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The Big Blue

Since leaving the Pacific Northwest this spring, my world has continued to change in dramatic and ways. It's not until you leave a place, that you begin to realize how it defines you. Though it is summer still and I'm not used to seeing stars in the summer (because the sun dominates the Alaskan sky), I've noticed on night watches that things are not where they are "supposed to be." The big dipper lies askew in the sky and sets each night as it takes another dip from the Pacific Ocean. The Milky Way is strewn in a north-south direction and there are many stars, yet I can't seem to quite get my bearings. It's made me feel a bit like I'm on a different planet. Where's Orion? I think that's Polaris on the horizon, but where's the little dipper? And what are all these other bright stars? I've also noticed since leaving Hawaii there is a very distinct absence of human activity in the skies. There's no stream of flashing strobes from airplanes. Satellites are almost nonexistent. Being from Alaska, I am well used to remoteness. But sailing south toward the equator from Hawaii, I'm realizing this is a different kind of remoteness. You can be remote in Alaska, but not without the constant reminder that communication satellites and jet con trails are directly overhead. One takes for granted that the sky is the same everywhere. But it's not. The one I'm used to seeing is flecked with signs of human existence that seem to (at least from a technology standpoint) dominate the northern hemisphere. Seeing the absence of these signs and the familiarity of the star map that's apparently been imprinted in my head leaves one feeling a bit like you're sailing off the end of the world. We've almost arrived after sailing some 900 miles south from Hawaii for a destination that is a mere pinhole speck on the ocean; a lacy thread of lucky land barely visible from sea or space. Yea, Palmyra measures altitude in the severals of meters. Anyway, tonight I remembered a cool ap that I'd downloaded for my phone which could tell me the answers to some of my questions. After fiddling with the settings a bit, I could point the phone to my mystery star and (with some effort trying to account for the constant boat motion) get a positive ID. I had to turn off the constellation map because it was too distracting with all these animals and characters floating around in the sky. But holy cow, I didn't really know you could see Mars and Saturn like that or there was Alpha Centauri and Vega and I thought Draco was only a Harry Potter name! Its 2:38 HST and I've just watched Jupiter rise- followed by an orange bowl-shaped crescent moon. OK, there's Pleiades. I can actually see the Southern Cross on my ap, but it's still below the horizon. Not for long.

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08/13/2012 | Eric Bergeson
Mark, I'm Backy's father in law. Have been following you since Victoria, vicariously enjoying the race, and now your sail into open waters. I once read about a man who went off into the wilderness to see how far he had to go to be completely free of man made noises. I think you've found the answer. Love your posts. I look forward to the next one.
08/13/2012 | Bill Barnes
That ap should work on your iPad sans the pointing ability. Also a great free program for your PC or Mac is Stellarium.

Today, we (Mark) caught a fish. I had a beautiful sleep this morning from 6am to about 10. The seas were down a bit, the boat's motion had calmed, and the day had not yet heated up. Mark probably mentioned in a previous post that conditions coming out from the lee of the Big Island were �... a bit boisterous. Sheesh! Back to the fish: shortly before the end of Mark's watch, around 11:30 or so, we had a bite on the line. Mark pulled in the beautiful male mahi mahi as I readied the cockpit by dousing it with salt water, got the gaffe out (ugh) and the alcohol with which to drown him quickly. I was sad to see him die, but glad for the fresh fish to eat! Mark had been reading the "fishwife's cookbook" on his watch this morning so he was ready and went straight to getting ceviche ready for dinner later and he also pan fried a small piece in an improvised (delicious) sauce for lunch. Yum! We froze the rest for grilling and enjoying later. The wind and swell picked up again during my watch, and the sun scorched on - while Mark tried to sleep. We've been making really good time sailing in 15 to 25 knots mostly from the east, although the wind backed some today and is more of an east northeast now. We made 170 miles again and 160 miles noon to noon today. We are at present about 160 nautical miles away from Palmyra, giving us an anticipated arrival sometime tomorrow evening. Because we have to wait for daylight and slack water to get through the pass into the lagoon, we probably won't actually arrive in the lagoon until the day after. As the sun lowered on the horizon this evening, life on deck suddenly became perfect - soft light, cool breeze, delightful temperature - we ate our ceviche dinner and looked for the green flash - but none for us tonight. Time for Mark to check the weather and me to have a nap.

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08/12/2012 | Sf perri
Approaching ITCZ
08/10/2012, south

We are just finishing up day 3 and will have a noon to noon run here in a few hours. Last night's harvest yeilded 3 dead flying fish on deck this morning. Our run for day 2 was 163 miles. Not too bad. As we get closer to the Palmyra, we have to consider the ITCZ or Inter tropical convergence zone (otherwise known as the dreaded doldrums.) This is a fluid area where clockwise rotating north pacific weather, current and wind converge with counterclockwise rotating southern hemisphere patterns. It's no surprise that the wind is unpredictable and light, but the friction and heat also generate many squalls. We've had small squalls all along, but they generally pass quickly and are only a bit more wind. From what we're told, the ITCZ squalls can pack a punch and be chocked full of lightning, torrential downpours and severe winds. This makes sailing a bit of a challenge as you just can't get caught with much sail up in one of these squalls (let along a spinnaker!) The ITCZ moves several hundred miles a day back and forth and it's supposed to be closer to us now than normal. Stay tuned for some stories I suspect. It's gonna be a hot day today.

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08/10/2012 | Meghan
Stay safe, sailors!

What do you do with those flying fish? Eat them?
08/15/2012 | Mark Ward
We did eat a bigger flying fish (it was tasty), but a lot of the ones that end up on deck are really tiny so we just throw them back in the sea. We could use them as bait though ...
Blue Water
08/09/2012, south

We left Kuahako Bay on Aug 7th at 1000 bound for Palmyra and motor sailed in the light west winds waiting for the trades to fill. And buy did they! Though the gribs all showed 15 knots (and the VHF weather forecasted 15-20 knots), we had all of 30 with gusts over 35 and lots of whitecaps. This, we expected to subside after clearing farther away from the south end of Hawaii, but it kept up into the evening and brought lots of large waves in the 15 foot range. It's been a pretty boisterous sail so far, though the wind has settled closer to the 20- 24 knot range. We made 170 miles first day, so we're doing good though neither lolo or I feel like doing much. It was a pretty long night with just the two of us now and we're in for another, but we're making good headway. Last night the moon rose and shone brightly on the sails (double reefed main and bit of jib). Tonight the milky way stretches from horizon to horizon with lots of depth. I'll watch the big dipper set again before handing a 3 hour watch over to lolo. Going to be tired and ready for that Palmyra lagoon!

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Alenuihaha – ha
08/07/2012, Kauhako, HI

Well, we did it. That is we crossed the famed Alenuihaha Channel. We only had winds to 30 knots, but some pretty big seas. In any case, the trick is definitely to get your butt out of bed EARLY in the morning (like 4:00) and go. The best we could manage was departing at 5:30, but it made a difference. Plus we were staged closer. In any case, we were able to cross with double reefed main and a bit of headsail. The odd thing was - getting into the lee of the Big Island , we sailed into a completely windless hole before the wind swung and blew 180 degrees at 20 knots , but we were close enough to Kiholo Bay, where we'd planned to stay anyway, so motored in and dropped the hook amongst 2 kiteboarding fanatics who insisted on buzzing by the boat at top speed (pretty cool actually) while giving us the "hang loose" hand gesture. Still we were pretty beat from the crossing and so spent most of the rest of the day inside napping. The Big Island is quite different. Other than being much larger, it seems more rugged, with lots of seemingly new black volcanic rock and lava flows easily visible from the water. The anchorage at Kiholo was adequate, though still rolly and with a loud surf crashing very near the boat. This morning, we pulled the hook and sailed immediately with main alone in the 18 knots from the north. It was interesting seeing the infrastructure change as we headed south along this big Island. Larger towns and warehouses began appearing when we decided it was prudent to top off fuel and water at Honokhau Harbor - a man made small harbor cut into the rock which has only a small basin on the outside deep enough for us to get into. Unfortunately, the inner basin is only 7 feet deep and we draw 8 so we could not stay. Still, it was nice to get fuel and walk around a bit. We even had lunch and talked to a guy running a charter boat that had moved here from Seward 19 years ago. Small world. We continued making our way south along the Kona Coast and decided to stop in at Kealakekua Bay - where the Captain Cook Memorial is located. Unfortunately, the only boats allowed to take a mooring in the bay (National Marine Preserve) are cattlemarans who tied up in front of the memorial with droves of fat pink people who are unceremoniously dropped in the water with snorkels. Determined, we motored in and Lolo idled around while I swam to shore (with iphone in dry bag stuffed down my trunks) to see the memorial and take a photo. Being from Alaska - where I grew up with the legacy of Cook, I just had to see the place where he met his final demise. It seems he was killed because a local priest had mistakenly associated Cook with some "god" and that was enough; a stupid way to die for such an amazing and accomplished man. As I swam back to the boat, I could see the worried look on Lolo's face and she was glad to have me back aboard. We continued our way south down the coast in search of a suitable anchorage and stopped at Honaunau Bay - a very small (but as good as it gets here) bay with some ancient Hawaiian city ruins. It looked like a possibility, so we dropped the hook. Unfortunately, just as we dove into the ocean to swim to shore and explore some of the area, a Hawaiian outrigger canoe full of rowers paddled out to tell us we had to move.  This was quite discouraging and the words range in my head from a cruising friend who had once told me "Hawaii is not very friendly to cruisers." This is certainly complicated by the fact that there are really no suitable anchorages or protected bays here. At least none like the ones I'm used to anchoring in. The few that come close, seem to be protected marine reserves - reserved instead for droves of tourists. Shame. This is the America I want to get away from. Apparently Hawaii is not far enough away. Anyway, after being shoo'd off, we continued down another 3 miles and are now anchored in the very rolly, and only marginally protected Hauhako Bay. You'd be hard pressed to call this a bay, but it's really no worse than all the other places we've stayed in Hawaii and since it was getting dark soon, we dropped the hook in 30 feet of sand. The good news is - they have internet and phone service. Probably the last we'll see for a month. Next stop - Palmyra Atoll.

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08/10/2012 | Gary Newman
Have been enjoying your blog posts.

The west coast of Hawai'i is definitely more fraught with lava/access challenges from the active volcanic island it is more so than the other islands. Hauhako Bay is so small, I don't see it anywhere on maps I've looked for on line.

Best of luck heading to Palmyra Atoll and beyond. Palmyra seems to lack any permanent residences since WW II, with a temporary research station investigating climate change and, looking on wikipedia, has some interesting history as an unincorporated territory of the U.S. It's also essentially a National Wildlife Refuge, with limited visits to the allowed, including by private recreational sailboat or motorboat. Visits must have prior approval, with access to Cooper Island arranged through the Nature Conservancy. And was the site of a double murder in 1974.

Safe passage!
False start
08/05/2012, La Pérouse Bay

We left Mala/Lahaina yesterday (Friday August 3) morning, a couple of days later than planned. Thursday night we said goodbye to Christine and Dan, returned their bikes and started the trek back to the boat on foot - stopping by the tattoo parlor to get ear piercing supplies (more on that later) and the grocery store for some last minute items. Finally, Friday morning, we weighed anchor bright and early and motored south 15 miles to Makena, in the southwest part of Maui. We wanted to spend the night on the southwest edge of Maui to be ready for a crack-of-dawn start to get across the Alanuihaha channel to the big island before the breeze picked up (as it apparently usually does). This channel has a wicked reputation. We anchored comfortably in sand in about 30 feet of water and rowed the dinghy into the beach for a walk and snorkel. Had a beautiful snorkel with great visibility, lots of fish, and very large turtle very close! Lovely.

Around 3pm, the wind picked up from Ma'alaea, uncomfortably so, so we poked around the headland and anchored off Big Beach, or Oneloa. What a beach! Just beautiful. We swam ashore for a stroll before sunset (bodysurfing in) and got back to the boat, had dinner, and had an early night in anticipation of aforementioned crack-of-dawn start.

This morning, as we began to head ESE past the southern end of Maui and into the Alanuihaha channel toward the big island, we hoisted the main with a double reef and rolled out a bit of headsail. Pretty soon, we were headed into 25knots with gusts to 30 and steep seas, and it wasn't even 7:30. And we weren't sailing high enough. Hm. Although we had had the foresight to batten down the hatches, we still had the dinghy on the foredeck and the solar panels out and didn't feel quite ready for this. Did 30 knots at 7:30 mean 50 knots at 10:30? We weren't planning on beating into it! We decided to turn around.

We headed back toward Big Beach, but we were apprehensive to anchor in the same spot given the rolly night we had just spent. So, we anchored further south in the same bay (Ahihi Bay), off some lava rocks. Pretty cool coastline, actually!

About an hour later, a lifeguard on a jet ski stopped by to inform us that a park service agent was waiting to speak to the master onshore, and he could bring Mark in to talk to him. We had unbeknownst to us anchored in a marine protected area, and Mark was informed that the State could seize the vessel and arrest him! We had no idea. Mark now has a court date on Maui in September (apparently it's not like a traffic violation with a set fine for each violation)... wonder how that's going to work ....

They didn't arrest Mark, which is nice, and we moved back to Big Beach and continued to roll. The wind picked up (from the opposite direction that it was blowing in the Alanuihaha Channel half a mile away) to over 20 knots sustained and there were uncomfortable short choppy wind waves rolling in from Ma'alaea Bay. Finally, we decided to try for La Pérouse Bay (mentioned in our previous post) about 4 miles south of Oneloa and supposedly well protected in northerlies and easterlies even though it had not looked particular welcoming when we sailed past it earlier that morning on our way out to the channel. It sounded cool, and we didn't like where we were, so we figured it was worth a shot. So, once again, we weighed anchor and headed out. We were going downwind in 25 knots and I was really hoping we wouldn't have to come back into it ... we pulled into La Pérouse Bay and motored around looking for a suitable place to drop the hook. It was not looking promising. Although there was not a lot of chop in the bay, it is completely exposed to the south and the west, and it was blowing up to 30 knots inside and was framed with this sharp black rock! Still, we found a sandy spot in 40 feet and decided to drop anchor and see how things went. We've decided to stay. It's still blowing up to 15-18 knots, but we seem to be holding nicely and it is not as rolly. It really is a beautiful bay, with forbidding sharp black lava rock all around. We made a pizza for dinner, and are once again planning for an early start across the dreaded Alanuihaha Channel tomorrow. We have stowed the dinghy, lashed the solar panels, stowed the cockpit cushions and set the alarm for BEFORE sunrise this time.

So we'll sleep in La Pérouse Bay tonight and think of the French captain who sailed the same waters as us, from the Gulf of Alaska to the Alanuihaha Channel-but he had no charts, no gps, no engine, no radio, no .... We are such wuses.

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