Passage from Galapagos to Marquesas
04 July 2007
Passage from Galapagos to Marquesas - The saga of the misbehaving pole and other adventures, in which are related the multitudinous problems with our whisker pole, our mixed success fishing, the plugging of the head and the eating out of dogbowls.
Fun and games with the Whisker Pole:
It took us 22 days to sail from Isabella Island in the Galapagos to Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas, a fairly average time, but a bit longer than it would have been had we not had a series of problems with our whisker pole. For those of you who have no interest in the mechanics of sailing, you may want to skip down to "Other folks problems" rather than read about our numerous trials and tribulations with the whisker pole.
For our non-sailing readers, the function of a whisker pole is to hold the genoa (the sail all the way forward, which does not have a boom like the main sail) out steadily when sailing downwind so that it doesn't flop like crazy, threatening both the rigging and our sanity with its ungodly noises and jerks. It permits us to sail straight down-wind, wing and wing as it's called, with the main sail on one side of the boat, and the genoa on the other, the wind pushing the boat forward. Although we bought the whisker pole a year ago before we left St. Thomas, we had only used it once when the sailmaker showed us how to rig it, and once again on our passage to the Galapagos when it refused to stay extended. We just hadn't had the conditions in the year since leaving St. Thomas to merit the work of setting it up until we got through the Canal. Basically it's good when you want to sail a long way dead down wind or almost dead down wind. In the Caribbean, all of our long sails seemed to be toward the wind. After it de-telescoped on us on our way to the Galapagos, we'd fiddled with it and thought we had it ready to stay properly extended.
We'd been advised to set it up while in calm water, which usually means before leaving a sheltered anchorage, or while in the lee of an island, and usually when you're in those conditions, you're not at all sure which way the wind will really be coming from when you get out in the real stuff. This means you have to make an educated guess before deciding which side of the boat to rig the pole on, then attach a topping lift and two guy lines to it, attach it to the mast and raise it and secure it so that it is rigidly sticking outboard from the mast, ready to unfurl the genoa sheet through the claw on its end. It's best to do this set-up, especially the first several times, while in calm water because it means wrestling a long heavy pole around on the foredeck, the motion of which is apt to resemble an unpredictable tilt-a-whirl carnival ride once you're out in the unprotected sea. If your educated guess was wrong about the exact wind direction, or it changes on you, you either have to start all over again, or sail somewhat off your intended course.
So, as we were leaving Isabella, while still in fairly protected waters in the lee, we set the pole out to the port side, using our spinnaker halyard as the topping lift. When we tried to unfurl the genoa, it wouldn't come out, and we realized that the spinnaker halyard was crossing the furling gear, and that it could only be used as a topping lift when we had the pole out to starboard. Bryan's great strength in trying to pull the sail out had jammed the halyard into the gear, so I had to haul him up the mast to sort it out. Fortunately, we have an electric winch to use so it is not much work for me to pull him up the mast in his uncomfortable little bosun's chair (sort of a plastic and cardboard thing held together with some straps, buckles and rings), but it's no fun for him when we're in rolling seas. By now we'd gotten out of the protected harbor, and although there was very little wind, there was a very distinct swell rolling the boat from side to side, wanting to swing him out from and smack him back into the mast unless he's hanging on for dear life - a difficult feat when he's trying to use his hands to accomplish the task he's up there for. At any rate, he managed to get the halyard free, so I brought him back down, and we took the pole down and stowed it away. We then looked around and decided there really wasn't enough wind to sail anyway so motored for a few hours before re-setting the pole on the other side and actually using it for awhile. This idea of only setting the pole in calm waters just wasn't going to work.
The next time we tried to use the pole, it worked fine for a bit, then suddenly telescoped in again. We'd thought the telescoping pole made a lot of sense, since when collapsed it takes far less space to stow along the life lines, and could be used at various lengths depending on how much genoa we wanted to pull out. When it keeps collapsing, however, it's a pain in the you know what. So we took it down, then spent the afternoon taking it apart to figure out why it wasn't working. Inside it had a line going up and back and a ram of sorts and we thought we figured it out and had it working again. Hah! Next time we tried it, bang, it collapsed again. We used it once or twice after that, not even trying to extend it, just using it in its short form and not pulling out the whole genoa. Worked great.
As the days ticked away we took it apart a few more times and finally realized that a padeye the line inside was supposed to be tied to had ripped out of the pole, so there was no way to make it stay extended. Bryan figured out an ingenious way to jury rig a fix, and we tried again, poling out to starboard which fortunately was where we wanted it. Finally we're sailing wing and wing with all the genoa out, loving the speed it's giving us, until we notice the extended part of the pole is bending dramatically. Oops. We had to get it down quickly before the bend became worse, which of course it did when the end managed to drop over the side of the boat and into the water before we could get it stowed, and the water pressure made it much harder to get it back on board as well as contributing to the bend. We spent the next few days trying to straighten the bend and get the pole to collapse again, without success. First we had a pole that wouldn't stay extended, now we had one that wouldn't telescope in because the bend prevented it. Eventually we decided we weren't going to straighten the bend on board, so decided to put it back up and just use the thicker part of the pole by jury-rigging a way to attach the genoa sheet without using the claw on the end. This worked super, and we were back sailing wing and wing again, when suddenly a noisy change in the sail pattern alerted us to the fact that the topping lift shackle (part of the improvised topping lift we were now using to pole out to port) had come open and dropped the pole. Fortunately, the sheet and guy lines were still holding it all together fairly well, but we had to take it down again. After it was all put up again, we sailed fine for awhile, until the genoa started flapping around a bit and we realized that the wire holding the guy wires which kept the pole rigidly in place had chafed through and the guys were dragging in the water. At this point we just put the pole away for the remaining five or so days left of the passage, and waited until Fatu Hiva where we took it ashore, straightened it enough to get it apart, cut out the bent part, and inserted a bolt to make it a stationery, but somewhat shorter pole than before. All in all, we were probably only able to actually use the pole for 10-15 hours of the 22 day trip! Whatever could go wrong with it did, but we came away with a far greater understanding of how it works than we probably would have if it always worked perfectly. Hopefully it will work fine on our next passage, but who knows.
Other Boats' Problems:
While we were having fun with the whisker pole, and a few other problems I'll relate later, other boats were also having problems. Our German friends on La Gitana, leaving Isabella about an hour behind us, went suddenly from 6 knots of speed to a dead stop when they hit a whale. It scared the daylights out of them, and Volker went over the side to see if any serious damage had been done, but fortunately discovered only some damaged gel coat and paint missing. This happened right in the area where we had slopped around while putting Bryan up the mast to fix the fouled furling gear.
Several other boats crossing at about the same time blew out sails, either genoas or spinnaker-type sails. Our friends on Zazoo, a nice couple from Britain and Brazil with two great little boys Josh and Luke, had a major rip in their genoa and had to sail the rest of the trip with just a tiny headsail, making their passage much longer. Other boats had steering problems, engine problems, and various other assorted issues.
Our other problems on the passage:
I managed to plug up our head (that's toilet in nauticalese) which meant using a bucket until Bryan could get it fixed a few days later. Marine toilets are very delicate and persnickety devices, and ours has had recurring problems ever since one of our line-handlers through the Canal stuffed it big time. Fortunately it's been behaving itself again lately, but it's only a matter of time.
Our single sideband radio(for long distance communications) started having a lot of interference from our autopilot, which meant we couldn't use them at the same time. On passage we spend a lot of time on the radio checking in with various nets and keeping track of our friends who are also on passage, so this meant that whenever one of us was on the radio, the other either had to hand steer, or Lizzie, our third crew member, had to do the job. Third crew member, you ask? Lizzie is our Monitor self-steering windvane, an expensive and complicated device we installed on the stern before leaving St.Thomas. Much of the time she works like a charm, but occasionally suffers from PMS - pissy mood syndrome, when she just doesn't want to take us directly where we want to go. She's definitely one of the best investments we made preparing for this trip, and we're getting better and better at using her, but sometimes she just doesn't want to cooperate. She had a little problem of her own on this trip. One of her lines connecting her to the steering wheel kept chafing where it goes through a small pulley, a problem we still haven't fully solved, but we have lots of spare line arriving from California soon.
Less than a week before reaching Fatu Hiva, the modem which allows our computer to speak to the radio (allowing us to send and receive email and weather forecasts while at sea) stopped working. Many people have sailed the oceans without any means of communicating with shore, and the ability to send email from the high seas is certainly a very new treat, and one that is certainly not required to make a safe passage. However, we'd become used to having it, were depending on it for weather information, and our families were hearing from us quite regularly, so it was a real bummer when it was suddenly cut off. One of the first things we did upon arrival in Fatu Hiva was to get another boat with working modem to send emails to family that all was well, and emails to various support companies for help in diagnosing the problem. Friends on other boats who were more adept with computers tried to help, but after various efforts including trying the modem on three other computers with the same email software, it became apparent that the modem just wasn't working. We were ready to bite the bullet and spend another $1000+ to buy a new modem, when an email arrived from the email service provider which gave us instructions on getting the firmware (some kind of hard software???) inside the modem to work again, and lo and behold, it's working again. In the meantime we'd decided to take our friend Gwen's advice and get a satellite phone - it can do the email faster and better, and is a great backup if the radio doesn't work, and gives us emergency communication should we ever take to the liferaft. It's a very costly investment, one we'd earlier decided against (back when we could have gotten it in hand with no costly shipping fee like here), but just seemed the prudent thing. We're now sitting in Nuku Hiva awaiting its delivery via FedEx, so soon will have a new email address to add to the four we already have.
It's amazing what technology has done to cruising. It's a far different world out here now than it was when my brother John and his family circumnavigated in the 90's. In any port with internet access, you find all the cruisers spending much of their time tied to their computers or those of an internet café, catching up on all sorts of stuff, from email to needed parts to weather to new software for charts - the list can go on forever. I almost miss the simpler days - it was certainly cheaper in many ways to cruise then, although communication is far simpler now.
Fishing and Food:
Early in the passage, we caught a nice yellowfin tuna, reeled it in all the way to the side of the boat, then it got loose while I was desperately trying to squirt the squirt bottle we had filled with booze to sedate our fish before bringing them on board. It just wouldn't squirt, and the fish just wouldn't wait. A few days later we caught a nice cero mackerel, which came on board quite nicely, only to be found to have little white worms in his innards once cleaned. Over the side with him, thank you very much. Later on we caught two nicely sized mahi-mahis (for us that means big enough for 2-4 meals, but not so big that it takes our line and lure and disappears) which were a very welcome addition to the menu.
Speaking of the menu, we ate very well most days, only occasionally finding conditions rough enough to deter my efforts in the galley. We did use our new "china" often, the double-sided dog bowls that allow us to have a two course meal that doesn't attempt to launch itself off the boat while we're trying to eat. Since most of our passage was down-wind, we didn't have the sharp heel (tilt) to the boat that comes with upwind sailing, but we did tend to roll and bounce a bit, making it difficult for a plate to stay put on the table, or for the food to stay put on the plate. I baked bread occasionally, we had fresh fruit and vegetables almost every day, and our freezer had quite a range of diverse offerings - many pre-cooked meals I had frozen in Trinidad or Panama. We did both manage to lose a few pounds - if the way our clothes fit upon arrival is an indication - but I suspect it wasn't for lack of eating well, but because we don't drink alcohol at sea. That first cold beer upon arrival sure tasted good!
The wind generally came out of the east and east-southeast, and its speed varied tremendously, with several days, especially early on, with almost no wind, most days with 10-20 knots of wind, and a handful of days with winds 25 knots and above. Our last few days before arrival included several squalls with winds gusting to 35 and above at times. We couldn't even see high Fatu Hiva until we were less than 10 miles out, and that was only brief views when the clouds occasionally lifted a bit. Our last few hours were very rainy and generally 30-35 knots with higher gusts and nasty seas as we were rounding the southern tip of the island, but Ursa Minor performed very well and we gained even more confidence in her ability to easily handle the wind and seas. Thirty five knots was really no big deal - something I wouldn't have said a year ago.
The boat was fairly comfortable most of the trip, but at times was subject to very jerky movements and lots of noise. Some nights sleeping was quite easy, other times it was very difficult because of the noises and motions. Worst were the very light air nights, when the sails really made a lot of noise and the boat tended to roll mercilessly. Next worst were the real windy nights when we had the genoa out with no pole going downwind - it would shake, rattle and roll regularly (I probably should make that irregularly - it wasn't on a consistent timetable) and make every part of the boat creak and groan and jerk about. We found that when we couldn't go wing and wing with the pole, our best bet was either to broad reach with both the main and genoa filled out on the same side of the boat, which gave a nice consistent forward motion and not so much noise, or to go close to dead downwind with just the main up. Amazingly, going downwind with just the main often gave us a nice steady 6-7 knots of speed, even with the sail shortened with one or two reefs in it, and became my preferred method of sailing when a broad reach couldn't keep us close enough to our rhumbline. Actually, we were rarely able to sail exactly on our rhumbline - it seemed the wind was always conspiring to make a broad reach or dead downwind run result in 10-15 degrees off our course, so we zig-zagged back and forth roughly along our course line, and were happy to do it