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Pacific Odyssey 2010/2011
Follow the Larsens from Seattle to Australia and back.
Safely in Fiji
Eric
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
Christine
07/13/2010

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.

Rhumb line to Samoa
Christine
07/13/2010

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.

Rhumb line to Samoa
Christine
07/13/2010

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.

Crossing the Equator
Eric
07/12/2010

We crossed the equator this morning, and the Southern Cross was clearly visible this evening. We had a small celebration marking our crossing and being over halfway to Samoa. The kids were excited! Sophie has been conducting coriolis effect experiments with a funnel - within half a degree of the equator there was no perceptible spinning as the water drained. Finn was a little disappointed that the chart plotter didn't have a bright line on it, but this provided a chance to explain the difference between theoretical and physical landmarks. Freya was excited to get a doll and guava juice. With the Equator and the doldrums behind us, we expect steady trade winds into Samoa.

Last night we raced along with 14 kt of steady wind on the beam, flat seas, and a favorable current. We often exceeded 7 kt over ground and were looking to set trip record for our daily run. I spent much of my watch in the cockpit feeling the wind in my face, admiring the stars, and re-estimating our arrival in Samoa.

It didn't last though: around 2 AM the wind dropped, shifted and became unsettled. By 4 AM we were motor sailing to keep up speed and save the sails from flogging. At 7 AM a belt broke on the electronic Autohelm autopilot, the second of the trip. The device provided great service over the last ten years in the San Juans and Puget Sound, but is just not up to the stresses of open ocean sailing. I have one belt remaining. Fortunately my friend Kevin has tracked down a replacement motor for my system, and is finding spare belts as well. Hopefully these parts will meet us in Samoa, if not, then Tonga. We shouldn't have to motor too much and I will have to save the Autohelm for periods of critical need. We can always hand steer, but hand steering is tiring and precludes any other activity, such as child care. The short episode this morning highlighted how dependant we are on steering systems to keep up with running the boat, taking care of the kids, and sleeping. While we could manually steer to Samoa it would be grueling. Fortunately we are primarily sailing with the Monitor, which is definitely up to ocean sailing.

The morning mishap delayed our celebration somewhat, but conditions quickly improved. By 10 AM we were sailing with the Monitor again, and we watched the skies completely clear. For most of the day it was hard to find wisps of clouds in the sky. Such a clear sky promised a night free from squalls, and so far it has not disappointed. We had a spectacular red sunset and the sailing is smooth. ("Red sky at night, sailors delight" does have meteorological basis.)

Tonight is glorious again. When I came on watch there was so much luminescence in the water lighting up our wake I thought our stern light was on. While some nights I spend the bulk of my time below, tonight I have been spending a lot of time with my star guide, learning to identify more constellations to point out to the kids. The sky here is very different from the Midwest and Northwest skies I am accustomed to. So many more stars are visible, even familiar constellations look different and shooting stars are visible most nights.

When my 9 -12:00 AM watch is over tonight, I will not rush to wake Christine. I do like the passagemaking.

Crossing the ITCZ
Eric
07/11/2010

This morning I awoke to the cry of "fish on!" I had set the lines as I came off watch at 06:00, weighing my need for sleep against my desire for fresh fish. Just over an hour later I was hauling a Wahoo. He wasn't all that big, but as he had sunk both points of the double hook well into his jaw I didn't think his chances were great if I released him. Big enough for a couple of nice meals for the crew! Two days ago I had a strike which I lost bringing it in. That had been my only action for about three days, so I was happy to trade the sleep. I think the boat has been moving too slowly for trolling. As we passed through the ITCZ we had light winds.

We are fairly sure we are through it now. The High Seas Forecast and Surface Analysis charts place the core belt around 7-8 degrees. Saturday we had several hours of very heavy rain in this area and Sunday's sunrise brought clear skies and fresh wind. The forecast is for improving wind strength and angle, so our boat speed should continue to be good. For a while, we were striving to sail at 3 kt, less than half of our boat speed. Now we are doing about 5.2 kt. 5 kt seems to be a psychological threshold for us as it represents two degrees per day.

There is always another obstacle. Saturday we entered the Equatorial Counter Current (this current runs opposite the primary currents on either side of the Equator). We had thought this would primarily set us East, but it has a strong north component on the order of 1.5 kt meaning we have only been doing 2.5 -3.5 kt over ground. While it has started to abate, I expect some drag from this aptly named ocean river all the way down to the Equator. While we have been very fortunate to have sufficient wind through the doldrums it is hard to get discouraged when degrees tick by so slowly, and it is stiflingly hot. Since crossing below ten degrees the temperature and humidity have increased as the breeze and cabin airflow decreased.

Small treats continue to brighten our days though. In the afternoon I made some instant vanilla pudding, and served it to the kids over crumbled graham crackers and sliced bananas, imitation cream pie - they were in heaven. (Mom and Dad liked it too.) We have also established an afternoon ritual of cups of a cold drink for all who have eaten their meals, drank their water, and completed their school work.

Overall morale is pretty good, and seems to be improving with the wind and sky. Today Sophie asked if we could do another trip like this after we get back. Christine rolled her eyes and told here we needed to get back from this trip first.

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