ship's log

Saturday 1 April - Saturday 15 April - on passage from Galapagos to Marquesas


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Bird's Eye View

Saturday 1 April

Horrible grey, drizzly day with visibility to only a few hundred yards ahead. The boat is lurching all over the place with the huge swell and a lot of water comes over the decks. An enormous rogue wave lands squarely on the foredeck and neatly whooshes down the hatch onto the girls’ bunks which was bad for morale all round. We have to batten down the hatches which makes the boat unbearably hot and muggy down below. We resolve never to complain about the hot sun again! For supper I make a rousing hot chicken broth which goes down a treat on a night like this. Nevertheless, we’re shooting along at a good speed in the right direction and we look forward to what tomorrow will bring – it will mark the end of our first week and the first 1000 miles.

Sunday 2 April

Sarah gets into one of her creative moods and begins making quantities of ‘sea life goodies’ to sell in her shop. She makes some mobiles featuring some of the animals and birds we saw in the Galapagos, a model of Lazy Duck, jokes and hand made packs of cards. Sebastian is roped in as an eager assistant, while Hannah decides to set up a rival shop. The saloon is soon festooned with paper confetti as Hannah wields the scissors and every flat surface is covered with ‘important’ pieces of paper, each with random scribblings. By the end of the day some recognisable shapes emerge and the sale begins. Rather than dash in to grab the best exhibit, the customers are instructed to view the range and make their order for delivery at a later date. Interest is high and the vendors find themselves taking rather a large number of orders. I wonder if the enthusiasm will hold out long enough for the orders list to be completed? The line fizzes out again and this time our prize is a 9kg skipjack. John John fillets enough flesh from it to feed us all five times over. Thankfully the fridge is still managing to stay cold so storing it is no problem – unlike in the Atlantic, when the fridge had had to be turned off and half the wahoo had to be thrown back.

Monday 3 April

Back to school today after the day off yesterday. The morning starts with the daily radio net check-in with the 4 or 5 other boats sailing in company – an Englishman’s paradise, all they do is discuss the weather! After breakfast the girls take it in turns to do the washing up or clean the deck gullies before settling down to diaries and school work. At the moment we’re finishing off a Galapagos project, with information and detailed pictures of all the interesting birds and animals we saw. Our guide Patrick on the ‘Pulsar’ was a fount of knowledge who injected a huge amount of interest in our tours around the islands. The girls were fascinated by so much exotic wild life so close at hand. Even while at anchor on Lazy Duck in Puerto Ayora we were visited daily by pelicans, shoals of puffer fish and once a baby hammerhead shark. I also watched a sealion jump three feet out of the water onto a neighbouring motor launch’s raised platform, and wriggle onto the deck to sun itself. Apparently they’re often to be found lazing around in your dinghy. Jonathan spends the morning sweating over the generator which has developed an electrical fault – much to his and John John’s consternation as both profess to know nothing about electrics. However, after disconnecting a part which looked as though it had exploded, and rummaging through the spares bag to see if there was another like it to replace it (we discover from the manual that it’ s the capacitor), Jonathan manages to get the thing going again.. I look at him with new eyes – I’m usually the dodgey handiman at home and I’m beginning to see that when it comes to DIY he’s not just a pretty face after all. However he tells me that his policy is to retire at the top... we’ll see.

Thursday 6 April

We’ve been flying through the waves for the past few days with a steady wind of 20-25 knots, which sometimes gusts up to 30 knots. There’s an informal contest between the helms for who gets the top speed. Philippa gets 11.4, which was superceded by Jonathan’s 11.6, then John John’s 12.6 and finally Sebastian’s 12.7 much to his delight. The swell is very large with another wave motion coming from a different direction which gives a very confused sea. Lazy Duck is thrown around like a cork with rogue waves roaring in from all directions. Any hatches open on any side are breached so that down below ends up being pretty soggy and salty. Noone gets much sleep with the crashing about, but we’re cheered by the good progress we’re making – we do a couple of 200-mile days and already we are more than half way.

End of Bird's Eye View

Sunday 9 April

The motion has eased again thank goodness and we’re enjoying the relative stability. The sun is out and we have an excellent day’s sail. My favourite time of day is during my daily watch after lunch at 1-3pm. Every day the sea looks different – today it’s back to its deep indigo rather than the Channel grey of the past few days. There’s always something to look at – we’re usually accompanied by at least two or three petrels, even mid-ocean, efficiently flying in and out of the waves. On a couple of occasions earlier in the passage we saw a flock of what looked like terns or gulls, diving and swooping down to the water where a school of dolphins was busy fishing. The sea itself was boiling with the swarming bodies of fish. The flying fish are pretty dramatic – every so often we put up a shoal which noisily erupts out of the water on either side like a flock of frightened sparrows to fly at high speed for hundreds of yards. But the strangest sight of all was today when I saw a shoal of about 25 small squid taking off and flying in perfect formation about six inches above the waves. I had no idea they could do this and I wonder if anyone else has ever seen or heard of flying squid?! At our daily tea time ritual today we place our bets on our time of arrival. We have 870 miles to go with the prospect of the winds just about holding out as they are at 15 knots. We all calculate an ETA of Friday evening, but realise that we can only anchor in clear sunlight. So most of us hedge our bets for early Saturday morning. Sebastian is the only one who’s taken the plunge and opted for a Friday arrival.

April 3 – April 8 - Week Two (By 8 April, 998 miles to go)

We are now firmly in the Trades and the wind starts to build. We are sailing goose-winged with the jib poled out, or alternately broad reaching on Port tack. Either way, the Duck is loving it and we are seldom travelling below seven knots, and our average is over eight. The miles start melting away, and we are all well settled into the groove of passage making.

We are working a two hours on, four hours off watch system, with myself, JJ and Philippa standing watches through the night. During the day, as well as the three of us. Sebastian, John’s 13 year old son, stands one watch on his own, and Caroline also does an afternoon stint to allow the working watch to catch up on sleep. Caroline produces the meals and runs the girls’ formal schooling in the mornings.

This tried and tested system continues to work really well, and thanks to Caroline we are eating outstandingly well, as ever. JJ is a willing stand-in at the stove when the mood takes him, such as the time when four small squid made the mistake of landing on Lazy Duck one night. One of them in fact landed on the saloon floor down below, having sailed clean through the centre hatch. Gave Philippa quite a shock when she trod on it as she tip-toed to the heads in the dark of the night! JJ had the squid simmering in a light oil and garlic sauce in no time, and we had Spaghetti Vongole for supper.

The routine is working well, although sleep is a little harder to come by on this crossing as the seas are quite big and the boat is thrown around a bit from time to time. By the end of the week, the seas are such that Max finds it very hard to steer a straight course, and we revert to hand steering to improve the comfort and stability down below.

The afternoons are a time for on-deck exercises, and a sloosh in the cool Pacific water using the bow pump, which is always such a treat.

Everyone’s favourite time of day is tea-time. At this time, all of us meet up on the deck for a cup of tea to enjoy the Pacific sunset. Occasionally we are treated to freshly baked chocolate brownies or banana cake. The smell of fresh baking puts the whole boat into a good mood, and it is a scientifically established fact that chocolate brownies taste infinitely better when 1500 miles from land in any direction.

The routine of revolving watches allows for lots of time to catch up on sleep as well as do things we so rarely get time to do in port. We are all devouring books. Also, we are using my sextant every day to take sun sights and plot position lines. JJ has also been getting into star sights, using the Starry Night software to help identify the right stars to shoot.

We have our second gear failure when the generator packs up in the middle of powering up the watermaker. The panel shows overheating somewhere in the system. It takes a morning of working through all the options (raw water ingress blockage, pump/impeller failure, etc) to narrow down the problem to the electrical end. Bad news as I am much less confident of this bit of the generator. After some sniffing around, taking bits off and putting them back on again, I find the capacitor looks unhappy. An unhappy capacitor has wires sprung out of the top like a bad haircut, and a bulge in the bottom. We have a spare on board thankfully. Once fitted, the generator hums away merrily. All is well.

Every morning and evening we check in on the radio with our friends Eric on ‘Escapade’ and Glenn and Julie on ‘C’est Assez’, a couple of yachts that are on passage with us. We swap positions, weather information, and fishing tales. It is good to be in touch. I think SSB radio is an outstanding tool for ocean going yachts. The range is extraordinary. One evening, Julie on ‘Cest Assez’ had a friend pipe up on the net who was calling from a yacht on Costa Rica, nearly 4000 miles away! I am also using it to download weatherfax information direct onto my computer. Eric very kindly agrees to send a very short e-mail to all our parents to let them know of progress, and that all is well. We still do not have coverage at this point, but expect it to kick in sometime soon as we come under the spot beam of the Pacific Inmarsat satellite.

We move our clocks back twice this week to take account of the progress Westwards we are making. It helps us to maintain the routine of breakfast at first light and dinner at last light etc. I recommend the practice of taking a whole year to travel to Longitude 180 West to minimise jet-lag.

April 9 – April 11 : First half of Week 3 (600 miles to go from here). In the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles off the Marquesas islands, French Polynesia. Lat : 9 degrees 34 South, Lon : 129 degrees 01 West.

We have been roaring along for the last few days. Our best days run was 208 miles, and we have had a few over 180. We are alternating between going goosewinged and reaching, depending on the wind oscillations. There is quite a big swell, up to 12 feet on one day, which makes the surfing fun.

We see our first signs of human life for two weeks. A fishing boat appears off to starboard at night. We track its progress carefully. I am always apprehensive about fishing boats, particularly deep sea fisherman like this one, as they have long nets hanging off stainless steel hawsers that extend for miles off their sterns. We negotiate our way past without incident, only to find another one bang in our path at dawn. In both cases I called them up on VHF radio on Channel 16 but got no response. We discovered subsequently from Kiko Rutter, a friend who came past the area two weeks ago, that he counted 9 Korean fisherman, one of whom was willing to speak to him, in the same area.

It's been clear to us since we came through Panama that the Pacific ocean is much less crowded than the Atlantic. We saw a ship or yacht roughly every other day in the Atlantic crossing. It seems that the majority of yachts then stay in the Caribbean, or go up the East coast of the US before heading back to Europe. Good news for the prospect of peaceful and uncrowded anchorages in Polynesia and beyond.

On Monday we put the fishing line out again, as we have run out of fresh meat and the crew are hungry for more. It is Philippa’s turn to fight and land whatever turns up on the hook. The top of the rod does not twitch all day, until twighlight. I was just giving it a final tweak at the end of the day when it fizzed out. The crew swings into what is by now a well practiced drill. We furl in the headsail, which was boomed out to port, and bring the yacht slowly up into the wind, to gradually reduce our speed. Philippa leaps onto the rod and starts to fight the fish. Caroline gets the camera out and the girls OOH and AAH from their quarterdeck viewing gallery.

The fighting process involves gradually reeling it in when the line is relatively slack, then releasing the clutch and letting it fizz out again if the fish makes a determined pull off to one direction. The aim is to let the fish tire, and to avoid the risk of breaking the line under shock load.

After a good half an hour of wrestling, both Philippa and fish are exhausted, but Philippa is triumphant. The fish, a magnificent skipjack tuna, is alongside. I gaff it and swing it on board. It is heavy and it gives a determined last ditch flap. The gaff buckles and collapses under the strain, thankfully after the fish is successfully landed on board. It weighs in at a handsome 11 kg and will see us in fresh meat all the way to the Marquesas.

On Tuesday morning, JJ tries out the phone and discovers that we are at last able to connect via the Pacific satellite. He speaks to Emma, his parents, and his office, and discovers that all is well. This also means that I can download e-mail and send off this log entry in time for Simon to post it up before he leaves to join us in the Marquesas.

We are now in lighter winds, but still making steady progress Westwards at over 5 knots. At the beginning of the week, we held the traditional sweepstake competition. Bets were placed by the crew, guessing what time we will drop our anchor in the Marquesas. This time the issue is complicated by the fact that we are not sure which island we will go to first. It depends on what we hear from other yachts ahead about checking in formalities. The earliest bid is Sebastian (Friday 14th at 1614 hours) and the latest is Hannah (Sunday 16th at 1000 hours). Most of the rest of us are shooting for Saturday morning. Hannah is looking good at the moment, as the winds have lightened up considerably.....

My next log will be after we have arrived in the Marquesas, and will be posted by Simon’s sister Sarah, who has very kindly agreed to stand in for our website editor whilst he joins us for some Pacific cruising. By that time we are also hoping that some of the underwater photos that Kurt took in the Galapagos will be available for posting as well.

Wednesday April 12 – Saturday 15 April

We are still moving Westwards, but progress has definitely slowed down a bit. We are occasionally reduced down to 4 knots. Now that we are in contact by e-mail I am able to send a request to the Met office in Bracknell for a general synopsis for the remaining 500 miles of our journey. I have a contract with a unit there called the IFU which provides customised weather info for expeditions. They are really excellent and have been most helpful on the trip so far. I am mainly interested in whether there is any stronger wind forecast just ahead (say 100 miles) in which case it would be worth motoring into it. The weatherfaxes I am getting are not detailed enough for me to judge.

Bracknell come back with the news that there is wind on the way. The light airs are caused by a low pressure system down at the Latitude of Pitcairn Island and Easter Island. So we minimise motoring. Sure enough the next day the Trades fill back in, actually earlier than Bracknell had promised. Soon we are back trucking along at 7 knots and everybody is happy again. Everyone that is except for Sebastian and Sarah. Thanks to the lull, their chances of a Friday Arrival and a victory in the Sweepstake are zero.

The atmosphere on the yacht is one of contained excitement as landfall approaches. We have all been reading the many wonderful descriptions of the lovely Marquesas islands. As a teenager JJ read and was enchanted by the Thor Heyerdahl book, “Fatu Hiva’, describing his early days as a settler on his lovely island with young Polynesian bride.

On Saturday morning we are only fifty miles off, and there is much squinting into the distance. JJ is the first to see our landfall looming out of the distance. FATU HIVA. The name has a magical ring to it, and we are all very excited as it draws closer.

Sebastian consoles himself at the passing of his arrival estimate time by putting the fish hook out for the last time. In no time he has reeled in and landed a decent sized lampuka (dorado) which makes outstanding eating that night.

We swing round to the South of the island, and start to appreciate the beauty of the lush green slopes. It is high, over 3000 feet at the peak, and less than 10 miles long. It is volcanic rock, rising steeply out of the sea. The swell is crashing hard against the southern shore and shooting jets of white surf skyward, leaving a brilliant turquoise return wave.

We are soon in the lee of the kidney shaped island and motor up the coast seeking our chosen anchorage, Bay des Vierges. We know that our friends Glenn and Julie in ‘C’est Assez’, also Erick Reichert in ‘Escapade’ are in there. Gradually their masts appear and we are able to contact them on Channel 16 VHF. They have identified an ideal anchor spot for us in the tiny bay, and Glenn very kindly takes a picture of us with his digital camera as we swing into the bay.

We drop anchor at 1700 hours ships time. This time is not the same as local time in Marquesas, which is in fact 1530, as they are nine and a half hours behind GMT. It is however the time we have chosen to use for the sweepstake. So Caroline is the winner, having bid Saturday at 1200 hours. At least this time the Skipper and Mate came second and third, so we are not as far off as we had been in the Atlantic crossing. On that one Andy (my brother) and I had been out by over a day.We finished off our welcome cup of tea and celebratory chocolate brownies, and dinghied ashore for a quick stretch of legs.

The bay is stunningly beautiful, with very steep sides covered in palm trees and some wonderful rock formations which create exquisite shapes in the moonlight.

A good dinner of Sebastian's fish and we are soon snoozing away contentedly. Most of us wake up at least once in the middle of the night, unused to the strange luxury of more than four hours' sleep.

Stop press - April 15

Lazy Duck dropped anchor in Baie des Vierge, Fatu Hiva, Marquesas on Saturday 15 April at 1700 local time. We had an outstanding passage, covering 3200 miles in 20 days. Winds were steady most of the way once we had got down to 6 degrees South, and the fish just jumped onto the hooks and on board as fast as we could ship them. Fatu Hiva is stunning. A real fairytale South Pacific landfall, all lush and green and almost deserted. See log for more details when we post next, probably at the end of next week, ie April 22nd.

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