The End is Nigh
25 March 2012 | Pacific Ocean, approaching Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands
We made a decision yesterday not to motor in time for the finish line (today) as the winds were enough to sail on, we are enjoying it with no great need to rush, and using up a very expensive tank of diesel just for finishing a bit earlier just to get the last day of the festivities did not seem worth it. Of course today the wind has got up to decent levels for the first time in weeks and so we are now worrying about finishing in the middle of the night tonight (so we'd have to bob around until daybreak - not safe to anchor in a strange place in the dark). Typical.
Strangely enough we are not desperate to reach land at all. Despite making just about every dud course decision we could have made and the weather conspiring against us to make it an exceptionally long crossing, we have thoroughly enjoyed it. The watch routine takes some getting used to (with just the two of us) but once cracked it becomes natural and instead of dreading the night time watches, they become a highlight that will be much missed. For the first time in my life I have had a grandstand view of the best part of a full phase of the moon, and the night sky without the moon is mind blowing. It makes you realise what we have given up for the sake of the electric light.
I think we have also cracked provisioning. For lunch today we finished the last of the salad/fresh items (as we cannot take them into the islands) but with other foods we could have gone on indefinitely. We do not even change our menu from dry land to sea very much. We did run out of diet cokes at an early stage of proceedings, but I guess that can only be a health benefit. It helps not to be big meat eaters but a freezer would be useful in that situation (which we do not have).
The most exciting part of the trip had to be surrounded by 30+ knot squalls in the middle of the night (I really wish I could have taken a picture of the radar screen) and during it, having seen no boat for the best part of week, coming across both a tanker and a Japanese fishing vessel. It was particularly exciting with the fishing vessel (an enormous factory ship) as the squalls conspired to send us on a collision course whatever course of action we took, however we could not cross its bow and were nervous about going behind it due to nets etc. It was very comforting to raise the skipper via VHF who confirmed he could see us visually, by radar and AIS - believe me at times like that you are very pleased you'd forked out for the technology. However translating 'was it safe to go behind him' into Japanese proved a challenge too far - fortunately it would appear the rest of the world recognises the term 'backside' and uses it far more widely than the English, and so were very grateful to have permission to "go up his backside" just in the nick of time.
Technology wise the voyage has been a game of two halves.
The Duogen was brilliant as it could fulfill all our power needs, and some, once the boat speed got up above 6 knots, we very much regret having a generator fitted now.
The Hydrovane also came into its own at last. We used it for many days continuously day and night, for a good thousand miles or so. I actually think it is a good deal safer (and lazier) using a wind vane system on a crossing like this as the worst that can happen if the wind direction suddenly changes and you happen to be down below is that you go off course a bit, you still keep your point of sail. Of course the other advantages are that it uses no battery power, and reduces wear on your rudder and steering gear (Samsara, who had steering and rudder issues, moved to using their windvane system while they sorted it out). The downside is that for us, having a central cockpit, it means we have to get to the back of the boat to adjust it if we want to alter course - not ideal at night. It also takes a bit of time after you have tweaked to establish if you have tweaked enough.
We broke records on how long our Parasailor was up continuously (for the better part of a week), and we just take it for granted now that it gives us speeds and motion that no other sail can match in light downwind environments.
The Raymarine C120W has never missed a beat, although it does re-set itself on average a few times a day. We have it on all of the time. We will have to see about a software upgrade to stop the constant re-setting.
Our SSB has been a sanity saver, but our reception still does not match our transmission capabilities and it has let us down on the radio net, so we really need to sort out the excessive boat noise we have. Unfortunately it seems to be a dark art and two sets of experts have failed to overcome this issue so far despite throwing too much money at it.
After the squalls two bits of equipment let us down. The Autohelm (St 7000) control panel let in water and had to be taken apart and dried out before it would tell us anything sensible again, it is also a lot quieter these days as the alarm squeaker appears to have drowned, which we are quite grateful for. The B&G instruments (wind direction, depth etc) have developed an intermittent fault that seems to defy all logic. Of course it means they do not work when most required but are completely fine at other times - hopefully we can get this sorted on the islands.
Sorry I went on a bit about the technology, but we have been asked to by fellow sailors thinking about following in our footsteps.
Hopefully we will make the finishing line tomorrow at day break and can calm our anchoring nerves (sounds to be a bit of a bun fight with all the ARC boats) with few soothing lotions tomorrow night. We have been brushing up on our French during the crossing and so have just about enough knowledge to be really dangerous.
Cheers Heather and Jonathan