Friday, April 23, 2010

We crossed the Pacific Ocean.

Well we’ve done it; we crossed the Pacific Ocean after our longest planned passage sailing non-stop 3050nm (5673 km) over 22 days and 30 minutes at an average speed of 5.8 knots (11km/hr). We started our passage from the Island of San Cristobal in the Galapagos Archipelago and reached, on the other end, the island of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas, French Polynesia. Many see that passage as a feat, a goal in their life. Although a few hundred people do the same trip every year we think we can say that we now made our entry into the very select club of ocean sailors. It sure is an adventure however not exactly what we would think at first. Spending three weeks at sea, when everything goes smooth, is not very difficult. In Curacao we met Gérard who crossed five times the Atlantic and asked him what it was like to travel all across an ocean. He look at us hesitantly then said “Well you know, giving the time a hay stack would cross the ocean anything that floats would eventually reach the other side. It is not that complicated more boring than anything else.” And he didn’t elaborate further. What we now understand is that the real challenge is not the crossing itself especially for the Pacific, which as its name implies is a pretty quiet body of water during the right season. The real challenge in fact is in getting to the starting point and leave. Think about it a minute. Before you actually cross the ocean you need to get a boat, fit it with the necessarily equipment, learn how to use them efficiently, provision the boat with the right food items and so forth. THIS is a lot of work and sacrifices and takes years of sweat and dedication. If you did your homework correctly the crossing will be straight forward and quite boring, which is the validation that you succeeded in your preparation and the consecration of your determination in achieving a goal. By the fact that our trip was almost eventless, other than minor repairs we needed to do along the way that were to be expected on such a long journey, and the fact that our physical shape approaches the one of a gastropod mollusk by the lack of physical activity is probably a sign that we succeeded well. When I am saying minor repairs I don’t necessary mean not spectacular; more details in the next paragraph. Crossing an ocean was not one of our goals in this trip per say but nevertheless we are proud that we did it and is one of these things belonging to us that cannot be bought but only earned. Our trip may have been smooth and relatively quiet but we cannot attribute this only to our preparation skills; there is also some luck. Many people venture in the same passage just to be caught in an unpredictable storm and turn all their efforts into a living hell. This has nothing to do with their sailing skills or dedication but only to sheer bad luck and the fact that nothing bad happened to us doesn’t make us better than them but only luckier.
During our first week we made good way with strong southeasterly winds and based on the wind forecast reports we decided to head more south in order to catch stronger winds and avoid a zone of low pressure stretching many days toward the west and bringing rain and with it unpredictable winds. We had nevertheless clouds for a few days bringing 10 foot waves and a very shaky ride but it cleared afterward. Every day Danielle posted our position on our website and a warm thank you to our friend Goeff and Ruth in Ottawa who followed our progress and stayed a phone call away in case we needed assistance. The wind then became moderate during the second week and we were still able to make a decent 130-150 nm per day. By the third week we were greeted by very light winds, which not only slowed us down but made it very hard on the boat. You see; a strong steady wind is what boats are designed for. The sails are filled and the boat flies steady. When the wind is too light to properly fill the sails the waves roll the boat and the sails start to swing on a slow but sometimes violent movement back and forth. Especially with the main sail the boom, that’s the horizontal bar holding the foot of the sail, would start banging hard putting a lot of stress on the fittings holding it to the mast. Every day I had to go check that all the screws are still in place and replacing the ones that would literally pop out of their treads. But again, since we have almost a hardware store on board with almost every possible screw this was not a very big deal. But the last week didn’t go without incidents though. The driving belt of our autopilot broke after being over driven by the large waves putting the pilot out of the game. But by pure coincidence we have a second autopilot in case the first one breaks….just pure luck I’m telling you! This was not a big deal even though the second autopilot consumes a bit more power to run it held nice all the last three days of the passage. Our destination was the village of Atuona on the island of Hiva-Oa. The chart on the chart plotter showed clearly the bay to anchor but all we could see was an island covered by lush vegetation hence we had to rely on the GPS to indicate us the direction of the entrance of the bay. According to the GPS we were less than three miles to the bay and still couldn’t see it. We were now motoring to charge up the batteries and Danielle took the wheel while I went to the bow to close the jib sail. Then Danielle looked inside the cabin through the door and saw the little door carpet inside starting to move. Then I heard her calling at me with urge “Roger!!! Come here! Quick come here!!!” I ran to the cockpit and she was inside struggling with something. Through the door I saw that the floor of the cabin was entirely flooded and Danielle was frantically trying to sponge it up. The boat goblin was probably unhappy that after he disabled our autopilot we had fixed the problem so easily. He waited that we were just about to start the entry procedure in the bay and pulled the hose coming out of the water pressure pump, which poured a quarter of our water thank and half of our water reserve on the cabin floor. If you don’t know what a boat goblin is just read our post called “The boat Elf”. We quickly stopped the water pressure pump and swiped the floor as much as we could then I went to the wheel because we were getting very close to the bay. Least than a mile from the bay I finally noticed the threes on the South side of the bay starting to move quickly relative to the threes on the North side and this showed me finally where the entrance of the bay was. Half an hour later the anchor was dropped and Danielle said “How about a beer now?” I said “fine with me” and while we were relaxing in the cockpit with our delicious beer in front of the majestic cliffs of the island I look at the clock; it was 9:00 am! A last note for those who wonder if we are still married after spending three weeks non-stop at sea together. Instead of creating frictions between us staying together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week has in fact the reverse effect on us. After sailing together for over a year and half we are more married than ever and feel much closer to each other then we had in the thirteen years we were together before we left. We are so used to be side by side that at one point during the passage Danielle didn’t want to go sleep alone in the bedroom and preferred to stay on the couch in the cabin instead to stay with me. The couch in the cabin and the bedroom are only 10 feet apart!