15 March 2019 | Majuro, Marshall Islands
I just finished working on my 2018 tax returns. Good news: refunds will help pay for boat parts.
I have a new appreciation for ripping out fingernails as a form of torture. This is based on a recent experience I had jamming a screwdriver into my thumb.
The fact that I injured my right thumb is peculiar, in that I am right handed, so obviously I was holding the piece in my right hand, and applying force with my left. Not only that, but I was watching myself doing this and was consciously aware that I should account for where the screwdriver blade would go if it slipped. It is also peculiar in that this is the second time in recent memory that I injured my right thumb.
The first time was in Taiohae Bay (on Nuku Hiva, in French Polynesia) when I was replacing bearings and bushings in my Monitor wind vane steering unit. This autopilot is an amazing device. It requires no power, so doesn�'t draw down the batteries, and relieves us from having to constantly steer during our passages of days and weeks. Being such an essential contributor to quality of life, I need it to work, and when I noticed the plastic parts were starting to show signs of aging and embrittlement, I decided to perform preventative maintenance. The purpose of this part of the narrative is to take credit for good judgement.
There�'s a ¾�" stainless pendulum shaft that you have to remove from the pendulum strut (this after unshipping the whole thing from the transom and getting it down below, which it just barely fits through the companionway). The manual says you use a ¾�" wooden dowel to push the shaft through the strut. This is great, because my repair parts kit includes a ¾�" wooden dowel. In real life, however, the shaft and strut live in a marine environment which is constantly striving to demonstrate the point that there just is no such thing as stainless steel, and that entropy rules the universe. In real life, one must rely on the �'judicial application of force�'. Once I discovered that I could not �'push�' the shaft through the strut, by hand, with the wooden dowel, I got out the �'soft�' hammer, and discovered that the dowel would fail before the shaft would move. This discovery was occasioned by the visual observation of cracks forming in the dowel. I gave up on the dowel and scrounged up a ¾�" bolt. I again applied the hammer, first with the rubber head and then with the nylon head. What I discovered at this step was that the hammer heads, both rubber and nylon, were deforming in preference to �'pushing�' the rod through the strut. So I got out the ball peen hammer and applied it to the bolt. Here I discovered that the threaded end of the bolt was starting to deform, which would render the bolt useless as a bolt, per se, but given the general paucity of resources available, I determined to persist with the bolt and ball peen hammer, and I decided to apply more force with the hammer.
Heretofore, I had been limited in the force I could apply by the geometry of the the components and how the pieces were constrained. I had this rather large and cumbersome assembly of tubes and blocks and gears and struts and pendulums and so forth propped on one of the settees in the main cabin, which is to say, the foam padded cushions around the table. The trick is to hold and support the Monitor structure, preferably with both hands, and hold the bolt in perfect alignment with the shaft with another hand, and accurately swing the hammer so that it strikes precisely in line with the bolt and shaft with yet another hand. In real life, there was only room for two hands. Also in real life, the hammer never swings in exactly the precise arc you were hoping for, no matter how many hands are involved, and Newton�'s Third Law, as applied to this situation, dictates that the energy transferred from the hammer to the Monitor will be not go just to pushing the shaft through the strut, but will be distributed to moving the whole Monitor structure, and some of the force will be absorbed by the cushions. It turned out, in this particular instance, that some of the force was also absorbed by my thumb. I have had a dime-sized purple spot in my right thumbnail for months. As I cut my fingernails from week to week, the purple spot migrated to the edge of the nail, and then waned from a �'full moon�' spot to a gibbous and finally crescent spot, and it was just last week that I finally cut away the last of the purple nail. So obviously I was all ready for a new event.
This time I was working on my outboard motor. (My little Tohatsu continuously brings to mind the outboard motor which is one of the principal characters in Steinbeck�'s Sea of Cortez, and I should no doubt write more about the relationship I am forming with my motor. But this blog is about my thumb.) I had to replace the motor mount brackets because the clamp screws had both lost their pads, so the pointy-end of the clamp screws worked at punching holes through the dinghy transom. And one of the screws had stripped the hole in the bracket, so it wouldn�'t tighten at all and only one of the clamp screws was holding the motor on the transom. This isn�'t as bad as it sounds, as long as you didn�'t try to make a sharp turn at anything above idle. If you do, the motor pivots on the clamp screw that did tighten, and gets all cock-eyed on the transom, so you have to stop, dig your 6�" crescent wrench out of your pocket (don�'t leave home without it!), loosen the only tight clamp screw, re-position the motor, taking care that is was still centered on the transom (helps with going straight), and then start again, while working on your colorful sailor-slash-small-motor-mechanic vocabulary.
So anyway, I was working on my outboard. I had ordered parts, and waited for parts, and parts had finally arrived, so it was time.
Now parts are a big part of working on a boat, and being out in the middle of nowhere, commercially speaking, parts are a big pain in the ass. Majuro has three hardware stores, reasonably well stocked, but not too big in the marine department. Just like anywhere else, if you can�'t find your boat parts at the hardware store, look for them at the marine hardware store. Majuro has none. Majuro does have an outboard dealer and/or mechanic, but I never checked there, probably because of the sign.
In front of the shop, or shack, are two 2 x 4 posts, painted blue, supporting a plywood sign, painted white, with blue stenciled lettering, the letters being 3�" high. If you already cut your plywood, and are working with a fixed width, and you are working with stencils, which also have a fixed width for any given word. You can play a little with spacing between words, but you still end up with awkward line breaks.
BOAT GENERATOR OUTBOARD MOTOR REPAIR JAPANESE FOOD
I�'m going from memory here, and I can�'t remember the other three or four things on the sign, not of which are related to outboard motors, and which may or may not be related to boats, but the point is I decided to just pass by this shop and order my outboard parts online.
You�'re probably used to using the internet wherever you are, whenever you want to. You probably don�'t even think about it. I have to think about it. I have to plan for it. I have to go ashore. So that�'s a dinghy trip, which includes putting the motor on the dinghy, with a single clamp screw, and not turning sharply. Then you walk from the quote dinghy dock unquote to the hotel, where you can purchase wifi access. $5 will get you one hour on one device. $15 will get you 24 hours on two devices. There is no limit on the amount of data you can download, but bandwidth is not that great, so there is a practical limit. For example, downloading one episode of Homeland or Westworld takes about 90 minutes. Right. So, you make a trip ashore, and spend a couple hours at the hotel checking email, ordering parts, tracking parts, downloading TV shows, etc. I used to follow the news very closely, but not so much anymore.
Ordering parts for my outboard probably only took about 15 or 20 minutes, but probably felt more like a half hour or two. I don�'t really remember. How long it takes to order something depends on how fast your connection is that day, how much you�'ve already downloaded (I�'ve observed that data transfer slows down after the first gigabyte, always, any time of day), how the vendor�'s site is set up, how far down you have to drill to get a widget delivered to your cart, and how the shipping and payment details are handled. Boats.net opens up on it�'s home page, and you search from there. From the home page, you drill down to outboard motors, manufacturer, year, and model. Each one of those is a separate page, so you have the whole waiting for the page to load thing going on. I drink a lot of coffee while I check email, order parts, track parts, download movies, etc. Once I get down to outboard motors (not anchoring, electrical, accessories, apparel, etc.) to manufacturer (Tohatsu), year (2003) and model (M9.8B), boats.net delivers me to what is, essentially, the Tohatsu outboard motors parts list, complete with exploded view diagrams. This manual is 60 pages long. You drill down to the section of the manual (Cylinder-Crankcase Ass�'y, Piston-Crank Shaft, Inlet-Reed Valve, Carburetor, Magneto, Throttle Mechanism, Tiller Handle, etc.) and then down to your one specific part, and add it to your shopping cart. Then you can �'go to checkout�' or �'continue shopping�'. Fortunately, �'continue shopping�' leaves you in the parts list, so you don�'t have to start completely over. Sometimes I order assemblies, (e.g., tiller handle assembly) not because I need the whole assembly, but because then I can order one assembly instead of 12 parts (washer; wave washer; stopper, steering handle; stud bolt; spring washer; nut; grommet, throttle cable; etc.). Eventually your cart contains everything you think you needed, unless, as sometimes happens, your internet time has exceeded your attention span and you forgot something. If you are a betting person, and they were making book on the need for, and size and cost of, the part(s) you forgot, you�'d want to bet that the part you forgot was 1) critical and essential, 2) small and (relatively) inexpensive), and 3), shipping would still cost as much as for all the other parts you ordered, let�'s say $20 or $30. And no, of course you can�'t combine orders, because that�'s not the way automated order fulfillment process work. I won�'t say much about checkout, except that the shipping address often complicates things.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a �'Trust Territory�' of the United States. It is so because in the 1950s, the UN essentially gave it to the US as a place to test nuclear bombs, provided the US promised to take care of the people displaced and otherwise harmed by such testing. Comment on that �'Trust�' is a whole �'nother blog, if not a book. My point, for purposes of this blog, is that the Marshall Islands, as a Trust Territory, is served by the US Postal Service. The USPS being subsidized by myself and a few other US taxpayers (though I didn�'t help out as much this year as I usually do), it is the best deal going for shipping parts to this part of the world. In fact, t is the second reason I am here in this part of the Pacific Ocean. (The first reason is that I had to go north from where I was before to get out of hurricane season in the southern hemisphere.)
If you were to go to the USPS website and do the �'Click �'n Ship�' thing, you could create and pay for a mailing label from anywhere served by the USPS to anywhere served by the USPS. If you�'re mailing something to the Marshall Islands, you click �'MH�' from the list of states; for Majuro, you type in 96960 for the zip code. So far so good, but you also have to fill out a Customs form. No big deal, work-wise, about the same amount of information you have to fill out for insurance. But, of course, some vendors don�'t ship USPS (only UPS or FedEx) and some don�'t ship outside the continental US, not even to Alaska or Hawaii. And quite a few don�'t ship to the Marshall Islands. Sometimes you don�'t find this out until after you�'ve completed checkout (entering shipping address, billing address, credit card info, etc) and your order is rejected instead of confirmed. I drink a lot of coffee when I�'m ordering parts. Unless I�'m doing an afternoon internet session, in which case I drink a lot of beer. Either way, ordering parts always involves at least one trip to the bathroom. Anyway, if it turns out you can�'t get your parts shipped to Majuro, you ship them to your mail service in Seattle. This way, you get to pay for shipping from the vendor to Seattle, and shipping and handling, from Seattle to Majuro.
Tracking parts is a part of the process, too. Priority Mail, the best deal going, takes 10 to 21 days from the mainland to Majuro. It�'s important to know when the USPS says your package is available for pickup, because the Marshall Islands Postal Authority may not know this. Long story short, thinking your package is available for pick up, it still may take a couple of trips to the Post Office to actually pick it up. And the moral of the story is, once you�'ve been drinking coffee (or beer) for an hour or two, and get your parts ordered, it will still be a while before you get your parts.
But I digress. Back to the thumb.
I was working on my outboard motor mount brackets. I had the parts. I had the old brackets apart, corroded fasteners notwithstanding. I had the new brackets ready, the new clamp screw pads assembled to their clamp screws. I was almost done. Except for one rather recalcitrant spring in the starboard bracket. There wasn�'t much corrosion, and I�'d sprayed it and brushed it. The spring was nice and springy, seemed free to move, just didn�'t want to come off the post around which it rotated. (Yes, it was a torsion spring, for the tilt stopper.) Time for judicious application of force! The bracket fits easily in my hand, so a screw driver is the force applicator of choice. As I was working the blade between individual coils and otherwise prepping for the main force event, I took notice that I was holding the bracket in my right hand and applying the tool with my left. This should have been a red flag and alarm bell moment, as I am right handed. Instead, I was thinking how nicely ambidextrous I am becoming. Self-satisfaction with respect to ambidexterity may also have interfered with recognizing and taking account of the path the screw driver blade would take if if slipped from the point of contact on the torsion spring/post as judicious, or possibly non-judicious, force was applied.
As it happened, the path it took was from the point of contact toward my right thumb. The blade contacted the edge of my thumbnail, on the side away from my forefinger. From there, it apparently transversed the length of the nail, between the nail and the thumb. It exited at the base of the nail, having displaced the cuticle in the process. I could see the bottom corner of my thumbnail. I had never seen that before.
Surprisingly, there was hardly any blood, so the visual impact was only a tiny fraction of the pain impact. Kirsten was in the water. She�'d been on SCUBA cleaning the lower part of the keel and rudder, and, as luck would have it, had just surfaced to clean or adjust her mask or some such. I had exchanged a few words with her as I was admiring my ambidexterity, and, as luck would have it, she was still hanging onto the side of the dinghy when I was suddenly and painfully confronted with the real world. I then with typical coolness under fire said, �"I�'m sorry to make you get out of your gear, but I need your help.�" (Remember, she�'s got tank, regulator, BC, weights, fins, etc.). I then sat down, on the verge of passing out.
As blood flow returned to my brain, I thought, geez, now I know why they tear out fingernails as a form of torture. It really frigging hurts.
Now I know.
I wonder how long it will take before my thumbnail grows out past the damage this time �....
Greetings from the Marshall Islands
24 February 2019 | Majuro, Marshall Islands
Well, we arrived in the Marshall Islands and have been hanging out in Majuro for a couple of weeks now resting and relaxing. The first 10 days were really windy and cloudy, but things have settled down now a bit and sunny again. Now that we have had a chance to rest we can begin working on boat projects again and preparing for our next voyage. But in the meantime it is a pleasure to be tied to a mooring in a lagoon with clean water (much calmer) and not have to worry about expiring visa or cyclones. No cell phone yet as the National Telecommunications Agency is out of SIM cards and they don't know when they will get more.
David and I are getting the lay of the atoll and checking out all of the stores, museums and library. I love walking through the grocery stores and seeing what is popular. You never know what you are going to get. For example, yesterday I had a massage (wonderful) and was so excited that I didn't even mind that the background music was Korean Pop music. You've just got to go with the flow....
I also checked an item on my bucket list by visiting WAM (Canoes of the Marshall Islands). This organization teaches traditional sailing canoe building skills along with life lessons to boys and girls in the community free of charge. With an 80 percent success rate, WAM connects kids with the traditional culture, but also teaches them how to succeed in the modern world. Most of these kids have never finished high school and, more recently, kindergarden. Many kids are from the outer atolls and have no birth certificate or social security card. WAM shows them how to get a birth certificate, signs every kid up for social security and opens up a bank account for them. Kids start building a canoe and realize that math, physics and biology were just as important to their ancestors for survival and decide these are good tools to have. Many kids end up getting their GEDs and attending college via scholarship. Kids also receive medical insurance (for many the first time in their lives), health counseling and group counseling. Started in the 1980s, WAM has become internationally recognized for it's program as well as it's Executive Director, Alson Kalan. Alson is a Master Canoe carver in the same category as Nainoa Thompson. I met Alson in 2005 as a sponsor representative for the Maui International Festival of Canoes. At that time, Alson brought a group of WAM kids over to Maui to participate in the International Festival of Canoes and, as their, sponsor, I spent my days with them. By the end of day 10, Alson and his kids had carved a traditional Marshallese canoe out of one log and launched it via traditional Polynesian protocols with carvers from Tonga, Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, Palau and Japan. It was an amazing event and I told Alson that if David and I ever made it to the Marshall Islands, we would connect again. David and I met with Alson at the WAM canoe hale last week and were just delighted to see him again.
Next week it's off the the office of Cultural Affairs to see if I can get a yacht permit to visit the outer atolls. We shall see... In the meantime, wishing everyone lots of aloha!
23 January 2019 | Betio, Tarawa
When I last wrote, we were ten days and 750 miles or so into our passage from Pago Pago to Tarawa.
After 25 days at sea, we made it to Port Betio, Tarawa, Kiribati.
Those last 15 days were �... interesting. I was reviewing our track the other day, and it still amazes me how much time we spent adrift, with no wind at all. None, zip, nada, zero. And a two-knot current to the east, so we would get set east (our destination was west), about two miles for every hour we drifted. And we drifted for days at a time. We had plenty of food and water, so we can sleep, read, watch TV and movies (from our iTunes library), and otherwise chill.
Not too chill, though, being as close to the equator as we are. Some of those days with no wind you�'d break out in a sweat just sitting still, wake up in the morning and the pillows and sheet are damp from sweat.
The worst part was, we didn�'t stock quite enough rum. Oh, well. That didn�'t detract from the multiple encounters of a cetacean kind. Falsies got prominent mention in the last blog. but our drift zone produced many encounters of dolphins, and our final approach to Tarawa, 20 miles northeast of the Maina atoll, we saw a whale. Species ID is a bit sketchy. Well, the spinners (three or four separate occasions, over a couple or three days) were relatively easy to identify, based on their spinning behavior. The other dolphin species was not so easy to identify. They had falcate fins, and looked very much like pantropical spotted dolphins, except no spots. Our Marine Mammals book says spotted dolphins come with a wide range of �'spottedness�', including none, so I tentatively put them down as spotted. Behaviorally, they did high jumps, including that landing on their shoulder one, so consistent with what I�'ve seen with spotteds off Lana�'i.
The whale is even harder to identify, as all we saw of it was a portion of the back and it�'s dorsal fin as it blew. It stayed near the surface for quite a while, and meandered back and forth Lucile�'s path for the duration of our approach and departure. We saw the blow from the side only, so not a lot of information from the shape of the blow. The dorsal fin was definitely falcate. The closest we can guess, with aid of our Marine Mammals book, is a Dwarf Bryde�'s Whale.
Our landfall was prodigiously fine, if I say so myself. After days of calm and near calm, the weather turned ugly for our final approach. Lots of wind, and right in our face. We motor-sailed into increasing wind and seas, found the channel, and came of the wind to sail into the anchorage. Holding was good, sandy bottom, and the anchorage shallow (25 feet) right outside the �"port�", so got a good set first time we dropped the hook. The wind was blowing so hard, we didn�'t have to back down on the engine to set it. The wind was blowing so hard, it was pulling the chain out of the locker, even with the windlass �"off�". Put the snubber on (three-stand nylon, ?�", spliced to a stainless chain hook), let out 30 feet, and made all fast to a cleat. All good. The wind has been so consistent here that we�'ve hardly moved from our set position. Most places we�'ve anchored, our track makes a circle around the anchor, spending time at various headings depending on the wind. Not so here. One direction, the wind, and mostly one speed: 15 knots. The anchorage is occasionally flat, but we pitch a lot. Quite a lot. There have been days that one or the other of us feels a bit seasick.
Days �... almost a week. If you read cruising notes and guides, you will not find a lot of praise for Betio. There is good reason for this. This place is a real pit. Our primary objectives here were to rest and re-fuel. We�'re doing okay on the rest (pitching ceaselessly on a windy anchorage is not the best way to find your rest). Fueling is also challenging. There is plenty of fuel available, but no �'fuel dock�'. If you want at least 100 gallons fo diesel, you can have barrels delivered to the commercial dock, but you have to make your own provisions for moving the diesel out of the barrels and in to the fuel tanks. Our approach is to ferry jerry cans back and forth to Lucile at anchor. And there�'s a service station very handily located right by the port facilities. But they are closed, pending replacement of fuel pumps. On Saturday, the two new pumps were sitting next to the two old pumps, and work was plainly in progress to complete the project over the weekend. Didn�'t check Sunday, as most things are generally closed on Sundays. Monday, the gasoline pump was installed, and the diesel pump was sitting by it�'s pedestal, with workers busy fishing cables through the conduit in the freshly-poured ditch from the garage building to the pump island. Today, the gasoline pump still stood in place, no sign of a diesel pump, no sign of work or workers, and nobody around who spoke enough English to answer my question: when will diesel be available.
Tomorrow I guess we will look for another service station. We have been told there are three, although in our initial exploratory foray ashore, we only found the one. I am fifty gallons short of getting the flock out of here. Wish me luck.
Next stop, Majuro, Marshall Islands.
Close to the Equator
30 December 2018 | close to the equator
Everybody knows what you do with a drunken sailor�--keel haul him �'til he�'s sober. But what do you do with a sick sailor? Keep him in his bunk, mostly; keep him as cool as possible, make him drink plenty of fluids. And hope for a quick recovery and return to strength.
Conditions are good for keeping to my bunk, couldn�'t ask for better, not without tempting fate. We are ten days and 775 miles from Pago Pago, sailing northwest close hauled, with a light but remarkably constant breeze off the starboard bow. We passed through, or more like drifted through, three days of light and variable winds a few days ago, but since finding this wind, haven�'t touched a sheet, and are making 150 miles per day. The daytime sky is strewn with cumulus in every direction, and the nighttime sky with stars and planets. Last night I saw Cassiopeia, which I have not seen for some months, and I am quite certain I saw a part of the Big Dipper. We approach the equator!
We had the most amazing encounter yesterday morning. Kirsten used her command voice to summon me out of a sleep on up on deck. Since her command voice usually implies imminent disaster, I am am usually aided in awakening by the jolt of adrenaline which seems to accompany the command voice. Pavlov�'s dogs salivate, I get an adrenaline rush.
Turns out this summons was not to imminent danger, but to an escort of false killer whales.
They stayed with us for about an hour. A cluster of three to six or eight zigged and zagged across our bow, and several animals ranged alongside, both port and starboard. I�'m guessing the group numbered at least a dozen, and more like a couple dozen. Lucile�'s freeboard is only a two to three feet, depending on the heel, so the animals were right there, right underfoot, as it were. You could easily see the movement of the blowhole during exhalation and inhalation, and you could easily hear the different sound of exhalation and inhalation. They exhibited classic dolphin behavior, keeping in close proximity, touching each other frequently, and vocalizing. Vocalizations were all of the squealing or squeaking variety, no clicking, and were audible through the hull and in the air above the water! The biggest of the group was probably longer than 15 feet, and showed what looked like two small flesh wounds just to the left and slightly aft of the dorsal fin. The exposed flesh was what we humans would describe as flesh color. There was another animal that showed a small puncture wound, which was dark pink. One animal had the raggediest, gnarliest, most tattered dorsal I�'ve seen on a dolphin or whale. I�'d say the average length of these animals was 12 to 15 feet, the one big guy being 15 to 18, and four or five animals about 8 to 10 feet. There was one pair that always maintained close physical contact and stayed in tandem. The larger animal was 12 feet or so, the smaller about 6 feet. I presume this was a mother and juvenile pair.
We took no pictures or videos, as usual. But we do have beautiful memories.
As fine as the sailing is, I�'m keep a weather eye open over my left shoulder. Kirsten said it was time to look out for a depression to form to the west, conditions were �'just so�', and sure enough, we�'ve started to see it develop, at least in the forecasts. It appears likely to whip up winds in the 35-50 knot range. It also appears likely to pass to the south of us. Nothing we can do at this point, though, other than keep an eye out. Lucile moves steadily northwest at 5 to 6 knots; the system moves steadily east to southeast at 15 to 18 knots. There is no outrunning her. Our �'active defense�', if the storm shows signs of veering any north of it�'s currently forecast track, is to turn Lucile north to northeast, and go as much perpendicular to the storm�'s path as possible. If we are to feel any effects of the storm, it will be on Tuesday or Wednesday.
In the meantime, Lucile keeps sailing smoothly, 595 miles to Bikeman Island, in the Tarawa Atoll, capital of the Kiribati Islands. This is our planned rest stop on our way to the Majuro Atoll, capital of the Marshall Islands.
26 December 2018 | North of American Samoa
I�'ve been uncharacteristically quiet, I know. Until fairly recently, though, I haven�'t been quite sure this whole thing was going to work out, and I sure did not want to tell that story. Until fairly recently, I wasn�'t sure whether the voyaging dream was going to crash and burn, or my marriage was, or both. I�'ve been through the whole dissolution of marriage thing twice, and I was feeling some very unpleasant yet very familiar feelings of anxiety, self-blame, and failure. Any of you that know me will know that, starting right at the dock before I leave the harbor, I am always planning potential Plans B, C, D, etc.�-- sometimes going as high as F, depending on the number and probability of risks I�'m anticipating. So you may be surprised that, as far as the retirement Big Picture goes, I sailed from Hawai�'i without a Plan B. Once I got to the stage of �"ruh-roh, this may not be working�", I added �"shit, there is no Plan B�" to my picture of doom and gloom.
We left Ko Olina Marina on O�'ahu June 10, and arrived Taiohae, on the island of Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas Islands on July 10. We had estimated a passage of 28- 30 days, so 30 days was pretty much on the money. Weather was favorable for the most part, winds were favorable for the most part. We would have made a faster passage if we hadn�'t had to shorten sail and come off the wind.
I say favorable for the most part. We got off to a flying start, making 8-9 knots the first several hours. We know better than to calculate an 1800-mile passage time based on a few hours sailing, but I�'ll admit to being tempted to believe it could be a 15-day passage instead of a 30-day passage. The lee of the Big Island reminded us that it could just as easily be a 40-day passage. We cheated our way through the light and variables, sixty miles offshore, using our trusty 55 horsepower Volvo Penta diesel engine to motor, before we came into the trades again, lofted sails, and resumed sailing.
I say �"trusty�" diesel, which it always has been. But it evinced a frustrating reluctance to start. Normally, you close the start battery breaker, push the �'on�' button, wait several seconds for a beep, push the �'start�' button, the engine immediately turns over and springs to life with a reassuring rumble. What it started doing instead, when you got to the �'start�' button step, was �... nothing. Well, there was a click. But no start. Or, no click, and no start. Most motors have a starting relay, which would produce such a click, but not the trusty Volvo Penta. Oh, no. The Volvo Penta sports a Mechanical Diesel Interface, which is, literally, a black box bolted to the side of the engine. Inside it is all sold state, so nothing to troubleshoot or fix. Luckily, though, there are wires and connectors on the black box, though nothing that was loose or corroded or otherwise something the handy boat owner could fix. However, as coincidence would have it, unbolting the MDI, and moving it around a little bit would somehow enable it to do more than just �'click�'. So, I did get the engine started, and we did motor our way through the lee of Hawai�'i, through the night, and through about 25% of my total fuel capacity.
So, problem solved, or at least we got it started that time. Later we will find out that this problem persists, with a couple of variations, and a new problem arises. But more about that when we get to Nuku Hiva�....
Once we cleared the Big Island, trades were 15-20 knots out of the north to northeast, and always enough north that we could stay to windward of the rhumb line to the Marquesas. We sailed close to the wind, but not pinched tight. Reasonably fast, reasonably comfortable. Days flowed smoothly into nights, the moon proceeded through it�'s phases, Mars rose in the east a little later each night, and the Southern Cross climbed higher and higher above the horizon.
We had a couple pretty lively runs, with the boat heeled over, and green water crashing over the bow, rolling aft over the deck, flooding the scuppers, and draining into the cockpit. One such wet patch resulted in water gushing over the deck, under the dodger, and into the companionway, cascading over the ladder and onto the deck grate in the cabin. This wet patch also occasioned a yell from Kirsten. This is the kind of yell that you would associate with an adrenaline rush, and which produces a sympathetic adrenaline rush. Stepping below to see what was going on, I saw water dripping from the seams in the overheads. Kirsten was a little wet and a little wide- eyed. She was standing in the cabin, next to the mast, arms extended overhead, hands on the ceiling panels. She sputtered something about water flooding from the overhead. I couldn�'t really quite believe this.
Lucile has always been a dry boat, very comfy as we travelled the Pacific Northwest, Hawai�'i to Alaska, Alaska to B.C. and Washington, back home to Maui. All kinds of weather, a lot of it wet, all kinds of seas, a lot of them as big as what we were seeing on this passage, and still pretty dry inside. Of course, a governing principle of boating is that you must keep the outside water outside. This interior waterfall could be quite significant.
Since I sometimes need the evidence of my own senses to believe something I can�'t or don�'t want to believe, the universe graced me with the following, which took place over about two seconds, maybe as long as three seconds, but which made a truly profound and lasting impression, notwithstanding it�'s relatively short presentation. First I heard what might sound like a load of plywood (4 x 8�', stacked waist high), dropped from a height about ten feet�--heard as if it were dropped on the floor which you were right under. That was the bow smacking into a wave, probably a pretty big wave, probably, based on what I�'d been seeing, about six to eight feet high. I�'d been hearing this noise, off and on, for a while (though from further aft, in the cockpit). Then I heard what sounded like someone in that malevolent crane had just dumped a backyard swimming pool�'s worth of water on the deck, water rushing fore to aft. Next I saw quite an interesting display of water fall. The ceiling panels are padded rectangles, primarily designed to hide the ugly part of the roof over your head; in Lucile�'s case, the underside of the fiberglass deck. The gaps in the panels are covered with wood trim. What I saw was a rectangular array of water falls, water cascading out from between the ceiling panels in the forward part of the main cabin, and the aft part of the vee-berth, or forward compartment. I saw Kirsten get drenched. I now believed.
I told Kirsten the waterfall, though uncomfortable, was not a cause for immediate concern, the ingress was well within the capacity of our bilge pump, and that I would take a look topside to see if I could figure out where it was ingressing.
Which I did. After inspecting the cabin, vee-berth, and forward head, I had a theory, which, going topside and taking a look at the location of the ventilator for the forward head, became convinced that was the culprit. I had two suspects in mind, the mast boot and the deck ventilator. When we re-rigged, I wedged the mast at the partners and installed a new mast boot, and I�'m always quick to suspect my own workmanship when problems surface, but the mast itself was dry where it extended through the partners and deck into the cabin. That pretty much left the ventilator. The ventilator is a hole deliberately cut into the deck, with a stainless steel cover on deck, and a little plate with a rubber gasket, which you can twist open or closed from inside the head. I double-checked that it was screwed tight, which meant only that I could not turn the knob in the overhead of the head any further in the �'close�' direction, but I remained convinced that was the source of our flooding. (This was later confirmed at Taiohae Bay, where I discovered the plate or disk with the gasket had broken loose from the threaded rod that the knob turned, and no amount of knob turning would seat the gasket and seal out the water. So I pop riveted the disk back in place, screwed it down tight, very tight, and put the cover back on. No leaks since. Or at least, not through the vent.)
So, problem solved, or at least significantly reduced. Later we will find out that there are many other leaks. But more about that when we get to Pago Pago.
Then we hit the doldrums. I�'ve read lots of stories, heard lots of stories, about the doldrums. But, really, our experience was neither as dramatic, or as boring, as I had anticipated. We had light winds sporadically, and no wind sporadically. We got to dousing our sails completely, and catching up on sleep when there was no wind. When the breezes freshened, up went the sails, and we ghosted along as best we could until they died again. It sounds easy and relaxing, and in a way it was. But it was also extremely frustrating, trying to get anything out of a puff of air, listening to the sails and rigging flog and flap with the roll of the boat, and finally giving up, in hopes of better sailing later. A good day�'s passage for us is 125+ miles, but we were happy to get 50 or 60 in the doldrums. There was one exciting part of the doldrums, and that would be the rain squalls. One evening in particular, I saw dark looming on the horizon, black against twilight. If I weren�'t in the middle of the ocean, I would swear we were approaching land. I turned on the radar to check. There was a radar return, all right, but it wasn�'t land. It was rain. We closed and snugged up hatches, and hunkered down, waiting to get wet.
Boy did we get wet. I�'ve been in some good downpours before, but nothing like this. I had to cover my nose and mouth with my hand in order to breathe. I had to shield my eyes to see. The rain turned the surface of the ocean silver white. Rain splashed up from the surface of the ocean, almost deck high. It rained so hard, water was gushing off the dodger, and spurting out the scuppers in the toe rail. It rained so hard, the only sound you could hear was the rain hitting the boat and the ocean. It was amazing. And then, within the hour, it was done.
Overall, I�'d say the doldrums were pretty easy. We lucked out in that they only extended from about 6 degrees north, to about 3 ½ degrees north, about 150 miles, and after four or five days of doldrums, we were back in the trades, the southern trades, and back to 100-125 miles per day, until one fresh breezy morning.
I came up on deck for my watch. My habit is to take a comfortable seat, and take a look around. I was sitting in the cockpit scanning my boat and my surroundings, letting my eyes stop and focus wherever they wanted to. I looked at the sea surface, it�'s color and shape, the number of swells, and at what stage of development, the shape and waves and their period, the degree of whitecapping. I looked at the sky, how much cloud cover, what kind of clouds, what direction the clouds are moving at different elevations, are they making rain, how dark are the dark patches, and how big are they. I look at the sail trim, the shape of the sails, are they balanced, are all lines running fair. I look at my standing rigging, how are leeward shrouds keeping tension as the boat heels. Looking up at the lower shrouds and spreaders, my eyes stopped. Something didn�'t look right. My gaze lingering at the tangs and toggles, my eyes decided that one of the tangs, where the port lower forward shroud attaches to the mast, was broken. That got my attention, and the rest of my brain engaged with my eyes and focused on that little problem.
I alerted Kirsten, and we got to work taking the load off the mast and rigging.
Lucile�'s mast is 65 feet long, and several hundred pounds, maybe about 600 pounds. Heavy enough that when we re-rigged this past summer, we used a crane to lift the mast off the boat. It is the mast�'s job to hold aloft the 408 square feet of main sail and the 499 square feet of head sail. The force of the wind on the sails is substantial, thousands and thousands of pounds. It is the rigging�'s job to hold the mast and sails up, preventing the mast from bending, buckling and otherwise breaking and crashing onto the deck, possibly injuring, or killing, crew or passengers; possibly damaging, or holing, the hull; possibly even sinking the boat. The stays and shrouds on the mast are like the guy wires on a telephone pole or radio antenna, holding them upright and preventing them from buckling. The four lower shrouds surround the lower part of the mast. They attach to chainplates at deck level, and attach to the mast just below the lower spreaders, about 20 feet up. If you were building a 10-person human pyramid, you�'d put your four big, beefy guys on the bottom row. The lower shrouds are the four big, beefy guys on the bottom row, and one of my big, beefy guys just broke his wrist. The trick is to get the cheerleaders down from the top of the pyramid safely, before the one guy gives out and the whole pyramid comes tumbling down.
Sailing, this meant reducing the square footage of sails up, so we reefed the main sail, and partially furled the genoa. Then we sweated and agonized. Knowing the wire rope shrouds were sized a bit beefier than the design specification, and knowing the design was fairly conservative to start with, I was reasonably confident that we would be able to keep the rig up. This was important for reaching our destination, hell, any destination, as there is not sufficient fuel on board to cover the remaining distance to our destination.
We spent most of our time with the wind coming over the right side of the boat, on a starboard tack, headed roughly south southeast, with the wind roughly east. We still needed a fair amount of easting to get to the Marquesas, but we couldn�'t sail as close to the wind reefed as we could with the full main. In other words, we were limited in how much east of south we could point. This raised the question of whether it made sense to come off the wind a bit, and sail almost due south to Tahiti. But Tahiti was several hundred miles further than the Marquesas Islands, so I decided to shorten the exposure to risk by taking the shorter route, even if it were only by a couple of days. In retrospect, it probably would have been faster to Tahiti, because I had to tack a couple of times to get to the Marquesas. When I tacked, I had to turn over 120 degrees, so I would end up heading south southwest, and losing easting in the process.
Fortunately, conditions were largely favorable for an extended tack, and, to make a long story short, we make landfall in Taiohae Bay, on the island of Nuku Hiva.
Landfall was not completely without incident, though, and this blog hasn�'t touched on the emotional toll exacted by this passage. So I guess I�'ll have to write more, later.
In the meantime, you will hopefully be as happy as I am to know that the watermaker works, and does not leak.
Haole Makahiki Hou!
Happy Holidays from North of American Samoa
23 December 2018 | North of American Samoa
Happy Holidays from somewhere north of American Samoa. While most people will be gathering with friends and family on Christmas and New Years Day, David and I will be sailing from American Samoa to the Marshall Islands. David and I left American Samoa on Thursday and hope to stop in Tarawa, Kiribati before arriving in the Marshall Islands. However, our Tarawa stop is weather dependant, so we shall see. In the meantime, it's hot and humid here. Lots of rain, fitful wind and plenty of lightening in the distance. And while most people will be cooking a turkey on Christmas and New Years Day, I will be cooking in a pressure cooker. Anything that doesn't heat up the boat and cause me to sweat when I eat it sounds great. David's favorite boat meal is pasta with meat sauce so we will probably have that both days. Just thinking about it is making me sweat.
We'll be on the lookout for Santa and his sleigh on Christmas eve. We see planes and satellites running across the night sky, so.... And just so you know, just because we are traveling doesn't mean we missed out on the holidays all together. I saw plenty of holiday decorations, wrapping paper, drug store holiday gifts while running errands in American Samoa. I now know what American Christmas songs sound like when translated into Samoan. Delightful!
Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season and a wonderful start to 2019. Happy Holidays!