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Calou's Blog
Cruising with the crew of CALOU on the Baja Ha-ha and Pacific Puddle Jump
Day 9
04/03/2011, Pacific Ocean

I woke up today to overcast skies and somewhat squally conditions. We could see storm clouds and rainfall on the horizon to the south of us. We are approaching the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone), the zone just north of the equator, where such weather is the norm.

Wind has increased to about 18 knots, we have been making 7 to 8 knots most of the day with just the mainsail and the jib.

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A Quiet Sunday (Day 9)

John's Blog Updated. Original post with photos: Latitude: 12.38482 Longitude: -120.22643

Not much is happening today. Just lying on my bunk reading on my Kindle for most of the day so far. I'm reading Catch Me If You Can, which is a great book as well as a great movie. I really enjoyed the movie, but never read the book. So far, it seems that the movie follows the story in the book very closely. I've also gotten hooked on the HBO series, The Wire. I never saw any episodes before, and have five seasons stored on my computer to make my way through. It is about criminal detectives fighting drug dealers in Baltimore. Some of the criminal law elements in the show remind me of my days as a prosecutor in the tough and criminally active town of Modesto, which is kind of fun.

Yesterday afternoon our forward head (toilet) would not drain so Bruce had to undertake the messy job of disconnecting the hoses and tank and snake out the hoses. It looks like mineral deposits had built up inside the discharge hose to the point where the tank would not drain. Since the tank was almost full, it weighed around 300 pounds. Bruce tied ropes to it and Francois and I helped lift it into position by pulling on the ropes up on deck while Bruce pushed the tank back into its shelf from inside the sail locker. We plan on emptying the tank more often now, which will help avoid these issues.

Today brought with it the heaviest weather of the trip so far. We have winds gusting to around 20 knots and rougher seas plus a little rain. The GRIB weather files I have been downloading predicted this exactly right and show similar weather for the next four days. The good news is that we are able to make really good time. We were doing around 8 knots for a good number of hours and hit a top speed of 10.2 knots momentarily.

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Day 8 at Sea

Today begins the 8th day at sea, we are about 800 some miles off shore. The day started out overcast, and as the day went on it became clear and sunny.

I have been struggling to understand our charging system. When we start the engine, it starts pumping 40 amps into the batteries. But this amerage drops withing 10 minutes to less than 10 amps. And the battery voltage, instead of increasing, declines. This is very worrisome since we need DC poer to run our instruments, watermaker, radio, etc.

Fortunately we have alternate sources of power. There are the solar panels, and the wind generator. But the solar panels do no good at night and the wind generator doesn't do anything when the wind is light. Then we have our Honda generator. This little gem produces 120V AC and sends it directly to our shore power inlet to charge our batteries and provide power to our appliances when needed.

To make a long story short, the DC charging system (alternator and regulator) are behaving mysteriously and basically not working. We have to rely on the Honda generator now to keep the batteries charged. At least until I figure out what's wrong with the alternator/regulator system.

Oh, we are carrying a backup alternator, and a backup regulator.

But tests I have done this far indicate normal alternator unregulated output. And I have already tried out the spare regulator (same result). There is something going on here that I don't understand. I think I'll have to call Balmar on the Sat Phone when they open on Monday to get their input.

Then there was the trouble with the holding tank. This 30 gallon tank holds our sewage, need I say more! We need to empty the tank when at sea, but it would not empty. This meant that the sewage was backing up into our head.

I had to go into the sail locker where the tank is located, disconnect it (very carefully because it was filled with 30 gallons of sewage) and clear the blockage which turned out to be due to mineral deposits using a wire "snake". All while we were under sail doing 8 knots with the spinnaker.

The hardest part was hoisting the full holding tank back into position (by my estimate it weighed 240 lbs). With myself hoisting it from below, we tied two ropes and had John and Francois hoist it from above. The three of us were just barely able to get it back into position.

Fortunately after this ordeal the holding tank is now working normally. I would recommend any boat owner to install a "cleanout" by their holding tank output drain so that this critical juncture can be cleared without disconnecting the holding tank. This is the second time we've had to do this unsavory operation so it's not an uncommon chore.

Besides the usual travails we saw a school of dolphins today. Antoine and John are pictured on the bow of Calou observing them.

Today is Saturday and we all previously agreed Saturday would be Pizza Day. We brought 3 frozen pizzas for the passage and cooked the second one today. It was just an appetizer but quite a treat. We also had apple slices served with blue cheese, and some nice red wine to go with it. Then the main course was arrachera steak cooked with garlic and onions, and steamed potatoes, carrots, and leeks.

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My First Dolphin Sighting (Day 8)

John's Blog Updated. Original post with photos: Latitude: 13.10153 Longitude: -118.02161

We have occasionally been visited by dolphins, but today is the first time I have seen them. Today two swam with the boat for a few minutes and then disappeared.

Saturday morning was relaxing today. Bruce and Pascale watched a movie in their cabin and I practiced violin on deck. The sun has returned which helps to make things more cheery also. But it also makes things much hotter. I wonder how much warmer it will be at the equator compared to here. We will find out in about eight more days.

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Day 7
04/01/2011, 800 nautical miles from Mexico

This marks our 7th day at sea, and we have completed about 1/3 of our passage. The winds have been mostly very light the last 24 hours, at times as little as 6 knots, other times as much as 10. We have managed to keep the speed between 6 and 8.5 knots with the spinnaker up. Still, there was a period during the afternoon when we struggled to keep the spinnaker filled.

The sky is overcast today which is a mixed blessing. For one it is cooler. But we hope to have more sunny skies in the forecast. Cloudiness and storminess is going to become more common, however, as we approach the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) at the equator.

With the cloudy skies, our solar panel output is reduced, which means we have had to run the engine or the generator more.

We ate the last of the celery sticks today with peanut butter, and had another tropical fruit salad for lunch to use up the avocados, tomatoes, and mangoes before they go bad. We have had to kersplash some rotten fruit that we didn't get to eat in time.

Dinner tonight will probably be some arrachera steak cooked in a stew with onions and leek, and some couscous on the side.

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April First (Day 7)

John's Blog Updated. Original post with photos: Latitude: 13.49823 Longitude: -116.15942

The first day of April has arrived. It is weird to be at sea while the months go by.

{{90}} Today has mostly been an uneventful day so far. Bruce changed our battery regulator to a cheap car regulator instead of the fancy marine regulator and now we are getting a lot more amps out of the alternator and the batteries are charging up to 14 volts instead of stopping charging at 12.5 volt. This will help our batteries last longer, especially at night. Night time is the only time we have needed to charge the batteries since during the day our solar panels are doing a good job at keeping things topped off. The last few days have been mostly cloudy, but still the solar cells seem to be doing a decent job. Bruce installed a volt meter in the cockpit yesterday so that helps quite a bit with being able to monitor our battery usage.

I have over a thousand movies with me, but so far I have only watched two. I thought I would have time to watch lots of movies, but it turns out we are pretty busy sailing and sleeping so a lot less time for movies than planned. Oh well, better to enjoy the experience of being here instead of letting it all go by watching movies. I did play a little violin yesterday afternoon which was fun. I worked on my improvising skills by trying to play along with the music on the stereo. Caribbean style island music might not be my best choice for learning to improvise since it was pretty tough.

Our topics of conversation continue to be the weather and anticipation about conditions we might find near the equator. That area is known to be somewhat more unsettled with short intense storms, squalls. I have been downloading weather information every day and in the short term things seem pretty consistent. Mostly 8 to 12 knots of wind and 7-8 foot swells. Weather for a long passage doesn't get a whole lot better than that.

The thought also crossed our minds that we hope the South Pacific lives up to its reputation. While making a passage like this is fun, it also is a really long trip and can get a bit monotonous. So we hope we are not disappointed when we get there. The likelihood of that seems pretty slim, but still, these are the things you think about when you have lots of time for thinking.

PS: Note to Dennis Dorch and other people that want to comment on Facebook. It seems I can reply via email to comments left on the photos, but not directly to comments on my wall. Facebook has a nice feature that lets me reply via email to posts, but I think that only is working to comments left on photos. Even though I have a satellite connection, I am not loading FB because it takes a lot of bandwidth and that could get expensive in a hurry. Dennis, if you send me an email, [email protected] , I want to reply to your last message. I don't have your email address.

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Day 5
03/31/2011, One Big Ocean

we had a good run today, flying the spinnaker at 8 knots most of the day until the winds started to pick up so we packed it away and flew with the jib at 6.5 knots. The seas were fairly comfortable.

We have an abundance of fruit that is all ripening at once: oranges, melons, avocados, tomatos, mangos, pinapples... so I made a tropical salad with fresh romaine lettuce, chopped tomato, diced mango, and a creamy cilantro salad dressing. This was topped off with salmon cakes (canned salmon mixed with egg and pan fried).

Meanwhile John prepared a pineapple Thai style--with the dark spots cut out spiral style around the pineapple, and the stalk where the leaves are serving as a sort of handle. It was a refreshing dessert after the salad.

Tonight, I'll be preparing barbequed rib-eye steaks for dinner, with a raspberry-chipotle sauce and garnished with fresh chopped pineapple chunks. We'll have sweet potatoes and butter to go with it as a side dish.

It's important to have good, fresh (when possible) and varied food for a long passage like this.

I did a boat project today. I ran a cable to the cockpit so that we can display the battery voltage on a digital display in the cockpit. For the digital display I used my backup digital VOM. This turns out to be information that is of vital information on a minute by minute basis. The battery voltage needs constant monitoring to be sure that it doesn't drop too low before starting up the genset or the engine to recharge the house bank.

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04/01/2011 | Blair Hunt
WOW! the daily menu's sound fantastic! Are you taking reservations?? LOL
Happy to hear your passage has been great, continued Fair Winds & Seas!
We're all jealous here on S/V Sabrina Faire, Semiahmoo Marina, Pacific NW.
Having Fun (Day 6)

John's Blog Updated. Original post with photos: Latitude: 14.23157 Longitude: -114.12309

Watching the sun rise, with the rays piercing down through the clouds, was a nice way to start the day. Bruce stayed on watch longer than usual so I started at 4:00 am instead of 3.

Since I had been sleeping since 8:30pm I was feeling pretty awake and stayed on watch until the sun rose, my first sunrise since we started. Antoine woke up early and we filled out the log book together, which was also a good way to help him figure out how to read the instruments.

Since the wind was starting to pick up we launched the spinnaker and kept it up until about 1pm. It is really fun to drive the boat with the spinnaker up and a good wind. We averaged about 7,5 knots , with a top speed of 8.7 knots while I was driving. I've been thinking about how I am not able to play in today and tomorrow's Bohemian Club Orchestra concerts, with great comradeship and the oyster appetizers and bottomless wine, and as much as I miss that, driving a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is a pretty unique and amazing experience. I've played in probably hundreds of concerts over the years, but being out here like this is something that is probably not very likely to happen again, or if so, not for many, many years. In addition to looking forward to reaching French Polynesia I am also realizing that the trip across the Pacific is just as much a part of the adventure as arriving at our destinations.

Our lunch today was a lot of fun. Bruce made a delicious salad garnished with mango, avocado and tomatoes, topped with tune/salmon cakes. I enjoyed cutting one of our pineapples, in the style of a Thai beach vendor, which I learned about during my first trip to Thailand in 2001.

There were lots of fish jumping and chasing other fish all over around the boat earlier so I put out a line. Maybe we will have fresh sushi for dinner. Otherwise we will have to settle for barbeque steaks and potatoes.

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