Having made it through the Panama Canal, we were ready to cross the Pacific. This would be our second ocean crossing in 6 months, and at over 4,000 miles, it would be twice the distance of the Atlantic crossing. Due to the expensive regulations and restrictions placed on yachts visiting the Galapagos Islands, we chose to sail direct from Panama to the Marquesas Islands. This meant that we were looking at anything from 30-40 days at sea.
The route requires getting through the Dolrums, an area of no wind and severe electrical storms. Looking at the forecast and hearing from boats who had set off sooner, it seemed the trade winds once out of the Dolrums had not kicked in and we would be in for a long and slow passage. With the Pacific sailing season moving on, waiting for more wind could mean waiting until next year, which would be an expensive delay in Panama. Boats all around us were talking about how much fuel they could carry and where they could refuel. Having set out to sail around the world, we try to use the engine as little as possible but with the thought of being stuck in the doldrums, we relented and bought too extra cans of deisel just in case. Not enough to make a significant dent in the mileage but hopefully enough to get us out of the Dolrums.
Repeating the mantra that ‘2 knots at sea is better than 0 knots at anchor’, we drifted out to the Las Perlas islands which are 100 miles off the coast of Panama. Here we stopped to scrub the hull clean of the marnine growth which would slow us down. We planned to wait here for wind, it was a short stay…
24th April – Day One
One day at anchor to clean the hull and we woke up this morning to more wind than forecast; plenty to sail with, so we decided to make the most of it and set off straight away. The atmosphere on Florence was full of excitement as we shot out between the islands with the spinnaker up. Unfortunately the excitement lasted longer than the wind and by early afternoon we were drifting. A NZ Yacht ‘Elixir’ motored up behind us for a chat and to exchange contact details.
As night fell a huge electrical storm gave us wind and we were hurtling along at over 7 knots. It was a busy night watch with multiple course changes to thread our way through all the shipping approaching Panama.
26th April – Day Three
Back to drifting, another yacht motored up behind us today, ‘Bonnie of Stockholm’. Nice chat over VHF, who knew it would be so sociable out here! As they started to disappear in the distance, the breeze filled in. 2 boats = a race (at least for us anyway) so it was hand steering and full concentration until we caught them.
27th – Day Four
Engine on, Engine off, Engine on, Engine off. You get the drift, literally. Typical doldrum conditions for the last couple of days with lots of lightning storms, portable electronics currently in a tin in the oven! We are hoping it will act as a Faraday cage should we get struck. We have been using the engine when we are doing less than 2 knots to try and get out of the area. Very flat seas though, like being on a lake, it’s so comfortable.
28th – Day Five
Headwinds, beating into a sea. Difficult to sleep down below as we slam on the waves. Progress is slow but at least we are sailing. We would have hit a fishing net/long line if the fishing boat hadn’t appeared to warn us, no way of spotting the tiny bouys in the water. A small whale popped up behind the boat but did not hang around for long.
29th – Day 6
Glow in the dark dolphins in the night, so much phosphorescence in the water – magic. Amazing dolphin show in the distance during the day too, jumping about 10 ft out of the water. Spent the evening listening to music, drinking in the view of the ocean and sky. What an amazing place to be, days like today make us feel we could just keep sailing forever.
1st May – Day 8
Still beating when there is wind. Amy popped down below to wake Matt, check the weather and discuss our route. She popped back on deck to see an open boat with 3 men on board coming alongside us. Having read about attempted pirate attacks along this coastline, she was very scared. It turned out they were just fisherman from Equador who wanted to chat and see if we had any spare water. They did not speak and English but we managed an entertaining conversation in our broken Spanish and some elaborate mime. They gave us a tuna and we gave them some biscuits.
Sailed across the equator today, celebrated with a G&T and cake (plus one for King Neptune). Too much wind for a swim but neither of us were too fussed after seeing the sharks the fishermen had on board.
Hit a semi submerged log whilst motoring, we think it may have damaged the propeller as there is more vibration than usual The wind just filled in though so engine left off for now.
4th May – Day 11
Finally got the wind shift we needed and were able to put the spinnaker up. Beautiful day. Heard from another boat we met in Panama via sat phone email and have set up a group of 4 of us out here for regular position/weather/fishing updates etc. It’s a highlight of the day to hear from them or family back home.
6th May – Day 13
Lots of sail changes over the last few days to keep up with the changing winds. Waves on our beam have made it difficult for the Aries wind vane to keep us on course which has meant lots of hand steering as the clouded skies have not given the solar panels enough power for the electric autopilot. Both feeling tired.
8th May – Day 15
Making over 7 knots consistently. Found our prop was rotating in the night and would not go into reverse to stop. Possibly not feathering due to damage from when we hit the log. Strapped up the prop shaft to stop it rotating as concerned over gearbox damage otherwise, have to hope we do not need it again before the Marquesas. Spotted another boat behind us and had a chat over VHF. British boat who had just left Galapagos and were heading for the Gambier islands.
9th May – Day 16
Discovered a leak in the forepeak today which had soaked the cushions and a lot of our clothes in salt water. It seems we have been taking water through the anchor locker when we had a lot of water over the bow and it had run through with the anchor windlass cables from the bow. Lots of things were covered in mould as its so humid. Bit of a down day today, spent a lot of the day dreaming of the comforts of home; beds that do not move, fresh running water, washing machines etc. Would love to hit pause and enjoy a week at home.
10th May – Day 17
After losing a total of 3 fish off the hook as we pulled them in, Amy rigged up the mother of all hooks and we landed a nice 70 cm Mahi-Mahi for dinner. A welcome treat as our fresh food is running low.
12th May – Day 19
Crossed the halfway mark this morning. Celebrated with a chocolate fudge cake mix, a friend gave us. It’s not cheating in these seas. Amy described the motion today as being “like when you are a kid and fall over on the bouncy castle and everyone else is still jumping, only you can’t get off”. Just the distance of our Atlantic Crossing to go now. Feeling much more positive today, the thought of a midnight feast of chocolate cake on our night watches has certainly helped.
13th May – 20th May
Eat, sleep, fish, sail, repeat.
One day merges into another with monotonous regularity.
21st May – Day 28
Caught a monster 1.3m Wahoo on the handline today, our first Wahoo and biggest fish to date. It even topped the Atlantic Mahi-Mahi. Matt managed to pull him over the guard rail and into the cockpit, where he took up most of the floor. Wahoo steaks for lunch/dinner for the forseeable future 🙂 721 miles to go.
22nd May – Day 29
One of the yachts 150 miles North of us has been encountering huge Japanese fishing vessels, thousands of miles from Japan. We have not seen any other boats for weeks.
25th May – Day 32
Our first big rain squall, one hour before sunrise bought 40 knots and meant all hands on deck to quickly put two more reefs in the mainsail. Tiring day today, reefing, un-reefing and hand steering as more squalls give big winds but leave no wind behind them. The squalls are supposed to pack more punch as you approach the Marquesas and these are the first we have had that have brought big winds all passage. Sailing very conservatively with the hope of arriving in one piece.
27th May – Day 34 (33 days at sea)
Our last night at sea was a beautiful starlit one with no squalls and therefore relatively easy night watches. We spotted land before the sun was fully up, as the sun rose it revealed the islands sheer cliffs, dramatic peaks and steep ravines, absolutely covered in lush tropical forest. With a month of nothing on the horizon but blue sky and blue sea, we could not take our eyes off it. We had finally arrived in paradise. Having dreamed of visiting the Marquesas Islands for years, Amy could not wait to step foot on solid land and explore. Matt was just longing to stop moving and get a full nights sleep.
No wind in the lee of the island, Matt jumped over the side to check the prop and found it jammed half feathered (it is a feathering prop), but usable to limp into the anchorage.
We have made it!
We are elated to have conquered the 4210 mile passage double handed. We learnt from our earlier Atlantic crossing and used the experience to improve the way we managed both ourselves and Florence. This helped us achieve our goal of arriving without having broken anything (Matt managed to free up the prop after diving on it a few times, it is now working fully with no other damage). Oh and those extra cans of diesel we bought, well they are still full :-). We used 70l of diesel during the 33 day crossing (approx 35 hours of motoring).