Sunday, April 18, 2004

The Crossing - KT gives a day-by-day blow

Chris reefing during the crossing

We did it! We sailed across the South Pacific Ocean, from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Fatu Hiva, Marquesas!  There isn’t a day that goes by that it feels real, and already the memory of the crossing is fading, seeming to all blend into yet just another day.  I was worried of that … worried that I would lose the day-to-day emotions.  Looking back it just seems plain easy … perhaps a bit boring, but nothing to “write home about”, if you know what I mean.  Chris mentions over and over that it was “easy”, and while I agree, I think it is due to Luck.  I’m not saying that we weren’t properly prepared and didn’t do some very diligent planning, but planning and preparation can only take you so far when Mother Nature is involved … and when it comes to the weather, there is no doubt in my mind that we were just down right lucky.  Somehow we skirted dozens of squalls and lightening storms, we didn’t have any major boat system malfunctions, didn’t hit (yes, literally hit) any wildlife (i.e. whales), and neither of us were injured or seriously sick.  Other boats in our fleet were not so lucky … hitting squall after squall, water leaks into the engine, running into whales, a broken nose, and some damaged ribs are just examples.

But what about those day-to-day emotions?  What was it like?  How did I really feel in the moment, rather than looking back?  These were things I wanted to remember, so to the best of my ability (depending on seasickness and pure laziness) I attempted to capture a few thoughts every day or so. Looking back I noticed that I write most often when my mood is not so high … really it wasn’t ‘that bad’ of a passage.  Although I can’t say I necessarily enjoyed it, I would do it again in a heartbeat because the end rewards are beyond any discomfort experienced!

Day 1 (Thursday, March 25, 2004)

Lifted anchor from Punta de Mita at 3:28 p.m.

As we lifted anchor and set course “out to sea”, my mind wandered from place to place.  What would it be like?  How would we cope?  Mostly, oddly, I thought about the website, more specifically, what would I write about this day.  I felt as though I should have some profound thoughts … that I should be feeling “different” somehow.  But it wasn’t like that – it was almost no different then every time we pulled anchor for a new location.  I think it was impossible to really think of it in terms of 22 plus days or 2800 miles.  The hardest thing was just deciding to actually go.  This decision was made harder by a group of Ventura boats that we finally, after all this time, hooked up with … couldn’t we just stay another day?.  What most likely got us moving was that about five to seven other boats left that morning (we discovered this while listening to the Puddle Jumpers Net that afternoon) – they sort of motivated us to get up and go.

As we set sail, George (of George and Jan from Clare de Lune) gave us a proper sound off with a blow of his shell (I'd give you more details, but the type of shell, etc escape me ... I can only say it was a very cool deep sounding blow).

Day 2 (Friday, March 26th)

We made great time today, about 140 miles.  We also caught our “first” (meaning first the we’ve kept to eat) fish … a yellowtail!  I was near tears when he kept flopping around and seeing all the blood, it was so sad.  I know I eat fish all the time, but this felt so much more personal.  I said a private thank you to King Neptune, God, the Fish’s family, and the Sea.  I also promised we wouldn’t waste a single morsel.  I don’t think our next fish will feel any better (for me) … while it was great to have fresh fish, I haven’t felt like putting the pole back in since!

During my watch I spotted some odd lights ahead.  It looked like two separate, but really close boats.  Just two single white lights ... no red or green lights, nor any massive amount of brightness (as seen with lots of freighters and cruise ships), just two pretty small, isolated white lights.  I stared and stared trying to figure out what they were, and more importantly which direction they were heading, but it was impossible to make out.  My first impulse was to get Chris, but we weren't in any immediate danger and I felt like at some point I needed to gain confidence that I could do things on my own.  Plus I had the whole BIG Ocean to work with; it should be easy to miss (not collide with) those two tiny lights!

So I watched.  And with each passing minute that I wasn't able to ascertain which way the lights were moving, the nervousness built up in me.  It was like a huge knot in the bottom of my stomach.  Initially I thought they would go behind us, and made slight course adjustments to port, thinking we would pass starboard to starboard and behind each other.  But it just seemed they were getting closer and closer -- and still directly in our way (or rather us in their way).  Finally, feeling like any minute I would throw-up, as I was so nervous, I took off the auto-pilot and headed up (starboard) instead, so that they would pass in front (or we would be port to port).  Chris, being so in tune with the boat's motion, was up in the cockpit in a flash (knowing that I had changed course) asking where the boat was!  Instantly I felt relief that he was there.  I was also a bit disappointed in myself that I felt such relief, why was I so nervous to begin with?  I was doing everything right.  It turns out my last course change was correct and when Chris checked the radar the two small sailboats turned out to be a very large freighter moving at about 30 knots, less than one mile away ... YIKES!!!  Sure am glad I missed it.

The weather picked up a bit for Chris's watch ... breaking waves over the bow actually left small squid behind on our decks!

Day 3 (Saturday, March 27th)

Another speedy day (140 miles as well).  I thought I might be over my sea sickness, but after making breakfast down below, and later lunch, I quickly learned that I was not … and it is wearing on me … will I ever feel 100% again?  How can I go 20-30 days feeling this way?  It is depressing.  If I still fell like this tomorrow I will take something.

We saw a Mexican Navy (maybe Navy) helicopter today.  He did a fly by … actually kind of two or three.  Apparently they did this to a couple of other Puddle Jumpers as well.  We aren’t sure what they were looking for, but with a skull and cross bones on their window they were a bit worrisome at first!

We were also joined by a small (ten or so) pod of dolphins for a bit, and later in the day a couple of Boobies (birds) kept circling us – trying to land on our [moving] mast.  They are pretty entertaining to watch.

Day 4 (Sunday, March 28th)

Only 110 miles today.

I finally felt half normal today.  Of course there is almost no wind, and therefore it is a lot calmer.  I hope that I am finally getting my “sea-stomach”!  I still had a headache and don’t like to go below for very long, but it is a much improved day.  We seem to no longer be able to reach anyone by VHF, although we can hear people here and there.

It still doesn’t feel that we are on any major trip …although I was getting a bit antsy today and had to think, “Already?, with still at least 18 days to go???"

As of yet I have just been laying around – no exercise or stretching or yoga, or any other of the “great” plans I had for this trip … including web stuff and possible writing down my experience with the twins.

As for the other Puddle Jumpers … so far two boats have had to return, one lost their rudder (which I never even imagined was possible ... and by 'lost' I don't mean broke, I mean detached from the boat, goodbye into the big blue sea!), the other couple was extremely seasick for two days straight, and with a small child on board, decided to turn back to nearest land to decide what to do.  Another boat had to “stop” before departing.  They have a leak in their fuel line.  It’s too bad, Chris and I had just met them, and they were (are) one of the few cruisers “our” age … 30-ish.  We had looked forward to getting to know them better.  Of course the thing about cruising, or possible getting older in general, is that more and more people seem “your age” or close enough.  With cruising it just seems like everyone is younger to begin with.  I guess age doesn’t really matter when you’re hanging out with great people.

Something in me feels like I need to keep writing, but I don’t have much to write … maybe I’m just feeling chatty – after only three days at sea!  I’m sure by the end of this trip I’ll have driven Chris insane!

Day 9 (Friday April 2nd)

The week just seemed to blur together.  We are still seeing Boobies … being some 800-900 miles out; I just didn’t think we’d be seeing birds.  We’ve seen them everyday actually.  They keep trying to land on our masthead, which is quite difficult with the boat rolling.  Two days ago one ran into the running backstay (really really hard).  Then fell to the hard dodger, rolled across it, tangled in the lifeline, and eventually flopped back into the ocean.  He shook his head and flapped his wings for a good minute or two.  I really thought he wasn’t going to make it, but (thankfully) he did finally take flight again.

At the beginning of the week, we hit the “dead zone” (no wind) as predicted.  It was very slow going and the sails just continuously banged … very teeth clenching (literally).  But for the first time I wasn’t feeling seasick.  I couldn’t decide what would be better, to only go three knots and take twice as long to get there, but not be sick, or to get there faster but feel awful!

Wednesday we threw up the Spinnaker.  What a great smooth ride.  When I laid down that night I felt as though we were flying, so calm, flat and fast!  Just wonderful … awesome.  And QUIET – none of that boom banging or Genoa collapsing.  Of course the wind eventually picked up, so we had to go back to the Genoa, which for whatever reason is such a rolly ride.

Thursday night I barely slept at all.  And I’ve been having killer headaches, I figure it’s one or more of … no coffee, lack of sleep, seasickness, and/or dehydration, oh and/or maybe no physical exercise.  It is so hard not to be lethargic.  Lying around does that to you, and I have trouble motivating to get out of it.  Today (Friday) I finally showered and getting the energy to do that seemed impossible (but boy am I ever glad I did).

As for if this “meets” my “expectations” (not that I had many), I suppose, yes and no.  First, I definitely didn’t think there would be this much side-to-side movement; I really bought into the whole trade-wind sailing thing (with gentle rolling seas from behind).  Of course we haven’t (I don’t think) hit the “real” trades yet.  I also thought I’d be more sleepy-tired during the day.  Oddly I don’t feel like someone doing three-hour shifts.  Of course it does seem to hit pretty hard at night.  On the other hand, I didn’t think I’d feel so lethargic, so lay-around BLAH!  Now this will sound odd, but I also thought Chris and I would be spending more time together.  Obviously we’re always around each other but we are almost always just reading our separate books.  Not much talking and not a lot of games.  At this point I’m not sure if that is good or bad.

I’ve seen a lot more of the flying fish.  I always thought “flying” was just sort of a term … because they jumped high out of the water, or skimmed the water.  I never really thought of them as really, truly flying …. But they do!  They are quite a site, and there are hundreds of them … they are easily mistaken for tiny birds.  I never get bored of seeing them.

Day 10 (Saturday, April 3rd)

Over 1000 miles covered.

I would’ve given just about anything to stop – for just an hour even.  The rolling, my headaches, being tired, it was all getting to me.  I wanted just a moment of complete calm, complete silence (no waves splashing, booms banging, sails flopping).  It makes me nervous to feel like this with 1600 plus miles still to go.

I made chocolate cake to celebrate passing the 1000-mile point.  Surprisingly the homemade frosting turned out really good.  Then when dinner came around and I went to get the macaroni I found weevils … tons of them.  UGH!!!  Luckily the containers I bought work quite well and only one container was contaminated.  I’m not sure if they started in the rice and found their way out into the “open” or they started in one of the “open” (not in airtight container) boxes and found their way in.  Guess it really doesn’t matter.  Because of the weevils I hadn't put the lid back on the macaroni (there were some on the outside of lid of the macaroni, and I wanted to clean it before putting the lid back on (luckily none were able to get through the seal to the inside), and as luck would have it, just as we were sitting down to eat, a huge swell cam through and the open jar of macaroni fell over dumped into the chocolate cake.  With my mood of the day I could’ve cried!  Chris kept me sane though and we were able to salvage the cake as well as most of the macaroni.  It took a good hour after dinner cleaning out the entire rice/pasta cupboard.  I HATE bugs – it was not a joyful experience.  Chris tried to salvage the [contaminated] sushi rice – any other rice and I’d just thrown it over board, but Sushi rice is hard to come by and we’ve been talking about making smoked salmon rolls for a couple of days now.  I can still see bugs in it though, so I’ve quarantined the container, just in case they can escape (so far they haven’t).  I plan on “baking" the rice to kill them and any eggs.  The whole thing grosses me out – I’m not sure I’ll be able to eat it.

To top off the night, it started raining during Chris’s shift and into my second shift.  The wind was from behind, pushing the rain in, so there was no protected place in the cockpit. ARGH!  However, to not be all negative, there was a moment – post weevils and pre-rain, when Chris and I were laying in the cockpit, with the moon glowing full and bright overhead.  We just lay there, talking occasionally and watching the moon, it was truly a wonderful, peaceful moment.

Day 11 (Sunday, April 4th)

The sun popped up for a moment, but was quickly chased away by a very large threatening rain cloud.  Chris had just showered (finally) and we decided to raise the main to try and out run the approaching cloud.  Things got bumpy, I got sick, and the rain caught us.  But it was entertaining to watch Chris trimming the sails in his birthday suite (we typically aren’t the naked-cruising type).  The rain has been off and on since.  The ride however is more stable due to our ‘new’ course and having the main up.  It took most of the day but I am finally over the ill feeling.

Day 13 (Tuesday, April 6th)


Day 14 (Wednesday, April 7th)

The rain and swell remained the last couple of days, as did my seasickness.  Yesterday I finally took some Dramamine and it seemed to help.  I woke up this morning down, the last few days of rain, and wet everything was getting to me.  Everything smelled like wet mildew/mold.  There was nowhere dry to sit and down below was too hot and muggy.  I was nearing the end of my rope!  But then, after a short drizzle, the sun finally appeared.  Clouds still surround the horizon, but we’ve been outside all day and the cushions are almost dry even!  I fear it won’t last the night, but am just trying to stay thankful for the day!

We were also joined by a very large group of dolphins today.  They were surfing the swell and darting back and forth in front of our bow.  Such cool animals!

My mind can’t help but wander to some of the things we (I) are giving up to make this journey.  I suppose all of life is like that … give and take.  And it doesn’t make me wish for anything different (unless there was some magical way to do all things and be in all places at once), but it can still make me sad.  Mostly I think about times I’m missing with friends and family.  Will all my girlfriends get married without me?  Will I not be there to shed some of those happy tears?  Will I lose touch – too far away to continue to be an important person in their life and them in mine?  And the twins – when will I see them again?  Already they are crawling and soon to be walking, and I’ve barely seen them … will they even care who I am five years from now – or will they run and hide, shy of the “new” person?  How will they ever know just how much they mean to me?  I miss the regular interaction with my family, but know that I can count on them to be there now and when I return (I do worry sometimes that I might be taking that for granted as life can be so unpredictable).  Yet, what events will I miss in-between? Will I be there for them when they need me?  It seems that in some cases so much is changing that I'm afraid I'll come back to find myself isolated.

Day 19 (Wednesday, April 12th)

Hooray, we crossed the equator this morning (sometime around 11a.m.).  No red line to mark the spot, but we watched the GPS position until it turned to 0o0.00’.  There was another cake (German Chocolate w/ Pecan Coconut frosting this time), along with Champagne, Jimmy Buffet, and … er … well … some things best not mentioned to the public (wink wink).  We thanked King Neptune for our safe journey and wished for safety for all those who followed.  We also dumped off four wine bottles with messages.  Just little notes with our boat cards asking for the finder to mail or email us … it will be interesting if we ever hear from anyone!!!  We have less than 600 miles to go!  It still seems ages away, but this was a great milestone in the passage!

Day 20 (Tuesday, April 13th)

I had quite the watch(es) last night.  It started with a book.  A kind of demented scary book, not a Stephen King, but one in which Stephen King praised as “Terrifying” … so you get the picture.  In this book there was a serial killer who was snatching up young teenage girls … I need not go into details because it was somewhat disturbing.  Rather, the point is that this book saddened and frightened me, because such things really do happen and unfortunately are not always fiction.  And I was truly grateful at that moment for being on a boat in the middle of the ocean, where nothing like that could happen to me.  Oddly, I felt safe.  Thinking about more, I was convinced that the middle of nowhere was a great place to be and that at least IF something did happen, it would be nature’s force and not pain from another human being … and for whatever psycho reason, this comforted me.

Ironically, I was in the middle of reading this book (periodically checking the horizon for obstacles, boats, storms, etc), when I became convinced that Chris and I were going to die.  A bright light came from what seemed to be nowhere, and was just mere feet from Billabong.  In that instance I knew it was over, I don’t know how I missed that large of freighter, but it was too late, it was bearing down on us and about to ram into our starboard side.  I had let Chris down, I didn’t keep a good watch, how did this happen?  How did I miss that boat?  What a fool I was to think that we were better off in the middle of the Ocean, this was my payback.  These thoughts and more ran through my mind as I jumped to my feet, turning my head to the source of light, and reaching out at the same time to turn off the auto pilot (so I could attempt to get out the way, although I was convinced it was too late).  And there it was … wow!  Not a freighter, not even lightening (which was my second thought, although there wasn’t a cloud in the sky), but the largest, brightest shooting star that I think ever existed.  I only caught the tail end, but this star lit up the ENTIRE sky … enough that you could’ve read a book by the light it created.  The light streaming behind it was inches thick, and even just the bit I saw was long.  I have never seen anything like it.  And [phew] we weren’t going to die after all!  Still, it took me a good twenty minutes to get my heart rate back down and to be able to relax again.

It was about 3:00am on my second watch.  This time I was catnapping between horizon checks, when newwwewwwwnewwww …. We had left our fishing line out and it was still trailing behind us, apparently we had caught something.  I practically dove over the wheel and over Chris (who was sleeping in the cockpit because it was cooler) to grab the pole and stop the line.  Chris (obviously awake at this time) grabbed the pole and started reeling it in.  What emerged was from a different world (perhaps from a Stephen King book).  It sent heebie-jeebies up and down my spine and made my toes tingle.  This thing, ‘er fish, was long and thin with the ugliest looking face I’ve ever seen, almost deathly looking.  It looked like a cross between a fish and an eel (fish head, eel body).  As Chris pulled it out of the water, both of us, in unison, yelled out “What is it???”  (Someone later told us it might be a Ribbon Fish).  Whatever it was, it was damn gross, ugly, and just downright scary.  I didn’t even want Chris to touch it … it had these spiky looking things and big ‘ol teeth.  Ugh.  Luckily Chris got the hook out easily and we returned the monster to the black ocean night.  We will never again leave out the rod overnight!

Day 23 (Friday, April 16th))

Today was a hard day for me because so many other boats have now made landfall, yet we still have two days at sea left.  Unfortunately we won’t be able to make it by Saturday night (before the dark), so we have to slow the boat down and are aiming for Sunday morning instead.  I feel like crying … I just want to be there, I want the boat to stop moving, I want other people around, I want land … I want, I want, I want. Come on girl, just two more days, hang in there!

Day 23 and 19 hours (Sunday, April 18th)

The first sight of land seemed wrong.  This huge black mass emerged from the sea like a gigantic monster ready to engulf Billabong and occupants.  It looked threatening, scary, and after so many days of nothingness, out of place.  We couldn’t stop looking at it, and our excitement was mounting. My God, we made it!  We are in the Marquesas; we have just crossed 2899 miles of ocean!  We’re here!  What’s it going to be like?  We sat in the lee of the Island for two hours, awaiting the sun so we could make our approach.  As the light emerged over the top of the mountains of Fatu Hiva, ridges and edges took shape, and dark greens appeared throughout the Island.  After weeks of reading about the beauty and wonder of the Marquesas, especially as one’s first landfall, I was disappointed, this is it?  But the sun continued to rise, and with it the somewhat dark and bland Island emerged into a wonderful paradise.  As we drew closer neither of us could contain our amazement, it was truly more than we could’ve expected or imagined, more than any words or pictures could accurately describe.  Fatu Hiva is the dream.  Hundreds of variations of greens appeared, crevices, crooks, mountains, hills, rock formations, banana trees popping up everywhere, and it seemed to only get better as we got closer.  As if that wasn’t enough, just inside the anchorage ten or so dolphins performed jumps and twists and played in our bow.

After anchoring, Emerald and Island Sonata welcomed us with fresh local fruit, we showered, and took in the sights around us.  We couldn’t get enough. We took a brief rest, and then kayaked to shore with Rick and Corby from Emerald.  Little kids helped us ashore in trade for a turn to play in our kayaks, which we gladly turned over.  Next we joined the village in watching a huge soccer (or Football) match that was taking place, the winner would go on to Tahiti to continue in the games.  (A neighboring Island boated in its team).  After the first game, and no longer able to sit in the sweltering heat, we hiked to the waterfall with Emerald and Island Sonata.  It was quite a hike, and we were continually amazed by the sites, it was truly everything I every associated with “Tropical Island”.  The waterfall shocked us with its size and beauty.  We expected cool, but not outstanding.  We swam in the cool pool beneath the waterfall and snacked on Pamplemouse (aka Pomelo) (a delicious local fruit, like a grapefruit without the tartness and bitterness, and a bit sweeter).  Hiking back, John (from Island Sonata) persuaded us to detour UP for further exploration.  And up.  And up.  And up.  Truly exhausted, half of us stopped in a shady spot, while the men ventured on, to the top-most point they could reach.  Could this Island be any more breath taking?  Chris got some wonderful [photo] shots, yet when we looked at them later, we knew that no photo or video could do this Island justice.  The problem with going up is you still have to come down!  At the bottom of the “trail”, just before the “real road” starts we took a break and swam in a fresh water stream.  By now our legs were in shock, after 23 days of nearly no use, this was quite the introduction back to land!  When I stood still, my legs quivered.

We were introduced to the Chief of the Island.  He showed us a magnificent bone carving he made from the tusks of a pig - such craftsmanship and detail.  He also plays on the soccer team, so we were able to learn that Fatu Hiva won the match (hooray).  I still find it a bit entertaining that the Chief's name is Marc ... not quite as authentic as I was expecting!!!  (We later learned that the Marquesian's typically take a Euro-Catholic first name and a native middle name ... unfortunately I'm not sure what his middle name is).

Finally we made our way back to Billabong, exhausted and near starving!  My only other wish for the day was an In-and-Out Burger!  At the waterfall I joked that it would’ve been perfect if there were a guy frying hamburgers at the base.  We settled for spaghetti instead and then drifted off into the best sleep of the month … knowing that tomorrow we could do paradise all over again!

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