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Pacific Odyssey 2010/2011
Follow the Larsens from Seattle to Australia and back.
Closing in on Hilo

We are having our best day of sailing today. Moderate seas, fairly steady winds, and good speed toward Hilo. At noon we have 148 miles to go, and we did 141 miles over the last 24 hours, one of our top days. If we had more days like this, we would not be so anxious for Hilo. Sophie is really starting to engage as well, asking to become part of the watch rotation. While she can't do this without support, having her up top for an hour before meal times, with me just below in the galley would be very helpful.

The last two nights have been great for stargazing - clear skies and cooperating wind and seas. Last night Sophie asked me to wake her for my ten pm watch to star gaze. I tried but she was struggling, and as the sky was partly cloudy I let her sleep. During the night the sky cleared, and I spent half of my early morning watch laying on by back with a star guide, picking out new constellations I have not known, and saw a bight shooting star. I look forward to sharing one of these nights with Sophie, such experiences are what we came for.

Our fresh fruit has help up very well - we just ran out today and have a good shot at Hilo tomorrow. Yesterday Sophie lead the kids in making fresh squeezed lemon aid, what a treat! Today I made popcorn on the stove. Small treats provide greater pleasure out here.

We have not had to resort to many canned meals, but have been cooking with a lot of fresh ingredients and eating a healthy diet. I can't remember any time in my adult life when I have gone 2 weeks without any restaurant food or take out. I have been doing most of the cooking, and while I have enjoyed it, I am looking forward to a break.

Freya's Birthday, Fish On!

Today was Freya's 5th birthday. As we have a small boat and expected to be in Hawaii 2 -3 weeks ago, we mailed all of her presents along with the rotation of books care of the Hilo harbormaster. I was surprised and pleased that she was not bothered by this at all. Christine made her a cake and we had a nice birthday for her. She got to pick out the movie for movie night (passage making has changed.) She is excited, but patient beyond her years to get her presents in Hilo. Freya has been very helpful on the trip. She always volunteers to help wash the dishes, or find gear for us. (Very often she has "borrowed" the gear. She also tries to take care of Finn and even Sophie. She would be a great big sister, but she won't be so lucky.

Yesterday I finally got a chance to fish behind the boat. Our extremely basic technique is to troll with a hand line behind the boat - no pole. Just a snubber, some heavy line, 300 lbs test that the fish can't easily bite through, and a rubber squid with large hooks. This also compensates for not having a reel with a drag control to absorb the strike. I cleated my rig off and settled in, dreaming of some fresh yellow fin sashimi for lunch. Finn and Freya were thrilled, up in the cockpit actively watching my line and updating me every 90 seconds and asking it if was time to pull it in and check it. I had to take pictures of them. As I did, Finn told me he thought the line was coming loose. I didn't really believe him, but decided to stow the camera and check it out. Wrong order. I really think I will learn to DO IT NOW on this trip. 15 minutes of fishing and my rig was gone. (I am checking the Monitor bolts 2x per day.) I got a new rig together and started trolling again, and caught 4 feet of some old nylon line. It is surprising how much debris is floating out here. Several times a day we see bottles or old fishing floats.

Today,I tied a loop and cleated the line to the deck with my newly constructed rig. (While many cruisers deploy multiple lines at once, I decided to learn to tangle one line in the Monitor steering vane first.) After an hour the kids initial excite waned. After few hours Dale started to pull the line in to check it, and a fish jumped behind the boat. I'd like to say the fight was on, but I think he was pretty tired from being drug behind the sailboat a while. I had my gaffe and fish billy at the ready. (my fillet knife was another matter) As Dale pulled him in, I saw the distinctive iridescent blue green flash of the Mahi, we had a small bull Mahi on the line. Dale pulled him alongside I hooked him with the gaffe and brought him in range of the billy. An alternate technique to clubbing fish to death is to spray some alcohol into their gills: this knocks them out, stopping them from biting and flailing. Fish blood does not clean up easily, and bashing a pelagic fish over the head with a club is a very effective way to make a grand mess. I am switching techniques. While we could not weight our catch, I estimate the fish between 8 and 10 pounds. Several meals and a good moral booster for us.


"This is a day the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!" This was the call to worship at our wedding 12 years ago. Each day is equally made, but some are truly wonderful. Our wedding day surely was, and I now add today to the list. After almost a month of no sunshine, cold weather and high winds and teetering waves, we finally sailed into a beautiful blue morning and enjoyed most of a sunny day. No major brakedowns, the kids played nicely together, and the adults each got a short nap in. It was also a "morale day" - every couple days we turn on the engine, make water, take showers and clean the boat. It makes everyone feel better.

We were supposed to have a morale day yesterday, but we gave up on it because the wind remained at 28-30 kts for most of the day and by afternoon the waves were so high (we saw some 18-20 footers for sure) they made conditions below quite uncomfortable. The kids dance around the boat and love the lurch of the waves. I find water in the cockpit a menacing sign and had to surrender to my bunk for about 4 hours and pretend that I did not exist. -0 The present evening squall notwithstanding, this has been a remarkable day on an otherwise very grueling passage.

Less than a week to go for Hilo!

Blues skies!
06/15/2010, 664 miles Northeast of Hilo

After several overcast days with periodic squalls, we have a blue sky day, and great downwind sailing. (If you don't mind the swell and the boat pitching around a little - hopefully that settles down tomorrow.) The sun is very welcome and well timed, as we are all tired. We had our first flying fish on the deck yesterday, the kids were thrilled. I am anxious to start trolling for tuna, wahoo and mahi, but it has been a little rough for fishing and I have been busy with kids and the boat.

We made our turn to Hilo and are sailing down the rhumb line, 664 miles to go, or about five days with favorable winds. Our course is just on the edge of what we can comfortably sail downwind: sailing dead down wind reduces stability, causing the boat to roll and sail in a serpentine manner. We do not want to enter Hilo harbor at night, so we need to keep the course, keep our speed up if we want to have a chance of getting in on Monday. Tuesday is more likely, and if the wind and waves are challenging, later. A 17 day passage from San Francisco would be very good for our heavily loaded boat, and we are all looking forward to a meal ashore, ice cream and a full night's sleep without watches and rollers.

Sophie is teaching me to play Pokeman, and had all of us playing the "Mafia" game she learned at sailing camp. The kids got frustrated with their Lego creations exploding as they flew off of the table, so now the narrow walkway through the cabin is often covered in legos. The kids are playing together better every day. It is a big change for me to be around them 24/7.

Yesterday was supposed to be a morale day (showers, a significant event as I have to make water and empty the "sail locker") but we had to cancel it due to the strong waves. Everyone is feeling a lot better today.

Trade Wind Sailing

We have reached the trade winds! We now have more consistent winds form NNE and NE, between 15 and 25 kn, or 18 - 30 miles and hour. 20 kts seems ideal for the boat heading downwind. We have been scooting along at close to 6 kts, pretty good for our heavily loaded boat.

A challenge has been that we will see a steady 19 kts from 10° for 45 minutes of the hour, then a spike up to 25 kts from 40°, for 15 minutes or so, straining the rig or forcing us to change sail configuration, only to have the wind drop back down to 19 kts. If we stay rigged for the 25 kts gusts, we have an uncomfortable ride in the 6-8 foot waves as we move too slowly. We also get the occasional larger (8 - 15 foot) that seem to come form 30° different direction (our beam) providing some jarring motion and sending anything we forgot to secure sliding across tables. Cooking takes twice as long, as we have to make sure nothing, especially knives and boiling liquids, have an opportunity to launch. I don't mind.

Christine is not enjoying the motion, but the kids are loving it. While the adults held on, like kids in an elevator they started jumping as the waves hit to see how high they could get, if they flew across the cabin onto the couch, all the better. They soon learned to dive from one side of the cabin to the couch on the other side in time with the waves, sit on the steps and let the waves slide them right off, or hang from the hand rails and let their bodies swing wildly. These games are driving Mom crazy. They are getting exercise.

It is not all bumpy though. In the afternoon and evening we had quiet calm seas and 18 kts of wind. The stars are out for a second night. With continued winds and luck, we should be in Hilo early in the week of June 21.

Ups and Downs
06/09/2010, 30 N, 130 W

Are we going to Hawaii yet? When will be there? Will I have my birthday in Hawaii? How much longer will it take to get there? I thought of a sobering analogy in reply to these questions: Sailing to Hawaii covers the same distance as driving across the United States, only we are moving (on our best days) at 6 miles/hour. Take a look on a map, that is only a small bit of the distance to Australia (our intended destination by November.) What a big ocean!

We've had the moments of panic when the sump pump goes off in the middle of the night and we think oh my goodness where is that water coming from? (the shower head released the last of its holdings). Or we wake up and find ourselves becalmed and think we've mis-represented our time and position to our weather router and we second-guess the course we are on. Or we think we've used 35 hours of our 100 hours of diesel when we've only used 25 hours (that is within our comfort zone as we are ¼ of the way to our destination.)

We also had our moments of beauty. A tiny bird found its way to our deck in the cold, foggy night we left San Fran. We think the bird was soaked through and needed to dry out. It stayed with us for almost 3 days - through a raucus gale with 29 kts and 8-10 foot seas. The morning the weather cleared, he must've flown away. We've heard some familiar squeaks today so we may have another stowaway somewhere on deck. The dolphins appear from time to time. They show up like good friends do at the front door - unannounced and thoroughly welcome. We stop what we are doing and watch the show. They like to ride the bow wave - we read that they enjoy the resistance. The other day we were sailing along when Spfeet! Spfeet! And Woosh! About 20 dolphins were on the scene - circling, diving, flipping. They stayed for a good 20 minutes and entertained us fully.

This trip isn't all fun and games - there is a lot of work, some tension, a great deal of kid management issues. My Dad commented that our greatest challenge is not working the rig, but dealing with our kids. When I filled out the application for my Mahina Expeditions trip from Fiji to New Zealand last year, the Neals' materials stressed that their opportunity was not a luxury cruise, it was a hands-on seminar. It was luxurious and relaxing compared to what we've undertaken now. With Mahina, we had 8 adults on board, Amanda and John cooked all our meals, there was quiet time to read or sleep between watches and class time.

On our boat, we have to do it all and we get very little downtime from the kids - there is no school we can send them off to for 6 hours in the day. I can't deal with the lack of sleep as well as Eric can. I also have trouble with my mood during a particularly bumpy ride. I don't get seasick in the traditional sense with nausea, but I get very annoyed with being thrown around the boat when all I'm trying to do is cook a simple meal of pasta and red sauce (for and hour and a half!) I fantasize about selling our boat in Hawaii and buying plane tickets to Australia. Eric is much more even tempered and has a consistently positive outlook. He's our highly capable captain and we are lucky to be in his care.

Eric's chores in this regard range from downloading our weather faxes on the Ham radio, fixing the toilet (again), making fresh water with our Spectra desalinator, home schooling Sophie, cooking sometimes, and reading to the kids at night. That leaves plenty of work for me to do during the 24 hour day, but my skills are not as diversified. When I speak of the 24 hour day, I mean to convey that we do experience every hour. There is little in the way of deep sleep. Rather we catch our rest in bits and pieces, and sometimes very little. Our watch schedule is 2 hours/on and 4 hours/off. I sleep from 10pm-2am and then again from 4am-8am. The kids get up at 6am so that takes a hunk out of my time right there. The boat is still moving along all through the night. Down below we have the courtesy lights (glowing red, along the walkway) on to give us some light during watch changes but not so bright that it hurts our night vision.

Last night we had our first star-filled night of the journey; hoping for another tonight, but it is 7 pm and the sky is once again covered with clouds.

[Ham operator's note: the sky is 60% clear per the ship's log.]

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Who: Eric, Christine and family
Port: Seattle, Washington
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