“And yet the sea is a horrible place. Sailing the sea is stupefying to the mind and poisonous to the temper; the sea, the motion, the lack of space, the villainous tinned foods, the sailors, the captain, the passengers – but you are amply repaid when you sight an island, and drop anchor in a new world.” (Robert Lois Stevenson 1888; letter to a friend 1888 on making landfall in the Marquesas).
…To which Paul Theroux adds: “Those were my sentiments exactly: sailing the sea was a monotony of doldrums interrupted by windy periods of nightmarish terror. No desert was ever deadlier or more tedious than an ocean. Then – after weeks or months of your thinking life is a reach and then you jibe – landfall.” (Paul Theroux, Happy Isles of Oceania (1992))
At over 3,000 miles, the Galapagos-Marquesas voyage is the longest ocean passage that we’ve undertaken so far – indeed the longest by far for the vast majority of sailors circumnavigating in low latitudes. During the passage it didn’t always seem so, but looking back, the overall experience was pleasurable sailing in brisk trade winds, under mainly clear skies on deep blue water. However, the passage had undoubted physical and mental challenges including sleep deprivation, relentless, and at times profound, unpredictable arising from a very confused sea from mixing of several ocean swells, as well as an undercurrent of subliminal anxiety about the unknowns ahead and all the “what if” scenarios that inevitably creep into ones mind in a boat pushed beyond the norm. However, we now share a sense of achievement that a couple of risk-averse, conservative, 60 something, “Mom & Pop” sailors actually did this together as a team – as well as a great sense of relief that we and Sea Cloud have arrived in one piece in a pretty respectable time of just over 19 days.
The first hurdle was getting through the doldrums as fast as possible. Although the primary ITCZ is north of the equator at this point, there is a frequently encountered trough (“2nd ITCZ”) SSW of the Galapagos with highly variable winds and convection activity. This dictated we sail south below 30 S before attempting to head west.
- The endless ever changing, restless, groaning, white cap spattered deep deep blue sea and knowing we are further from “civilisation” than the vast majority of the human race will ever or could ever be.
- The ever changing nature and unpredictability of the sky, wind, waves and weather
- Brisk sailing every day & night with Sea Cloud posting a 181mile day – a PB
- Spectacular bright starry nights with virtually no light pollution
- The bright ¾ moon shimmering silver on wind-affected water
- At the end of night watch seeing the sunrise out of the water
- Seeing the green flash at sunset
- Never tiring of watching the skilful boobies diving for flying fish scattered by Sea Cloud’s bow wave. The fact that these amazing birds, often alone, are seen more than 1,500 miles from land.
- Great food and that we were still eating fresh fruit, vegetables as well as fresh baked bread and home made fruit cake on day 20. This is testament to Cathy’s brilliant foresight, planning and provisioning in Panama and Galapagos (which posed not insignificant challenges in achieving this aim). Extensive supply of deep frozen, pre-prepared meals ensured superb hot meals even when adverse conditions and passage fatigue precluded lengthy periods in the galley.
- Not breaking anything (vang broken before we started) & the “Green Death” (Volvo engine) did fire up on arrival. A crucial aspect of minimising wear while sailing downwind for weeks on end is chaffe prevention, balancing sails and helm to permit our indispensible Hydrovane to maintain a steady course without much interference or effort.
- Approaching land after weeks at sea and being greeted by dozens of dolphins leaping around us and gliding for hours in the bow wave while a welcoming party of dozens of curious boobies circled and swooped around us seemingly looking for a spot to perch
- Making landfall in a spectacularly beautiful, isolated bay on an island considered to be among the most isolated populated islands in the world – something only enjoyed by the small handful of yachties who get here the hard way. Then, seeing the play of light towards sunset on the jagged peaks and green hills while cracking that first beer after a dry 3 week passage.
- It’s a big ocean, but knowing others are also out there somewhere over the horizon, makes it feel a little smaller. The Iridium GO, enabling weather reports, unlimited email and SMS and limited phone calls was our lifeline. Most of us with SSB radio could also contact others with variable success out to 800Nm. The community of cruisers in the Pacific is something quite unique. We are catching up with many people we met earlier in the season, from Curacao to Panama. Although there are hundreds of boats making the same voyage across the Pacific each year, many of the boat names and faces are familiar. Panache (Canadian Cat) regularly updated and plotted the position of a smallish group of about 20 boats (“M-Fleet”) between Galapagos and Marquesas. We were sent daily positions of all the fleet, exchanged stories of fish caught, meals eaten and received updates of life on the ‘other side’ from the boats who had made landfall. These emails and those from our friends Monique and Dick (“Umnyana”) as well as Ian’s daily SSB chat with Olav & Birgitte (“Alutia”) were so important in maintaining human contact over the 19 days.
The synopsis of the passage Galapagos – Fatu Hiva:
- Distance sailed: 3,158 nautical miles
- Time taken 19d 5hr; overall average speed (SOG) 6.83 kts
- Average daily run 164 Nm (range 143 – 181Nm)
- Winds: Doldrums/equatorial trough (2nd ITCZ) days 1-3; remainder SE-ESE trades 16-22kts (90%); 22-25kts (10%)
- Waves: 0.5-1m (5%), 1-2m (80%); 2-3m (15%)
- Weather: Rain squall days 5 (25 – 35kts)
- Sail plan (conservative): double reefed main 95% (with boom preventer and Walder boom break); poled out genoa (“wing on wing”) 80%; broad reaching both sails on port gybe (20%). Number of gybes – nil.
- Engine hours 21
- Generator hours 10 (ave 1.5h every 3 days)
- Water consumed 840 L (22L/d per head)
- Gear we wouldn’t leave home without: Freezer permitted access to precooked meals for weeks – obviating need for lengthy galley time when fatigued or in unpleasant seas. “Mr D” slow cooker saved LPG and kept galley time to a minimum. Mung beans and sprout cultivator and Basil our potted friend. Ikea “dog bowls” to prevent spilling dinner in rough seas. “Ted” our Hydrovane wind vane self steering device worked superbly & was engaged 98% of the entire voyage. Watt & Sea hydrogenerator worked flawlessly and, without the power drain from the Raymarine autopilot, W&S (if boat speed > 7.5 kts) can provide near 100% of power needs day or night. Water maker (& 900L tankage) permitted the luxury of daily showers. Bean bag – on the cockpit floor on a rough night provided much needed muscle rest during times of profound rolling. Nespresso machine – life too short to go without good coffee