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

The wind returned in spades and we are closing in on Apia, less than 100 miles to go. When the wind returned, we were too far out to get in Wednesday before sunset, so we actually had to slow the boat down to arrive after sunrise on Thursday. After pushing for speed for days, it just feels wrong.

The harbor in Apia is within easy walking distance of the restaurants and shops. It will be nice not to need a car. This time tomorrow I hope we are having pizza for lunch. (Local food will follow soon.) We are all ready for port.

This will be our longest passage of the trip, at 19 days. We will have covered over 5500 nautical miles of Ocean. Once in Samoa, our pace will slow. Our next several passages will be 1-4 days and we will take substantial time between them. I won't have as many boat projects, and we will focus on seeing the sites and meeting people. The next phase our our trip is about to begin.

A Hot Night to Samoa

Last night I wrote that it was hot.I was premature. We hadn't yet met today. This must be the hottest of our journey. The fans don't help that much because they just blow the hot air around like hairdryers. Not sure why the change, but Eric pointed out that the sea temp is a surprising 87 degrees!

The moon is high in the sky, bright and lingering a bit longer than last night. This is helpful. After the close encounter with the fishing boat today we need every bit of light to see what is coming on the horizon. Without the moonlight, it is virtually impossible.

Today I've been thinking about the joke about the guy who jumps out of the airplane without a parachute. He falls so many thousands of feet, and says that once he got to just ten feet from the ground he could simply jump from there. That is how I feel about this passage. We are within jumping distance after 2,000 miles.

Eric and I just switched watches. We are both so exhausted that he is sound asleep already and I'm only on this paragraph.

We must constantly manage our fatigue. There isn't a way to eliminate it, despite the naps we each take during the day. We just can't get enough hours at one time. It effects us in ways we sometimes don't realize. For example, I might start crying in the middle of the day while I am cranking in a reef on the headsail. No other reason than just being bone weary. Every hour we make a log entry, noting the wind direction and speed, weather features, lat/long, etc. There is a comments section where we write "saw a ship" "squall passed by" or something like that. Eric came on watch last night and was reading through my previous 3 hours of log entries and asked, "what does 'mugs of water' mean?" How should I know? I have no idea why I wrote that, but I do clearly remember writing it down. This is the kind of bizarre behavior that fatigue brings about. The log entry goof up is benign, but when it comes to managing the sails, making decisions about course line in relation to ships and squalls, we've got to make sure we are making logical choices.

In preparation for Samoa, Sophie has been a cleaning busy body. Finn however is breaking down. He needs to run around and get the energy out. It is bottled up inside and explodes from time to time. Freya has tried on her various bathing suits (most of them hand-me downs and that is why she has far too many) over and over again.

For those of you who heard us talk about our travel plans, you may recall we included French Polynesia, the Cook Islands and Niue on our agenda at first. We would have loved to visit these areas but when it came down to it, we just don't have the time. When we explained our itinerary to sailors who'd traveled the South Pacific before they'd say, "you've just described a 3-year trip." And they were right. There just isn't time enough to cover the great distances and find time to spend in port long enough to make it worth a stop. The leaving again is such a chore. So, we decided that given our personal time frame we needed to take a short cut and head directly for Samoa, getting the major ocean miles out of the way first, allowing us to take 2-3 weeks in Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and New Caledonia each before heading to Bundaberg, Australia. It was a hard decision to pass by so many beautiful islands, but we think this will give us time to linger, relax and make friends in the places we will visit.

Specifically, we are headed to (Western) Samoa. It is just called Samoa now, but is to be distinguished from American Samoa to the East. There are two major islands, Upolu and Savaii. We will first head to the town of Apia on Upolu where we'll check in with customs and hang out for a week or two. We'll visit Robert Louis Stevenson's house, hike to some waterfalls, etc. Then we'll head over to Savaii, which is less touristed, and anchor is some bays and hopefully meet people from more remote villages. From what we've read, the port of Pago Pago (pronounced Pango Pango) in American Samoa is not such a great place so we'll take a pass on that port and forgo the western supermarkets.

Modern weather technology
07/19/2010, 350 miles NE of Samoa

With modern resources sailors get spoiled. In the old days, a sailor would read the sky and the winds, and rely on the sea lore of his nation (this critical intelligence was tightly held) and make a best estimate as to where to find favorable wind and current. Even not that many years ago a sailor left port armed with pilot charts (which combine decades of knowledge and observations) and a forecast, but was largely on his own at sea. If the winds and current were not favorable, the mariner made the best of it. Today is different. In addition to the pilot charts and highly detailed pre-departure weather models I get a personalized forecast for my route every 3-4 days. I receive faxes daily with weather maps and satellite imagery. Twice a day I download detailed wind, wave and pressure reports and forecasts. For the past two days I have been beside myself because none of it is helping.

My pilot charts tell me that I have about an 80% chance of 20 knot winds from the East or Southeast - heavenly. My weather router forecasted 12-15 knots of wind from East South East, excellent. My daily wind reports, GRIBs, tell me I am experiencing 12 knots of Eastern wind, quite acceptable. However, for the last 2 days we have had 6 - 10 knots of winds and mostly from the Northeast, which is dead astern and light for our boat. Wind swirls and moderately rolling seas have also impeded sail efficiency, frequently spilling the air. We were hoping to reach Samoa by Wednesday afternoon, or Thursday morning at the latest. Thursday at all is going to be tight unless conditions improve. At least the Pilot charts are right about the current, 0.5 - 1.0 knots pushing us west toward Samoa. We have revised our expectations for landfall and are making the best of it. Maybe not so different from days of old - except for my diesel, the "iron genny" which has enabled me to take a week off of this passage; my refrigerator with some cool drinks for the hot afternoons; and a library of movies to prevent a crew mutiny. This modern sailor is spoiled...

It is far from an ordeal though. The Mahi I caught yesterday has provided some excellent meals, with more to come. Christine has done another great job of provisioning. Our fresh supplies are just beginning to run out. Along with the primarily healthy food, we have a good supply of snacks. The Doritos this afternoon were a delicious treat. The kids are playing together well, generally. Sophie has taken to cleaning the cabin twice a day. The weather is beautiful and we continue to have clear nights with few squalls. And it won't be too many more days until Samoa even if the going is slower than I would like.

After seeing no traces of other boats for two weeks since leaving Hawaii, we have seen three fishing boats in the last 24 hours. Two appeared last night around midnight. One off in the distance, another near our coarse line. As fishing boats can be challenging with their trailing gear, I hailed the boat. I received a heavily accented reply, which neither of us could understand. We took some comfort though in knowing he knew we were there. We watched the well lighted boat closely as it passed to port. This afternoon we saw another large fishing boat, which looked to cross our path. We adjusted coarse to increase our passing distance and brought up the radar, but could not see the boat on radar despite it being well over 100 feet in length. While we had no issues seeing this boat, it was disturbing that even within a couple of miles, our radar could not find a target. We have heard that wooden fishing boats don't show up well, but we were both surprised that a boat of this size produced no bounce at all. I have to confess that sometimes at night my head checks have been less than fully diligent after I have observed a clear radar screen. I will be much more diligent gong forward

Samoa Within the Week

It is the middle of the night - my watch, about 2am. So dang-blasted hot, that is the only way to describe it. The kids wake up a couple times a night to ask for water. The sea water temp is 86 and the air temp is 80 and we are quite definitely becalmed. We are moving under power of the engine and have been for 9 hours already. This is a sailboat but we are not averse to using our auxillary engine when the going isn't going. We have about 100 hours of diesel in the tanks and 10 more gallons in jerry cans just in case. We've used about 60 hours so far on the trip and we have less than ¼ of the way to go. Seems like a good use of resources. Hoping to catch up with some new wind at a favorable angle as the sun rises.

According to our ship's log, we have travelled over 5,000 miles since leaving Seattle on May 9th. We are closer to New Zealand than we are to California. We are about 500 miles out from Samoa (our passage is a total of 2300 miles from Hilo) and we just passed a fishing ship 1 and ½ miles to port. Eric hailed them on the radio and did make contact but we couldn't understand their English and we didn't speak whatever it was they were speaking, but at least we alerted them to our presence in case they hadn't noticed before. It is a big ocean, but ships do often pass in the night.

We haven't seen much wildlife on this passage, just tonight as we are getting closer to land we had some dolphin visitors. At least, that is what we think they were. Just a couple of them, black and larger than the grey bottlenose we've seen before. They were less playful than others, preferring to glide alongside our stern for a few minutes before heading off somewhere. Lots of flying fish - in schools they leap through the air and fly with their little fins an amazing distance before diving in again. A couple of frigate birds again and not much else.

Eric caught us another Mahi yesterday. We had Mahi filets for dinner and the rest he made into Ceviche for tomorrow's lunch. The kids aren't so keen on the fish meals yet; hoping that will change, expecting that it won't.

Kid update: Sophie is busy designing her ideal boat to live on. She has catalogued the shortcomings of her environment and is keen to make a difference 'the next time we take one of these trips.' She has also been busy created a new language. Finn is still busy doing Dinosaur research using a couple books we have on board. He is also usually the first one up in the morning, shortly before 6am. He sits on the bench and reads his books until the rest of the crew begins to stir. He is really enjoying the Secrets of Droon series as well as the Akimbo series by Alexander McCall Smith. Freya is working hard on her reading skills, going through the Bob Books with Eric. When she has trouble sounding out a word, brother Finn offers some great advice he learned from his teacher Linda and Freya seems to respond quickly to that kind of help. As heartbroken as we are that Freya will miss an incredible Kindergarten year with such a special teacher, it is so good to know that Finn has so much of that year fresh in his mind. He is eager to share. Finn and Freya have also been busy painting flags from different countries. We have a maritime flags of the world book on board and they are making sure we are ready to fly the courtesy flag wherever we might land (Peru and Norway included.)

For the folks who read these blogs to get info for their own planning efforts, we will be doing a "Gear Issue" once we have some time in port. However, I must put in a word for the following items: Bottomsiders - these are the cushions we bought for the cockpit. We thought they were a luxury item; absolutely essential. 5,000 miles of sitting can hurt if you don't have some squish. Also, we are still thankful for our self-steering device the Monitor Windvane from Scanmar. It just keeps on going and lets us get some sleep and some very very important shelter from the sun. If we had to hand steer in this direct sun for any length of time we'd be toasted, literally. We also have had great service from our Spectra watermaker. For years Katadyn was the leading brand, and we do have their portable, handheld water maker in our ditch kit, but for serious fill-the-tank water making, the Spectra puts out about 6 gallons and hour drawing less power from our batteries than the Katadyn would. We are quite pleased.

Speaking of water, we haven't seen rain since the downpour in the ITCZ last week. Our boat is completely salt-encrusted topsides and our bodies are quite salty now too. Everything is. It comes through the port lights on the breeze (when there is a breeze, when we can have the windows open without fear of waves caused water to gush in like they did earlier today)

So that's the update. Not much else to add except that everyday something either breaks or shows its weakness. Eric continues to rise to the challenge. The moon is now down and the air is very still and thick. The clouds have dissipated and I can some stars, but otherwise it is a very dark black night on the unusually calm water.

Safely in Fiji
07/15/2010, Savusavu, Fiji

We are safely in Fiji after a quick passage with strong winds. More to come as we explore this town. (We are starting to see a lot of the familiar faces and boats form Tonga and Samoa.)

Rhumb line to Samoa

You can't always sail the rhumb line to your next destination. Some passages are so long (example Hilo to Samoa 2200 miles) they pass through a few different weather systems. Keeping the wind at the right angle for sailing toward the goal sometimes means sailing in a different direction for a bit. That was the case for us as we traveled South these past few days to get through the ITCZ as efficiently as possible. We finally broke through yesterday morning; the sky had cleared, the wind shifted to a nice 10-15 kts from SE, and the swells began appearing from the SE as well.. thank heavens for the trade winds again. We had to continue South in order to squeak between Fanning Atoll to starboard and Christmas Island to port (both part of the Line Islands group of Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas). Now that we are through the gauntlet, we have altered course on a final rhumbline to Samoa. Just 1245 miles to go in a more or less straight line.

We did not stop to chat with the good folks of Fanning and Christmas largely because we do not have the proper paper charts for those islands and navigating the entrance to their lagoons is tricky. We sail with a Garmin Chartplotter which gives us electronic versions of the places we want to go, and then we have back up paper charts for desk reference, safety and sometimes more info. I am very disappointed to find that our electronic descriptions of the features of these two islands is very sparce, indeed not adequate for navigation purposes. I hope that is not the case for the rest of the Pacific we intend to visit.

I have paper charts to carry us from here to Samoa in general, but I wasn't able to collect every chart for the region. We had to make some guesses as to which harbors and anchorages we would visit. Charts cost approximately $20-25/per and one can easily spend $3,000 on charts for a relatively small area of this vast ocean. Had to draw the line somewhere. But speaking of charts, the US governmental agency that currently manages the data collection and printing of the US nautical charts is closing shop. This has been happening for sometime now, but they are clearly shutting down operations. Any chart supplier doing less than $5,000 per year in chart business can no longer obtain new charts to sell. Armchair Sailor in Seattle is able to sell reproductions of charts because they thought ahead and scanned most of them. They can't get original charts for some parts of the world anymore. That is why we were unable to purchase a Palmyra chart from anywhere in the entire Hawaiian Islands.

Charts can still be obtained from the British Admiralty, New Zealand, Australia and France, but the cost is much higher per chart (sometimes double.) For much of the South Pacific I ordered directly from a chart dealer in NZ (Boatbooks in Auckland) and for the Australian Coast I also bought directly from a dealer in Sydney (Boatbooks in Sydney). I also had trouble in the US buying courtesy flags for the countries we intend to visit. Boats must fly the country ensign off the starboard spreader as it enters a country's waters, meanwhile the home port flag ("Old Glory" for us) flies off the stern rail. These days, some people find the notion quaint and don't take the trouble, but we have heard that a few countries will fine you if you do not fly their flag. I had to order the flags from Boatbooks, NZ as well.

Not sure what the future of US charts is; I've been told the government is looking for a private buyer to take over the printing and distribution, but whether they'll be able to keep up the data collection is another story. Meanwhile, if you are planning a trip anytime soon, buy your charts now.

If you've been following our points on the map, it looks like we are halfway there - miles wise we are close, speed wise is always another matter. However, we estimate that we'll be in port another 10 days from now. We can see the finish line.

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