothing. The squall moved away, the wind veered back to north and we were left wallowing with our tiny sails once again. By this time it was half past twelve, we were both very tired and I was feeling a bit silly for having misjudged the situation as being so much worse than it actually was. We took down the storm jib, re-set the bit of genoa, tacked back over, tidied up all the mess of lines we’d made and went below. Sarah went to sleep, but when another squall hit a little while later it was clear that I wasn’t going to be able to do the same. I put on a few extra layers under my foul-weather clothes and decided to don my sea boots as well since my feet were getting chilly. Back on deck I fell into a semi-stupor lying on a wet chair beneath the dodger and got up occasionally to adjust sails or the wind vane as the wind shifted all over the place. Finally, I devoted a bit of time to improving the situation and devised a system to be able to adjust the wind vane and the main sheet from underneath the dodger, where the wheel was also accessible. Now I could take off my kit and at least sit down below between squalls.

I fell asleep on my bunk at about 3am but was awoken twice more between then and 0600. Once was for lack of wind. The second time I awoke to find that we were heading north east – not ideal. This required a course change of about 180 degrees, and that required a lot more effort. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t have the energy to take the main in, turn down wind, gybe and set the genoa on the other side. I just rolled the genoa away, turned Bob down-wind and sailed dead down-wind under main only feeling supremely grateful to David the wind vane for being capable of steering the boat under such an un-balanced sail plan.

That wasn’t the end of it but I won’t go into details. It wasn’t all bad though. I managed to get some more sleep and must have managed a total of about 4 hours over the whole night. We only moved 10 miles in 8 hours which isn’t great, and our daily run over the last 24 hours has been poor at just over 80. However, there was one event that made up for it all. As I was pulling my socks out of my sea boots my hand came across a lovely little present secreted away in the toe of the boot – the last jar of pickled cockles, hidden by Sarah so that I wouldn’t eat them all in one go. What a wonderful place to hide them – in a place such that I would come across them at a time that was bound not to be one of the best. In my time of greatest need one might say. They didn’t last too long 🙂

According to the forecast we currently still have 13 knots of breeze from the north east. In reality, as I say, we have none. The forecast for the next day is for 15 knot head-winds followed by about two days of no wind at all. Our position, being 21 degrees 30 minutes south, 121 degrees 44 minutes west, puts us just over 500 miles from Pitcairn – a distance that, given a good wind, we could cover in 4 days. Unfortunately I think 5 or 6 is looking more likely. On the plus side there are currently no strong low pressure systems forecast to influence the area and the cause of the expected 2 days of no wind is a large high-pressure centre that will pass right over our location. That should mean cloudless, sunny skies and hopefully an opportunity to dry out a bit. Oh, and all this rain means that Bob has finally had a well-deserved, thorough fresh-water rinse 🙂