4 - 27 August 2004 Passage - Hawaii to Marquesas

Getting out of Hilo was a challenge as the weather was uncooperative.  We had to wait out Hurricane Darby and another tropical depression that was threatening to get worse.  Once they had dissipated their remnants brought plenty o’ wind and lots of rain to Hilo.  We weren’t interested in starting off in the pouring rain and so delayed departure another day.  On August 4th we seized the weather window and turned our bow away from shore.

The journey did not begin auspiciously as both of us got sea sick!  There’s a first time for everything I guess, but I could’ve lived without that one. While cleaning and stowing the lines and anchors, we motored into the wind; this took a couple of hours.  Somehow the pounding into the choppy seas and head winds, with the lurching hobby horse motion was much worse than the down wind swells we were so annoyed with on our last passage.  Fortunately we were better within 2-3 days (Bjarne recovered faster than I did) and were never truly incapacitated.  Next passage start, I think I’ll take the bonamine before we leave.

The remnants of those storms continued to bring dark clouds with heavy winds and rain.  In between these clouds, we expected the trade winds to be 10-20 kts, but to our surprise they were a much higher 30-35, with even greater gusts.  The first couple of nights were very tiring, with the variable winds necessitating some sail changes, the rain and of course the occasional need to hang over the railing.  We also discovered that our windows did not like pounding into the seas, and over the next while all of them began to leak so that cushions were getting wet and the boat remained sticky and damp. The constant battle of trying to keep water out of the boat was also wearing, although I was glad I had brought along a lot of towels.  At least we were making good time.  By August 7, it seemed the remnants had pretty much passed over, although the winds were still a good 25 knots (this is when they issue a small craft warning) with patches up to 30.  However, we weren’t done yet.

For the next couple of weeks, I would begin to think we were through the squalls, and then more would come along.  There were a couple of restful nights with steady winds and clear skies and I enjoyed the luxury of star gazing immensely.  However, more often, as we moved further south we encountered squall after squall, of increasing strength and duration.  The worst times were at night, because we could only see that a dark cloud was coming but couldn’t really tell what to expect.  When the large ones hit, we were enveloped in darkness, with only the lights from our instruments to create a small glowing cocoon.  The winds would suddenly increase dramatically, whistling and howling, and a deluge would begin.  If we tried to look forward, our eyes were battered with the driving rain.  With winds over 40 knots and gusting as high as 49 knots, the boat  hurtled through the darkness at speeds 7-9 knots.   All we could do was hunker down, let the sails out and let the boat go where the weather dictated, which often was off our course.  Talk about feeling like puny mortals.

After a squall passed (probably 5 to 40 minutes), the winds would sometimes die down completely, leaving us wallowing in choppy, confused seas.  When the winds got too light we would motor, but of course since we have quite a limited supply of fuel we had to be judicious about this.  It was frustrating to have crazy high winds and then nothing, although we were always happy to see the sun.  On occasion we would be graced with beautiful rainbows that spanned the sky.  After a few days of this Bjarne figured we must be in the doldrums, even though we thought they would be further south.  We were getting emotionally, mentally and physically drained as a result of all of these squalls, although overall, I don’t think we were as sleep deprived as during our first passage.  When they weren’t hitting us, the winds were often still high, and even when they eased we were still at a high level of alertness, wondering when the next one was going to pounce.  I entertained myself one day through various bouts of rain by writing new words to a childhood song (see the ‘Clouds Marching’ lyrics, elsewhere on our web site).

Eventually we got out of the squall zone.  Much to our relief, the winds became more moderate and the skies became clear.  Sunny days and starry nights.  Phew!  However, this path was not meant to be a smooth one, as the winds now were coming from exactly where we wanted to go (South-East), and on top of that, the South Equatorial current began quite a bit further north than we expected, and was pushing us west at between 1 and 2 knots!  This current actually lasted for about 600 miles, although a shift in wind after a few days helped us get back on course.  Thus, our progress was slow for a few days and I began to feel like we would never get there.  However, we were getting closer gradually and I reminded myself of my general philosophy in life, which is to focus on and enjoy the journey, rather than getting too caught up in the destination.  The importance of this reminder became even more clear when I realized just how much of our time will be spent on long passages over the next two years.

Not withstanding general philosophy, there is no doubt that pleasant sailing conditions, and an improvement in our course heading had a uplifting effect and allowed us to recover from the first couple of weeks.  Our time could now be spent doing more reading and puzzles, working on little projects, writing letters, baking and even playing a few games.  Boggle is the current favorite, although I suspect Bjarne of making up words now and again.  Honestly, how did he know the word for fish sperm (milt)?!  Maybe it’s a guy thing:-)

There has been much less sea-life on this trip, though we were lucky enough to spot a whale half a km away (couldn't identify what type) and a pod of 20 or so dolphins.  There has also been much less human garbage floating in the water; I can think of only two bits of flotsam over the entire trip, as opposed to a piece every hour on the way to Hawaii.  This is really off the beaten path; only two other ships, likely fishing vessels, have we seen.

At night we’ve been  learning new stars and constellations.  Bjarne’s vote for best-named star is Zubenelgenubi, in Libra.  When the moon is down there are an incredible amount of stars.  So many, that it can be hard to find the constellations amidst them, although for the first time I could see all of Orion and actually see it as a figure with a sword (and a little pin head that probably suits a warrior).  I now have a better sense of how the stars move across the sky as the night progresses (don’t they revolve around the earth?).  The Big Dipper has essentially disappeared below the horizon.  It’s weird to think we won’t see it again for almost two years.  One of my favorite sights is the moon reflecting on the water.  There is also a planet in the morning bright enough to reflect on the water as it rises. Another beautiful nighttime sight is the bioluminescent plankton, which sometimes glows around the boat as we move through the water.

Nighttime is good for listening to the shortwave radio, and sometimes some interesting programs help pass the shifts.  It does take some patience to search around for them however, and I can’t imagine doing it at home, although here in the middle of the ocean it seems okay.  We hadn’t had the radio on for about 2 weeks so I was surprised to learn that the Olympics were in progress.  We rooted for the Canadian men’s softball team, as they came close to winning gold.  It’s a bit of a jolt to suddenly be connected with the outside world.  Unfortunately we haven’t been able to get Radio Canada so news from home is sparse.  We’ve concluded that it’s a good thing that Canada isn’t making the international news scene, since that would probably mean bad things were happening.

Passing over the equator was an exciting milestone; we crossed into the South Pacific on Sunday 22 August.  Bjarne pulled out the rum and poured some for both of us, as well as a bit for Neptune.  We then proceeded to enjoy the lovely equator cake that he had baked that morning.  He had to get creative with the icing in order to mark the equator and the lines of longitude as we didn’t have any food colouring.  Beet juice  worked just fine and didn’t seem to change the flavour.  The cake was delicious!