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Sailing matilda
Capsizing, Manta Rays, Sharks and Sickness
04/07/2012, Tahuata, Marquesas Islands

I know Heather only posted a blog a couple of days ago, but it's been an action-packed few days! If you caught our last blog, you will know we were at anchor in Fatu Hiva having just walked up to the waterfall and had a lovely dip in the splash-pool there. A few hours later, David and Caroline from Peat Smoke came over for sun-downers before we made our way in their dinghy for our dinner date with the local family...

It seems the family the other World Arc-ers had dinner with was busy that night, so we ended up at someone else's place for dinner. Unlike the stories we'd heard of Simon, the excellent host Zoe and 12 Moons had, the head of this family was the local police chief, and a fairly humourless bloke he seemed too. The food was excellent though (mostly local specialities) so we had a great night, with Peat Smoke stopping at matilda for a night cap by moonlight on the way home.

Unfortunately we almost didn't make it to dinner at all. We were all 4 of us in Peat Smoke's dinghy, and as we arrived at the concrete pier in town I got out and held the bow line. The last person left on the starboard side of the dinghy made a move towards the pier, on the port side which left all three in the small dinghy on the port side before it capsized and the dinghy was upside down. With Caroline, Heather and David swimming for shore and the dinghy turned turtle, all I could do was pull the dinghy towards the beach by the line and try not to laugh too much. The dinghy engine has suffered a bit, but everyone was fine and dried out slowly over dinner. After our little dowsing we were pleased to see the police chief had driven down to the port to see where we were. We mistakenly took this for concern for our well-being, rather than annoyance at our lateness (we were only slightly late as a result of the dinghy capsize). When he found us he refused to give us a lift back to his place, even in the tray on the back of his ute! He just said "cést interdit!" - I guess he hasn't quite got the idea of hospitality when you have paying guests around for dinner at your house... Luckily they had another guest there from the Tuamotus (a guy called Peter), who was charming and walked us back down to help us back into our dinghy and see us off home.

Another unfortunate side-effect of our dinner in Fatu Hiva was the sickness Caroline and Heather are now suffering with. During the night about 24 hours after we finished the dinner, when we were already at anchor on another island, Heather became very ill with vomiting and diarrhea. It has been quite nasty, and I found out yesterday Caroline had been suffering with exactly the same symptoms at the same time. We couldn't figure out the cause until David came up with the idea of the ice - Heather and Caroline were the only ones to have ice with their drinks. I'm not sure where the ice came from, but it can't have been fresh drinking water. It has been a couple of days now and Heather has only just managed to eat some breakfast today, although she has crashed out again straight away. She seems to be getting much better today though, which is the main thing.

Yesterday while Heather was convalescing, I was snokelling with David scraping the barnacles off Peat Smoke's hull. I saw more wildlife doing that than I have on may dives I've paid for in the past! We saw loads of fish of course, but the highlight was the three large sharks which were obviously curious about the smell of crushed barnacles in the water and the odd scraping noise we were making. They each hovered around a little while until they decided there was nothing of any real interest and then took off. The biggest one was probably about my size, and the other two were slightly smaller. Earlier that morning I had also seen a couple of Manta Rays, which were swimming with the occupants of a neighboring boat at anchor, Pacific Bliss. It's amazing how curious these sea creatures can be.

I'd better trundle off and start preparing for our overnight sail tonight Nuku Hiva. We will stop there to see the third-tallest waterfall in the world. We will also refuel and re-water on Monday morning. Hopefully we can start out for the Tuamotu Island chain on Tuesday; a passage which should take 4 or 5 days depending on winds. Nuku Hiva has internet access, so perhaps we can start uploading some of our photos to our Sailblogs Gallery too...

04/13/2012 | Campbell Hair
Hi there, I’m an Australian Yachtsman, I have friends arriving in the Marquesas late Monday or early Tuesday and they would like to know how crowded it is there, they might change their destination if there are too many yachts there. Could you please let me know by return email.
Campbell Hair.
Victoria Australia
Iles Marquises - Breadfruit Bashing, Tattoos and Pig Hunts
04/04/2012, Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands

Is this Paradise? - it cannot be far off. The scenery is stunning, the climate tropical, the people friendly, French baking, Euro standard cleanliness and the local beer isn't bad. The cons are the nonos (a small insect that swarms around at twilight - looks like a midge, bites like a piranha) and most things to buy from outside the islands are tres cher (very expensive).

We arrived in Hiva Oa early on Monday 26 March after a very bumpy and sleep deprived night. What a bay to enter - verdant high mountains sheltering this little inlet. The other remaining ARC boats gave a wonderful welcome in the harbour, or at least those that had surfaced, it was a great finish to a frustrating leg.

The following night we went up to Alex's place to celebrate Joachim (of Chessie's) birthday. Alex's life story should be made into a film but it might sound too far fetched. He joined the French foreign legion at an early age and was posted to wonderful places such as Somalia. He must have been posted here at some stage because he married a local girl to make a home in the hills (with another place in the Dordoign) with 5 children to follow. They have turned their house into a very relaxed bar and restaurant with a spectacular view and use of their pool, pool table and table football. For Joachim's birthday they pulled out all the stops. There was a tattooist (more about tattoos later) who did a celebratory tattoo for Jutta (Joachim's wife) a band and ceremonial costumes for the happy couple - they looked magnificent. It was a very memorable night. A special mention should go to Joel who managed to keep the kids happy in the pool for hours and still had enough energy to actively partake in the aqua-acrobatics and tower constructions overseen by Janet of At Last. I am kicking myself for not seeing Kathy of Southern Cross go up on Joel's shoulders, just hope the moment has been captured somewhere.

The following day we went into town to the bank and got involved in a school fete type event where there were lots of opportunities for the kids to experience some of their traditional activities. It was fascinating watching breadfruit being cooked and prepared (pounded in a beautifully carved bowl with, how shall I put it, a pestle clearly made to look like a male appendage - ho hum, very traditional apparently, and we are definitely not in Yorkshire now). There was a drumming workshop and the tattooists were hard at it again. The girls were all wearing the most beautiful floral head-dresses being made on the spot by some very skilled ladies. I missed out despite invitation, as I felt it was a bit cheeky to claim one as we are only passing through.

About the tattoos. Tattoos have always been important to Polynesian cultures and unlike a lot of places that were 'colonised' the Marquisians were allowed to continue the practice. However, even before Marquisian tattoos were seen as the height of the art - and it really is an art form here. Even I, traditionally not a fan of the ink, love a lot of the designs and the way they are worn. However I am told you have to be a bit careful, where the tattoo is and what it represents are all highly significant. Jonathan wants one, but indecision has scuppered the plan so far. (He even went as far as to have a turtle themed one drawn out but decided it didn't make the grade).

We wanted to stay in Hiva Oa until Peat Smoke came in so we could take part in the welcoming of the last ARC boat (particularly as they had such a trying crossing). However we also wanted to get the bottom of the boat scrubbed and see something of the islands, so we went for an overnighter to the most amazing bay on the next island of Tahuata, about a 2 hour sail away. It has all that a bay in paradise should have. Clear water to a sandy bottom, an empty beach edged with palm trees, colourful fish amongst the rocks at the edge of the bay. Never has been cleaning the bottom of a yacht been so enjoyable. I had three puffer fish following me, fighting over the various sea life I was scraping off. Every time I looked around their beautiful big eyes were looking up at me begging for more, it was like being followed by 3 aquatic labradors.

Peat Smoke made it in last Friday afternoon and they wasted no time in arranging a dinner at the Pearl Resort on the top of the hill above the harbour (one of the few resorts here). Again a memorable evening, use of their infinity pool and excellent food.

Yesterday we sailed to Fatu Hiva and are now riding at anchor in the Bay of Virgins. We arrived in the early evening to rain squalls, so the mountains were encased in rainbows that spilled over the sheer cliffs into the dark turquoise sea. Needless to say this is another amazing place. The bay is lined with distinctive tall stone pinnacles that, so the story goes, gave its original name of The Bay of, well here we go again, male appendages. However the church didn't like this so changed the French around a bit to make Bay of Virgins. How to describe it - think Jurassic Park meets South Pacific. Today we dinghied into the village and within 10 minutes Jonathan had been invited to join a pig hunt that was setting out (a bit of a tradition among the younger blokes, they breed lots of dogs to flush the wild pigs out on a nearby uninhabited island and then shoot them). Jonathan made his excuses (I am pretty sure he said I was the main one)- I think his knowledge of the lingo could get him into a lot of trouble here. We then walked/scrambled to a very tall and beautiful waterfall outside of the village. We were so hot it was impossible to resist swimming in the splashpool, but that was a bit nippy so I didn't stay in long. Tonight we will eat at a local ladies house (with Caroline and David of Peat Smoke - the crew from Zoe were there last night) - lets hope breadfruit chips are on the menu, our favourite.

Tomorrow we hope to start the sail to Nuku Hiva, to refuel and see the third tallest waterfall in the world, stopping off on the way at Tahuata to do a bit more lotus eating. Do I need mention we are both fine and spirits high?

Hope all is well with you and we will post photos as soon as we can find a reliable internet connection (which has been a problem).

Cheers, Heather and Jonathan xoxo

The End is Nigh
03/25/2012, 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

Give the battlers at the back a break!
03/21/2012, Pacific Ocean

So much for choosing a El Nina year - trade winds seem to be just a rumour. The past week has been a sad tale of no wind, cracking sails and challenges to sanity, so much for arriving in Hiva Oa for the festivities. To make matters worse for the slower boats, the wind seems to have died from the back forwards so we spent several days on the radio net hearing of the wonderful winds further forward whilst we sunk further and further back - its just not fair.

As a result we are all going a bit loopy here, especially during the night watches. Yes, the starry night sky without the moon these days is breathtakingly beautiful but it can do strange things to the mind. I have been convinced that Venus is getting bigger ie closer and definitely following us - don't say you weren't warned when it is announced we are on a collision course. Still, I'm not so far gone as Peat Smoke who claim they have their own personal UFO and in desperation have been trying to raise it via the VHF. At first I warned caution (I am an expert having seen both Independence day AND Mars attacks) but now urge that they should submit to a thorough probe in return for some wind or at least a tow - yes it is time to take one for the team.

As final proof that night watches can be hard on the mind - having had no previous tendencies whatsoever and despite being brought up in a house with three brothers, I have now found myself playing air guitar, and not half bad at that. Picture the scene - a still, dark and starry night, the occasional swish of water knocking against the boat and Heather in sillouhette, IPod plugged in, winch handle gripped a la Pete Townsend navigating her way through a particularly knotty riff in Voodoo Chile. If the men in white coats are waiting for me at the dock in Hiva Oa I will fully understand.

Jonathan baked banana muffins today with a little assistance from Betty Crocker - lack of wind indeed produces some strange behaviour.

03/22/2012 | Gary Crossman
Tell Jonathan to switch to Baking Beans! They are good for producing wind I've heard. In the meantime enjoy your calm and peaceful nights; you could be on the Dubai-Abu Dhabi Highway racing along at 150Km/hr after a hectic day at work, like me at the moment; I rather think you have the best of it right now; by the way, get that air guitar tuned properly will you, you've pro ably scared away all the aliens by now! ;)
Japanese Fishermen
03/15/2012, Pacific Ocean

Where's the Japanese phrase book when you really need it??!? And we really needed it last night.

Yesterday went very smoothly, in fact I even produced my personal best culinary work in the galley. I made a goat's cheese tart (basically a quiche) from scratch including the pastry, with onions, tomatoes, olives, herbs, etc. It turned out pretty well, even if I do say so myself. After eating, Heather and I had a nice cup of tea and congratulated ourselves yet again on managing to miss virtually all of the squall activity (we have seen quite a lot of squalls most nights, with thunder, lighting, wind and rain). So far we had only really benefited from them, with a little increased wind and a light deck wash on rare occasions.

Last night all that changed. As usual the wind picked up after dark and our broad reach quickened pace as we watched the passing squalls. Then the squalls started coming closer, getting bigger and we got wetter. Heather had the first sleep till 10.30pm and then came up to relieve me from the watch. I went down at about 10.45, having pointed out where the squalls seemed to be and where the fishing boat was about 12 miles or so ahead. I probably got about 45 minutes of sleep when the boat heeled over sharply enough to wake me so I called up to see if Heather wanted a hand. 99.9% of the time when this happens I get a response of "no, I'm fine, go back to sleep!" - this time I only got silence, so I bolted up the companionway to see Heather wrestling with the wheel in some fairly rough conditions.

The chart plotter was a sight to behold. We have a radar which overlays radar information on the screen over the chart; we mostly use the radar function to spot rain activity, and therefore squalls at night. Rain shows up as a purple smudge on the screen, and at 12 miles zoom the screen was pretty much all purple. The only clear spot was where the fishing vessel was making its way slowly along at 5 knots, obviously at that speed they were engaged in fishing, but we were too far away to see if it was trawling or long line. What's more, the wind not only increases in squalls, it also changes direction unpredictably, and the wind was forcing us to try and pass the fishing boat's bow rather than steering well clear of their stern.

I started calling the fishing boat repeatedly to find out if we could in fact pass astern of them, as I was concerned that they may be trailing something which we might snag. They dutifully ignored us until we were just a couple of miles away from them and screaming along at 8 to 9 knots. Eventually they answered, only to tell us they could not speak any English. Our Japanese is not what it could be, so we tried desperately to explain through a kind of VHF charades that we would like to pass astern of them if it was safe to do so - could they tell us if it was safe? In the end we just pointed the bow past their stern and asked them to check their AIS - they announced that our course was safe so on we trundled. It was a wet, wild and windy affair where lots of different factors come together at once to make things a little more stressful than we'd like. Let's hope we've leant our lesson; I think we'll be putting a reef or two in this evening before bed...

The evening became a lot more relaxing for me as Heather continued her watch and let me get some much-needed sleep for the next 4 hours or so. Heather's evening continued in the same vein with the squalls; she even had a big flying fish try and take refuge with her in the cockpit. Apparently she felt something thump onto her lap and land beside her on the seat - when she reached out in the dark to see what it was it wriggled as you'd expect a flying fish to. We managed to get him back in the water, but I noticed a scaly impact mark on the inside of our hard dodger's ceiling - he would have had a hell of a headache from that impact!

So here's hoping for a relaxing day today with lots of sleep, and a quiet and uneventful night tonight...

PS - I can't believe we haven't had the para-sailor spinnaker up for about a week. Believe it or not, we've been on a beam or broad reach all the way with a little too much wind to fly it!

Champagne Sailing at the halfway point
03/13/2012, Pacific Ocean

We're trailing the fleet, but we're experiencing some lovely sailing. The Duogen is churning out more electric power than we can use, the Hydrovane has been steering the boat continuously for the last 3 days and we've been on a broad reach, which has today evolved into a beam reach. If we were a little more serious about boat speed, we'd probably be setting the parasailor up close, or running the cruising 'chute; although I think there's often a little too much wind for that. Heather and I have in fact had a bit of a role reversal over the past few days. I've been revelling in the easy sailing conditions, happy with anything above 6 knots or so of boat speed. Heather is anxious to get at least 7 knots so we don't arrive at Hiva Oa too late for the ARC festivities and to catch up with the rest of the fleet before they leave. I'm also keen to get there, but I really am enjoying some of the most relaxing sailing I've ever experienced. I've also caught up on my sleep, so I'm feeling very contented as we approach the half-way point (we should be half way by about midnight tonight). We're making about 7.5 knots of speed over ground right now, with occasional surges to 8 knots, so we have nothing to complain about. A few days ago we were smashing our 24 hour personal best records for matilda. We set an all-time record of 176 miles in 24 hours when we crossed the Caribbean Sea. A couple of days back we broke 180 miles in 24 hours, which was just amazing. With any luck we will be able to do even better once the wind shifts more to the East and we start running with a kite during the daylight hours again. Another first happened to me the night before last. I had heard about this happening to others, but was never really sure if they were pulling my leg. I can confirm that it really does happen, as a flying fish slammed into the back of my head in the wee small hours. I think it took off from the water to windward and was caught by stronger winds than anticipated, which flicked him straight over our gunwales and into the back of my head. He flipped about on the deck for a while as I tried to shepherd him back over the leeward gunwale, but he made it back to the water only a little dazed and confused. We heard that Peat Smoke had 30 flying fish land on their decks last night, and the sight in the morning was a bit like a massacre. It's easy to see how it can happen as the big squadrons of flying fish scatter randomly as the hull of our boat approaches. We have been eating well too; I cooked an omelet today with onions, cheese, garlic and oregano on rye bread which was very filling. Yesterday Heather did one of my favourites, a pesto pasta with tuna, anchovies, olives and pine nuts. It's nice to be able to enjoy the food we liked to have when we were at home in Dubai whilst at sea. Here's to a second half crossing just like the first - if we can maintain the same momentum we will be at sea for another 9 1/2 days. Time has certainly flown for us so far; it really only seems as though we've been at sea for a few days!

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Sailing matilda
Who: Jonathan & Heather Howard
Port: Portsmouth
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