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 🙂

When inception becomes reality

We’re currently on day 12 of our journey from Galapagos to Pitcairn Island and today is the first day I’ve not felt sea sick – woohoo! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not been unmanageable and I’ve not even been physically sick, but I’ve had vague, underlying nausea and a general lack of enthusiasm to do anything particularly active for fear of feeling even worse. Today, I have a new spring in my step. The day is splendid with decent wind for the most part, glorious sunshine and the sea seems a little calmer. Now that my underlying sickness has disappeared I feel like I actually want to get up and do stuff. So far it’s been a very productive day – the galley has been cleaned, a cupboard has been fixed, a cup holder has been mounted on the wall, the washing up has been done, I’ve showered and now I’m writing a blog. Fingers crossed I stay feeling this way for the rest of the journey!

It’s hard to believe that after all this time at sea, we’re only about half way through the voyage. It’s very different from your run-of-the-mill long haul journey in a plane or by car or train. Firstly, we’re travelling at the speed of a fast jog towards our destination. Secondly, gravity is all wrong here. It reminds me a little of the film ‘Inception’, when gravity in the dream world becomes abnormal if the dreamer is, for example, falling in the real world. For those who have not sailed a small boat (or seen Inception), the closest thing I can relate it to is one of those simulator rides you find in theme parks. Your whole world is constantly moving in sporadic and unpredictable ways, never going up-side-down (hopefully), but often picked up and lifted, then dropped back down into the waves, or brutally jolted from one side to another. Now imagine trying to live your life in those conditions – sleeping, cooking, washing, going to the toilet etc. when the room you’re in is being jerked and shoved in unpredictable directions. Not surprisingly, everything becomes much more difficult. Everything takes about 5 times more effort and about 5 times as long to do. It’s even more difficult when you have sea sickness to contend with as well.

There have not been any major hurdles to overcome and overall this trip has been relatively easy going. We’ve had rough seas for the last couple of days which are finally starting to abate, the wind vane had a problem a few nights ago which was fixed within the hour and probably the worst thing to happen was the freezer breaking, which happened to be crammed full of frozen food. Luckily we’ve manage to save pretty much all of it by some clever space management and by turning our fridge down to act as a freezer instead. I’ve particularly enjoyed coming up with new and interesting dishes to eat as some of our food items have been gradually going over. For example, our sliced bread started going stale and mouldy and we needed to figure out a way to eat a lot of it quickly. Bread and butter pudding I thought seemed like a good way to use it up. Whilst I’ve eaten bread and butter pudding numerous times in my life, unfortunately I have never actually made it myself. I know that you layer bread in a pan with raisins and other fruit (we used bananas) then cover with some sort of custard and bake it. I’ve never made custard from scratch in my life and come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever even made the powdered stuff. With no recipe books on board and no internet access, I turned to a dictionary for help. Custard is defined as ‘a dessert made of eggs, sugar and milk, either baked, boiled or frozen’. Well that was good enough to give it a go and luckily we had all the ingredients, including some powdered vanilla stuff that you’re supposed to mix with milk to make a vanilla drink.  So, armed with my dictionary definition of custard and some mouldy stale bread – I began the pudding. Amazingly, it turned out pretty good!

Out here, in the middle of the Pacific and over a thousand miles away from the nearest land, we’re essentially trapped in our little 36 foot boat because immediately surrounding us is an incredibly hostile environment. Having said that, I don’t feel particular trapped out here. Our little boat is a bubble of comfort which is well equipped to keep us alive and well, even in this difficult terrain. There’s also something quite liberating about being so far from civilisation, we’re free to go wherever we want, behave however we want and are not bound by the trivial rules and bureaucracy of modern society. It doesn’t even feel lonely in this seemingly barren place. We get visits from birds at least once a day – what they’re doing in the middle of the Pacific over a thousand miles away from land is beyond me! Dolphins, porpoises, sharks, squid and flying fish have also put in an appearance.

Right, I think it’s time for some lunch followed by some episodes of game of thrones. I introduced Alex to the series last week and now he’s hooked – I think we’ve watched about 24 hours’ worth so far!