Saturday, March 31, 2012

Life and Death - Day 11

Rani is outside now with the videocam trying to capture flights of flying fish. They erupt suddenly from both sides of the boat, perhaps frightened by our huge wallowing bulk. Like a flurry of silver darts they skim the waves, twisting around each swell, sometimes landing more than a hundred feet from their launch spot.

On deck this morning were 5 flying fish and one squid, ranging in size from an inch long to more than 9 inches. Before Rani was out of bed, I had cleaned and fried the 3 larger fish - firm white flesh - delicious and very fresh (sorry Rani!) The flying fish here at 10 degrees are more plentiful and larger than the ones I saw on the Hawaii trip.

We had dolphins around the boat last night, identifiable in the rough seas by their little gasps for air. I could just make out their light trails amidst the tumbling seas.

On this morning's radio net, Don on Buena Vista, currently about 150 miles north of us, reported catching 2 boobies on his fishing line. Sadly, the birds dive for the trailing lure and once hooked are soon drowned as they drag behind the boat. It took Don over an hour to retrieve the poor creatures. One of the other cruisers asked if Don had tried eating Booby. This was too good a set-up line to ignore, but I will not print Don's reply.

Karen and Mike on Chapter 2 caught a 10 pound Wahoo - large mackerel that can grow up to 7 feet long and 100 pounds. When Don asked them what type of lure they used, I broke in and told them that we had 'caught' 3 edible fish with our 34 foot red and white striped 'lure'.

Last night could have been our last one. At 8pm local time we spotted a flashing white light, which moved rapidly closer. I tried to track it on the radar, but it was lost amongst the wave scatter. It turned out to be a buoy of some sort - maybe a meteorological one - and if we had not quickly altered course, we would possibly have struck it, damaging or even sinking our boat - yikes. What the heck is a buoy doing out here 1000 miles from land? For anyone interested, the buoy was located at N 11 05.166 and W 123 01.862.

We have less than 400 miles to run to the point where we will turn south. We just brought Ladybug onto port tack so that we do not end up too far to the west. If this was to happen, we would have a hard time getting to the Marquesas against the prevailing SE trade winds.

Our position at 14:30 Zulu was N 10 30 W 123 59. We ran 141 nautical miles in the previous 24 hours with 130 of those made good toward our ITCZ turning point.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Repairs underway - Day 10

The 12-15 Knot NNE wind continued to push Ladybug due south at an average of 6.5 Knots, with occasional surfing speed of 9-10 Knots. The sky was dark and ominous with 100% cloud cover. The twisting and turning motion inside was nauseating, so I took half a tablet of dimenhydrinate (Gravol) with my morning glass of juice.

We had been pumping the bilge every 3 days and were shocked to find 3-4 gallons of water sloshing under the engine. That was a lot more than would be accounted for by the stuffing box being loose, so we set out to investigate. Chris was persuaded to take an anti-nauseant pill since he would have to crawl into the cockpit locker to look at the exhaust system to see if water was backing up through the muffler, as it had done in the boat's past history, and also check the rudder post. With the motion of the boat, it was not going to be fun.

We emptied the cockpit locker, storing all the gear ( anchor, chains, fenders etc. ) in the cockpit and cabin. Chris disappeared below with a flash light. He found the the rudder stuffing box to be loose and the most likely culprit. It was tightened up and when we checked the water level today ( day 11 ), there was a lot less in the bilge, so that's good news.

The sea state was miserable all day long, with 10 foot swells rolling in from the northwest and north. Earlier on, the boom had come crashing down on my head as we put in a 3rd reef in the main in winds up to 20 Knots. I nearly lost my temper as I attempted to cook rice pilaf while being tossed around in the galley. This motion brings out the worst in sailors.

We comforted ourselves by watching an afternoon matinee of "The Borgias". It was a popular series in England and I understood why. The period drama is all about greed, murder, sex and religious scandal - what's not to like?

In the evening we discovered another problem. The fridge was running continuously and draining the batteries. We had turned up the thermostat because after discovering a bit of mould in the open yogurt. But now the fridge had gone berserk and our solar cells would not be able to keep up to demand. We turned down the thermostat and ran the engine to check the muffler and recharge the batteries for the time being. At night we switched it off to defrost and the thermostat is still not working today, so we shall have to run the fridge manually daily. Although we lived without refrigeration for the last 3 years in Mexico, we were really looking forward to eating fresh foods a little longer on this voyage.

On the plus side, we achieved 143 nautical miles in the previous 24 hours, 134 of those in the right direction. Our position at 1430 Zulu was 11 45 N and 122 03 W. We also celebrated the 1000nm mark with a sip of Mexican brandy.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Correction to Position given in Day 8 post

We posted an old position - the correct position on the morning of Day 9 was N 15 06 W 119 06

Differences between this crossing and Hawaii in 2009 - Day 9

I have been thinking about how different this crossing is from the down-wind passage to Hawaii that I sailed a few years ago. The most notable difference is that there are two of us on the boat this time, versus one. Apart from the obvious social benefits, this allows us to keep proper watches and still get some sleep. It also makes sail changes much easier, with one of us on the foredeck and the other adjusting the sheets, traveller, and furler line from the cockpit. Finally, having Rani on board has made me more cautious, taking time to talk things through before dashing up on deck. While our relationship is not without friction, Rani has been an excellent first mate and cheerful companion to date.

Ladybug II was designed from inception to cross oceans and was re-fitted about 10 years ago with modern ocean crossing equipment. Our first Ladybug was a Cal-29, designed for weekend cruising and club racing. The things that we are really happy to have on the new boat are a reliable windvane (Ladybug had a light wheel pilot that was always on the edge of coping with big seas), small windows, a sea hood that covers the main hatch, and much higher freeboard, which combined with a small cockpit makes her much drier. We are also grateful for the radar and the SSB radio. The first allowed us to detect a ship last night before we saw her and to track the vessel to see if we were on a collision course. The second permits us to send and receive emails, get weather faxes and forecasts, and stay in touch with other cruisers who are making the same crossing. By comparison, I was sailing blind on Ladybug - with only a mediocre SSB receiver.

After 10 days out, I don't think I would want to do another long crossing on my own or without the benefits outlined above.

Our position at 14:30 Zulu was N 13 09 and W 120 15. We ran 139 miles in the previous 24 hours and have 670 miles to go to our ITCZ crossing point. We have had much cloud cover with drizzle in the distance. The seas are large and throw us around, making cooking and moving around difficult. Winds have been about 15 - 20 knots and we have been running wing and wing with 2 reefed main and poled out jib, partly furled. We have seen GPS speeds in excess of 10 knots due to the sharp high swells - quite a ride!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Flying Fish Territory - Day 8

Well folks, it is day 9 and we logged 129 nautical miles in the previous 24 hours up to 1430 Zulu this morning and 118 of those were made good towards our short range goal of N 5 degrees and W 128 degrees, roughly where we intend to make a turn to the equator. Our position was N 16 23 and W 117 34.

Since leaving Isla Clarion, Ladybug has been very frisky, rolling 20 to 30 degrees in mixed swells from the NW, N and NE. We try to fine tune our wing and wing sail trim to minimise the discomfort but it is not always successful as Chris found out this afternoon. His coffee cup jumped off the table, soaking the whole table and two rugs as well as splashing the upholstery on the settee and several books. On the plus side we are pointing our course and averaging 5.5 Knots in winds of 11-14 Knots from the NE. Last night we tried sleeping on cushions laid on the cabin sole ( salon floor, for non-sailors ) wedged in between the table and settee with additional cushions. However, we both feel sleep deprived and will try to start our watches early tonight.

This morning we found 3 flying fish, 2 of them about 8 inches long and the other a baby, plus one squid lying on the decks. Chris is planning to keep any future offerings of fish for a breakfast fry-up, like kippers on toast. During the day, it is quite a sight when these silvery blue fish take to the wing like tiny sea birds and navigate around the swells. Not sure if they are running from larger fish,like the dorado, who love the fliers for breakfast,lunch and dinner.

The temperature is noticeably warmer and there is more humidity in the air. Last night on my watch I did not have to wear a fleece on deck as I sat watching the dolphins darting like torpedoes around the boat, their trails blazing electric blue in the phosphorescence created by plankton. The black clouds which look so threatening at night had no rain in them, just looked evil, and I was a little afraid of looking up. Instead, I watched with fascination as great clouds of phosphorescence rolled away from Ladybug as she surfed down the 8-10 foot swells.

Our daily entertainment starts at 1600 Zulu with an informal chat on a radio net with our Pacific Puddle Jump buddies. We chat about everything, positions, progress, how to fix an errant hydro vane, how to fend off boobies perched on solar panels and spreaders, recipes for flying fish etc. etc. In the evening there is a more formal radio net when most of the boats in the Pacific Puddle Jump Group check in and the net controller records their GPS positions and weather. We take turns being net controller. As the earliest departed boats go past the equator, it is often difficult to hear their report, so we use a relay between boats to gather the information.

Most of our daylight hours are spent reading, cooking, eating, watching a movie or an episode of "Lost", and keeping a close eye on wear and tear around the boat. I also try to air the fresh produce to delay rot as we hope it will last for another 3 weeks at least. So far I have only thrown out one rotten tomato and circumcised 4-5 carrots as their tips were looking necrotic. Chris was looking a bit nervous...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Balancing Progress with Comfort and Sanity

We had a rough and rolling time last night with 10 foot northwest swells and a short evil chop from the north. Ladybug twisted and turned like a carnival ride, rolling through 30 to 40 degrees every few seconds. We stuffed towels and padding into the cupboards as crockery and jars began to jump and dance to the rhythm.

Such conditions drive us to try different sail combinations and boat headings. We began the night with the jib poled out behind the main on a broad reach. This was steadier but was taking us far to the west of our desired course. So we ran downwind toward our hypothetical turning point to cross the doldrums (at 5 deg N, 128 deg W). We moved the pole across to windward of the main - no mean feat on a pitching deck at night. Thankfully Rani can work the roller furler line and jib sheet while I work the various lines holding the pole. However, this change only resulted in worse rolling, with the main working against the jib, turning the boat off to starboard, followed by the wind vane turning it back again. Next, we struck the main altogether and tried running downwind with just the jib, but the winds lightened and the large opposing swells kept taking the wind out of the sail. This happens because the boat is rolled into and away from the wind with such force that the motion creates a new wind. The sails back and fill and crash around, which is both aggravating to the crew and bad for the integrity of stitching and cloth.

Ultimately, at 5 am, we returned to the steadier broad reach we had started with, taking the pole down altogether. Both of us were exhausted and irritable and harsh words flew back and forth on the foredeck as we struggled with our fourth sail change of the night. However by 5:30, Rani was back in the bunk while I dozed and occasionally looked out for shipping. We probably managed 2 or 3 hours of sleep at the most. Clearly we cannot continue this way for another 3 weeks. So - lesson learned - sacrifice progress for comfort on long passages, especially when there are only two people on board to share the watches. Tonight - unless things settle down, we will steady her off on a beam reach and get some much needed sleep.

Our position this morning at 14:30 Zulu was 16 23 N 117 24 W, with 126 miles run in the last 24 hours. Winds mainly NE 5-15 knots.

Correction - the whale that Rani mentioned in the last blog post was a sperm whale, not a fin.

Monday, March 26, 2012

All Creatures Great and Small

"Rani, there is a blue whale out here!Come and have a look!"

I was down below watching a freighter move across my radar screen. This one had confounded us by being so slow. We were sailing at less than 2 knots and had watched the ship's direction closely after an unrewarded hail on the VHF.

Barely containing my excitement, I hopped into the cockpit and was instantly rewarded by the sight of the largest whale we had ever seen up this close. Uncaring about what sort of signal we may be sending to the freighter, Chris changed Ladybug's course to greet the whale. I was worried about getting too close but the birthday boy wasn't listening!

As it neared, I grabbed my videocam to record the magic but, within seconds, the camera stopped working - it had run out of memory! Murphy winked as I shook my head in disbelief. A blue whale and I had no video footage?!!

The whale, with it's hippo-like head and short dorsal fin reminded me of the sperm whales we had seen up in the northern Sea of Cortez last year. But it was much larger than any we had ever seen, between 50-60 feet long. It passed within 150 feet of our beam. The wind was not co-operating for following it's track, so Chris turned on the motor. Bad move. The whale dived immediately. We turned off the engine and resumed our course to the south.

We later identified this magnificent creature as a fin, not a blue, from the forward angle of the water spout when it breathed.

Most of Saturday, we averaged 3.5-4 Knots in the light NW airs. After lunch we hoisted the staysail to give us a little more speed but the difference was miniscule, between 0.25-0.5 Knots.

At night, the wind filled in a bit more and we deliberately slowed down to avoid running into Isla Clarion in the dark.

We approached this remote Mexican island with the rising sun on Sunday, accompanied by dolphins and boobies. If this was a sign, we were going to have an amazing experience snorkeling and hiking. Or so we thought.

Blood red rocks, grassy looking ridges and steep striated cliffs with surf pounding below them looked forbidding and inviting at the same time.

As we rounded it's eastern tip into Sulphur Bay, fierce wind came rushing off the mountains and we had to turn off to reduce the weather helm.

The Mexican Navy ( Armada ) hailed us on channel 16 frantically while we were both on deck, Chris trying to control the helm and I video-taping the coast. When we finally heard the radio and answered their call, I started speaking into the wrong microphone and wondered why they could not hear me! They asked us to prepare for an inspection and I asked their advice on a safe anchoring position and depth in the bay. Honestly speaking I would have carried on if it had been my decision. The 8 foot swell breaking on the beach,the rusting remains of a wrecked ship, surf roaring in all directions and evil looking rocks to port and starboard did not make this an inviting anchorage. I was also concerned for the safety of the inspection team trying to launch their panga in these ferocious conditions and called on the VHF to advise we would carry on sailing if it would be best for all of us. But there was no answer. Looking through binoculars,it seemed as if all the crew were coming down the ramp to their launch.

My heart was palpitating as I steered towards the wreck, Ladybug rising and falling on the back of massive swells. Chris prepared to drop the anchor. We released 150 feet of 5/16" chain in a 42 foot depth and backed down till it set in the rocky bottom. I could not wait to leave!!

Seven men, some in army fatigues and a few in civilian clothes, all carrying M16's, came out to Ladybug after an exciting launch from their concrete ramp. Five came on board while two relaxed in the panga, occasionally fending it off from smashing into Ladybug. The man taking notes spoke good English and looked at our boat papers and passports. They asked us for an exit paper from our last port of call but we did not have any as we left from Los Frailes. They asked us if we had any diving gear or if we liked fishing but we did not, so there was no need for a permit. They asked us about fire extinguishers and life vests and were satisfied with our equipment. One guy came down below to verify this and also see the boat in general.

We offered everyone biscuits and a glass of Jamaica juice ( it's not rum, but juice from the hibiscus flower and a popular drink in Mexico - reduces cholesterol according to one of our guests ).

All in all it was a pleasant interaction. There are 12 men stationed here, usually staying on for several weeks, and a supply ship arrives every 20 days. Life is good as there is not much to do. The day before, a a sports fishing charter had arrived with 26 people on board, so that must have given them a little more work than us.

There was no safe place to land in our row boat, so we departed after a few hours of rolling in the swell and watching the men ride the surf back to their launch. All of them had to jump out into waist deep water to get the panga back safely and then everyone pulled it up the steep ramp using wooden rollers underneath.

I remarked to Chris " We at least deserve a whale sighting for all the effort we spent here ". And there it was - the sleek black back of a humpback less than 200 feet from Ladybug. Magic restored.

Other than these giants we saw lots of seabirds, Magnificent Frigate Birds, Red footed white morph and Brown Boobies, a Tropic Bird and two types of petrels - Leach's Storm Petrel and a small Wedge Rumped Storm Petrel. The sea is certainly rich in life here but we were glad to be sailing away...

At 1430 Zulu today, our position was 17 26 N 115 53 W. We had sailed 106 miles in the previous 24 hours despite stopping at Isla Clarion. Wind and swells have been mainly from the north and northeast, wind in the range of 8-10 Knots.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day 5 - Position Update

Rani will post a more detailed blog later...

This morning (Sunday March 25) at 1430 Zulu Ladybug was at 18 30 N 114 40 W, just north of Isla Clarion. Exactly 100 miles of progress in the last 24 hours with continuing light northerly winds.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sockdolager Blog

If you are interested in other boats out here with us, you should check out the blog of our friends Karen and Jim on Sockdolager - They are the smallest of the 'Puddle Jumpers' on a Dana 24 and are excellent bloggers. Karen is also a talented musician and song writer and, like me, Jim was a software developer in his real life.

Oddly enough, due to radio propagation, it is easier for us to download their blog via radio email (saildocs) than to talk to them to find out how things are going.

Cannibalism on Nuka Hiva

Great - as if light winds and running low on provisions is not enough to worry about, our friend Kurt off S/V Raven just sent us this information:

"I checked out Renova's blog today and they are out on the Marshals looking at WWII scrap metal. They mention a cruiser's rumor about a cannibal killing recently in Nuka Hiva, which has now been confirmed. A German sailor, age 40 has been positively identified from teeth remains in the fire pit - I kid you not. A local hunting guide is being sought in a big manhunt. Not a pretty picture. It will be all the news by the time you get there, but if he hasn't been caught I'd be very cautious about the whole thing as he will have nothing to lose."

I guess they must have been running low on Spam at the local store...

Birthday Musings - Day 4

I awoke late today. Rani ad let me sleep in until 5 am and I had 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep - bliss! It is my 47th birthday and this is one of the best presents you can get on a passage. The second present I received 45 minutes later when a light northwest wind began to fill in and I was able to turn Ladybug south toward Clarion Island, after a night of very light westerly progress. My third gift was a stunning sunrise, golden and framed by a line of ragged dark clouds under which we had sailed in the night. This is my 4th or 5th birthday celebrated on board, but the first while underway.

Our 4th day on passage was another quiet one - wind wise. We ran for much of the day like a cormorant with its wings spread to dry, broad reaching with the jib poled out opposite the main. In the afternoon the wind shifted and we took the pole down but continued to broad reach with the wind on our aft starboard quarter. Ladybug rolled around, even with the poled out jib to steady her, but life below was quite fine (as Hemingway might have said).

I finished "A Farewell to Arms" by Hemingway. I really enjoyed the book with its sparse narrative and unique style. We are now both listening to an audio book - a 'biography' of cancer titled the "Emperor of All Maladies" - powerful and well written/spoken. Audio books are a great way to wile away the night watches without keeping the off-watch crew awake with a light.

We also watched the final episode of season 1 of "The Six Million Dollar Man" on Rani's little 10" netbook. This is the first TV series I have re-watched from my childhood and I can easily recall how enthralled and uncritical I was as a child. The series now appears dated, the plots clumsy and contrived, but Steve Austin has plenty of charisma and there are pretty girls and evil men aplenty in most episodes. I suspect the writers borrowed this formula from James Bond and similar action/thriller movies. It is also interesting to note that several episodes touch on issues of feminism and women entering a male dominated world, with female astronauts and cowgirls.

Math and sailing - It was brought home to me yesterday how useful basic math is while out on passage. Apart from one obvious use in calculating your position using a sextant, basic math is needed to answer these questions - How far away can you see an approaching container ship whose lights are 70 feet above the sea? - Why is it that the wind indicator does not point into the 'true' wind and how can you determine from the wind indicator and your boat speed and course what the true wind is? Unfortunately my trigonometry and vector arithmetic skills are very rusty and Rani's are no better. The fact that I had trouble answering these questions also points out how much we have come to rely on the Internet as a reference. I would normally Google to look up a formula or locate a tutorial.

Nature-wise, we have seen a couple of brown boobies, one of whom tried to land on our mast yesterday. We also frequently see storm petrels flitting like swallows amongst the seas. These tireless little birds were also common on my passages to Hawaii and Canada on Ladybug I. The only sea life in the last day were dolphins, which swam alongside in the night, streaming trails of green phosphorescence. In the dark it is much easier to see how they move, with a steady pulsing left/right flicking of their tails at about 4 flicks a second. Quite lovely to watch.

Our position today (March 24) at 1430 Zulu was 19 36 N 113 26 W. We are running SW at about 4.5 knots in 5 knots of NW breeze. We hope to reach Isla Clarion tomorrow morning.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Day 3 - Becalmed - a Blessing in Disguise?

As frustrating as it can be, having no wind on a sailboat can be a good thing.

Yesterday - our third day out - saw very light airs for us and the other boats nearby that are also crossing to the Marquesas. We motored for two hours in the morning to steady the boat and look for wind, but gave up around mid-morning, figuring the swell was down enough that we could take down our sails and lie a-hull ('park the boat' - as our friends on Buena Vista put it). We swam in the indigo waters under cloudless skies, watching Ladybug roll alarmingly, even in the gentle northerly swell. It had been a week since our last proper shower in La Paz and rinsing off the grime of multiple night watches felt fantastic. Rani also took the vegetables out of their locker to allow them to air out - a daily chore now. I adjusted the propeller shaft stuffing box, which was leaking a little, and tightened some hose clamps on the muffler.

Despite the rolling boat, we decided to tackle a problem with Ladybug's structure. For the past two seasons, there has been a lot of noise - squeaks and the sound of wood flexing and rubbing against wood from the starboard center bulkhead area. The bulkhead here is what backs up the galley and the nav station, running across the boat. I finally traced the issue with a flashlight on the night watch because the sound was driving me nuts. After removing trim and panels from around the bulkhead, I found a fillet of epoxy that had cracked and no longer bonded the plywood bulkhead to the cabin sides. After chipping out the old epoxy, Rani helped me mix up some thickened epoxy and we injected this and worked it into the gap. It seems to have cured the noise from that area.

We sighted no shipping last night, but sailed through some heavy cloud and drizzle for much of the night, with a light north east wind on our beam. We actually sailed south east, 90 degrees off our desire course, in order to keep the sails filled and the boat moving. The radar alarm went off whenever a particularly thick shower came near us. The showers were too light to clean off our salty decks.

Our position this morning at 1430 Zulu (about 07:30 local time) was 19 56 N 112 02 W. We ran only 84 nautical miles in the last 24 hours, but the wind has picked up and we hope to reach or break 100 in the next 24 hours. At our current rate we will likely reach Clarion island sometime early Sunday morning.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Close Encounters of the Cargo Ship Kind

Here we are on our third morning at sea, having survived our second exciting night on the ocean blue. It is no coincidence in my mind that Chris and I had just read the chapter on "Preventing Collisions" in Earl Hinz's "Landafalls of Paradise" when we spied a large cargo ship about 8 miles to port. Hinz cites that we may think we are roaming unfettered on these vast oceans but there are hazards out here too and it is not surprising that boats are reported missing each year. We have to be aware of and cautious when crossing the shipping lanes of major trade routes. It so happened that we were in the direct path of ships coming from the Panama Canal to the Orient or heading north to the USA.

The sun had not yet set so I was pleased that we saw our nemesis or MV Antipolis in the daylight. We quickly switched on the radar and watched it's track. The fickle wind from the southwest was merely 3-4 knots and Ladybug was making little progress at 3.5K average while the mammoth motor vessel was cutting through the water at 20 Knots plus. Not having had a working radar over the last 3 years in Mexico, it is still a new gadget to us and we took out the manual to verify bearings and distances. We altered course to port, so it could pass in front of us at a safe distance.

The ship's angle did not seem to be changing and it was closing in on us fairly rapidly and I was growing anxious. Despite Hinz's note that not many ships monitor their radar or keep reliable watch when far from land, I was hopeful that they had seen us too. To allay my fear, despite Chris's advice, I called "oil tanker, oil tanker at position x, this is the sailing vessel Ladybug at position y " on VHF 16. After a second call and a long delay, I heard a heavily accented voice returning my hail. I asked if they had seen us on radar and he confirmed that they had picked us up at 10 miles and altered their course to port. I thanked them and found out they were heading for Los Angeles. He asked me about our destination and chuckled when I said "The Marquesas, eventually" and we ended on "Bon Voyage". As we looked at Antipolis back-lit by the setting sun, they blew their horn in adieu.

Phew!, I thought, we must have seen our fair share of shipping for this night. Not so. On my watch at 0250 local time, I saw a triangle of lights off our port beam. Through binoculars, I could see a red port light and maybe a green starboard light which meant he was coming straight for us. Our speed was only 3.5K and he seemed very close. On radar he was at 9 miles and a huge target. I did not hesitate in waking up Chris as the last ship only took about 20 minutes to get within a mile of us. We watched and tried to convince ourselves that the angle was changing but his relative bearing on the radar remained the same. I tried hailing on VHF 16 but there was no response. We had no idea if he had seen us on his radar. Should we alter our course or had he already made his move? When he was 2 miles away, we decided to take action. We rolled in the jib and turned on the motor to steer due south. After 10 minutes when we were 3 miles apart, we put up the sails again and watched his track as we headed on the same course but well ahead, no doubt to Japan or China.

So, all that made me wonder how many close calls did Chris have when he fell asleep every night on his solo passage to Hawaii and then Canada. I am glad I did not know of this at the time, otherwise I would have been a nervous wreck!

Our 24 hour position at 1400 Zulu (0730 local )today was North 21 deg 11 mins, West 111 deg 44 mins with 98 miles made good in the last 24 hours. During our second day at sea, the wind was light and variable from northwest to west. We had decent night sailing as it changed to 6-7 Knots from the west. This morning it's frustratingly light again. We tried to fly the spinnaker but the slow 6 foot nw swell prevented it from setting properly, so we are running the iron jenny (engine) for a few hours.

The Pacific Ocean seems justly named.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day 1 - Slow and Bouncy

Well - we have survived our first 24 hours at sea. Both of us are on board and still on speaking terms!

We left Los Frailes (pos 23 40 N 109 30 W) at 7:30 yesterday (March 20) with a very nice following breeze of 12-18 knots. We polled out the jib and for a few hours ran south in the company of Xe (pronounced Jay but with a soft 'J' almost like Che Guevera). This large aluminum French yacht has twin head sails set on roller furlers and twin poles to hold them out. She started after us but after a couple of hours was abeam moving at about 7 knts to our 5.5 to 6. The wind then died down and the seas began to lump up, running from opposite directions as we neared Cabo San Lucas and the open Pacific. Xe took down her sails and motored off into the hazy distance while we tightened in our sails and continued for a couple of hours at about 3 kts. We saw a full grown humpback whale spy hopping repeatedly and others swimming in the distance. Eventually the wind died down almost completely and we took down the sails and motored into a very rough and confused sea. The motor is running much more smoothly, so it looks like our re-alignment, while not perfect, has fixed the major vibration issue. Our 'new' autopilot, which we assembled from parts of an old broken ST 1000 and another unreliable ST 2000 donated by a friend, was able to handle the confused seas with no issues. It is really nice to have self steering now when the wind dies out (for the last 3 years we have had only wind vane self-steering).

Around supper time, the winds came up from the south west and were able to hoist full sail and beat south again. Position reports on the Pacific Puddle Jump radio net from boats further ahead of us mentioned higher westerly winds, and sure enough as the night wore on the wind began to clock around into the west and then the north west, where it remains now. The seas were very lumpy all night with the boat rolling every few seconds through 20 degrees or so.

We kept 3+ hour watches last night with Rani doing 10-1:20, I did 1:20 to 4:45 and Rani 4:45 to 6:45. Rani is now trying to catch up on lost sleep.

At 7:30 am (24 hours out) our position was 22 03 N 110 25 W (degrees and minutes - 60 minutes in a degree). You can read our previous blog entry for a way to plot our progress on paper if you are interested. We made ran 106 nautical miles in this period with an average speed of about 4.4 knots. We had 5 hours of decent winds over 10 knots, 5 of near calm, 8 of light (5 knots or less) winds, and 6 of slightly less light 6-8 knot winds. Swells have been between 4 and 6 feet.

Following our progress

In all our passage reports we will give lat/long in degrees and minutes. If you would like to follow our progress, you can do what we have done and mark of a sheet of regular blank paper as follows:

Using a ruler or one side of an envelope, draw a grid of lines at 2 cm intervals and starting from the first line left of the top right corner, moving left, label the vertical lines 95, 100, 105, and so on - these are meridians of longitude (West). Each line represented 5 degrees of 'westing'.

Starting at the first line below the top right corner and moving down, label the horizontal lines 25, 20, 15, 10, 5, 0, 5S, 10S, 15S, 20S where S means south of the equator. Now Put an X at a position just below and to the right of the intersection of 25 deg North and 110 deg west. This is our starting position. For reference, Cabo San Lucas at the bottom of the Baja peninsula can be marked about a third of the way down from 25 deg N and just to the left of 110 deg W. Next you can put a mark at our first possible destination - Clarion Island - just to the right of 115 W and just below 20 N. This is an interesting place where we hope to sea sharks, whales, and giant mantas. Finally you can mark our ultimate passage destination at Hiva Oa in the Marquesas at 10 deg South and 138 deg West near the bottom left corner of your paper.

I know that being a computer geek I should have set up some sort of online chart to show our progress, but this is more interactive and a good boy scout or girl guide project - Get your badge in ocean navigation.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

We're Off!

Rani tells me we should call this post "Night of Nerves". She had a restless night worrying about the trip - invisible coral reefs, long watches, food running out, sea-sickness, etc. On the positive side, she tells me that despite reading Typee, she did not worry about being eaten once we arrive :)

Yesterday we managed to take down the broken wind indicator, epoxy it back together and put it back up at the mast head despite a rolling anchorage. We were also successful (we think) in re-aligning the engine, which runs much more smoothly now. We rigged new preventer blocks for the main and a fore guy block and line to hold the whisker pole steady as we run downwind.

The wind was up all night but has settled down now around dawn. We are drinking mugs of steaming sweet chai and will leave in a few minutes, taking our departure from sunny Los Frailes at 23 deg 23 mins North, 109 deg 25 mins West.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spirits of Cerralvo Island

Unlike my better half, I am not normally a superstitious person, but...

We had spent a restful day yesterday in our little anchorage just north of the southeast tip of Cerralvo Island. I scrubbed the propeller and shaft, scraping off barnacles and other growth, hoping this would 'cure' the roughness and vibration we were experiencing at certain RPMs. Rani preserved ginger in alcohol and made a hot lime pickle for the voyage.

We went ashore in the early afternoon and walked the mile of sand beach in both directions. At the south end of the beach we climbed up onto the rocks - uplifted seabed full of fossil shells and corals. There are two light towers at the point - one abandoned to an osprey nest and the other functional. There is also a memorial with a cross and a heart made of stones. Near the osprey's nest we found some worked stone fragments including what could possibly be a quartz arrow head. Magpie Rani added the quartz to her pocketful of shells.

We returned to the boat and after supper an osprey tried to land on the wind indicator at the top of our mast. I stepped into the cockpit just as something fell rapidly in front of me causing me to jump back and curse. Rani thought I had knocked over her racks of drying ginger, but what had happened was that the osprey had broken off the wind indicator vane, which fell into the cockpit, its arrow head breaking off. Later I was able to repair the vane, but restoring it to the top of the mast and replacing the starboard 45 degree indicator, which was also lost, will have to wait for a calm anchorage.

This morning, the wind came up to an unforecasted 25 knots and we awoke around 6 am to a big chop rolling into the anchorage. We started up the engine, but the noise I had thought would go away with cleaning was still there - possibly indicating engine misalignment. As we beat out of the anchorage, the dinghy slipped in its lashings, gouging the hand rails. I lashed it back down. It seems that our luck has left us. Perhaps we offended the spirit of the person who made the quartz arrow head?

And the arrow head? - it rests in the shallow waters off the point where Rani threw it, with a plea to any offended spirits, as we departed.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A rest stop at Cerralvo Island

We finally left La Paz yesterday around 4:30 pm after filling the tanks and spare cans with diesel and water. We dropped the hook in Lobos in the dark after a somewhat tricky entry, dodging fish farm pens near the mouth of the bay. Our final evening amongst society was spent with John from 'Time Piece' and Tom and Jeannie from 'Eagle' playing the dice game, 'Farkle' and chatting. We both won a round of Farkle - a good omen perhaps?

We departed around 8 am this morning under sail with light winds. Tom sounded a horn from Eagle, waking up the bay, and we were off. We made it through the San Lorenzo channel until the wind died completely and a sickening NE swell made motoring the best option. Later, a south east wind came up and we managed to sail for an hour or so in the Cerralvo channel. After much discussion, we opted to anchor off a small sand spit at the south west corner of the island. Tonight we hope to get a good night's sleep and tomorrow will do various tasks that are harder to do underway, such as cleaning the bottom, the propeller, and shaft, and making rotis and curries for the passage.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Last Post - before we leave for the Marquesas

Well it finally feels like we are leaving. Ladybug is heavily loaded - the waterline barely showing - the salon filled with fruit in hammocks and fresh vegetables bulging from the quarter berth locker. We made three shopping runs yesterday to the market and to two grocery stores. We still need to buy our eggs (9 dozen) and another dozen grapefruit today.

As I post this last picture blog from Mexico, Rani is getting ready to take her last shower and skype with her family. She is feeling quite emotional about leaving and the long crossing ahead. We will both miss Mexico, but are excited about seeing new lands (we have been cruising in Mexico since 2008 - hard to believe it has been more than three years).

We will update the blog during our passage as long as we can access HAM land stations from our radio. Should something go wrong with the electronics - radio, tuner, modem, or batteries - we may not be able to update the blog until we reach Polynesia. Our target arrival date is April 20 as we plan to visit a few more places in Mexico including Isla Clarion (about 300 miles southwest of Cabo) en route. The passage is about 2800 miles and we hope to average better than 100 miles a day. If we experience many calms or contrary winds we may be late by a week or two...

Chris and Rani photographing a heron colony. Thanks to Tom of S/V Eagle for this excellent picture.

Jim and Karen leave La Paz for the Marquesas on 'Sockdolager'. The little Dana 24  is showing no waterline, she is so loaded with provisions. You can follow their blog here

A 'Safety Meeting' at Marina Palmira.

Mary Lee provides the entertainment - she is a fantastic Jazz singer and pianist.

Chris joined Mary Lee for a few numbers with his uke and recorder. 

Chris cleans the bottom - note the new lycra hoody made locally.

Chris admires the new autopilot cover - made by Rani.

Enjoying a last quiet anchorage before the final provisioning run.

Rani at coral viewing height - the ratlines were described in a previous post.

Climbing the new rat lines.

John Spicher takes us for a sail on Time Piece - another Coast 34.

Captain Spicher at the helm.

Rani tries to find a place for everything after our last major day of provisioning. She cut her hair short to make it easier to look after on the passage.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Safety Preparations and More Boat Projects

Ladybug is currently anchored in a small cove just north of La Paz. We had our friend off 'Time Piece', John, over the other day to share his wisdom on safety at sea and how we should prepare for the crossing in this department. John has degrees and decades of experience in this area, working in military and commercial marine safety. We discussed what items to put in our ditch bag (in case we have to abandon ship), how to deploy the life raft, how to use fire extinquishers effectively.

Here are a few tips he gave us:

- Towing a line behind the boat. Don't bother - if your boat is traveling at more than a coupl of knots, it will be impossible to hold onto a trailing line, even if knotted.
- Completely empty your extinguisher when fighting a fire at sea - even though the foam can ruin your interior and electronics, this is preferable to a burning boat.
- Bring shoes into the life raft in case you end up drifting onto an island where coral could lacerate your feet.

With John's input We also rigged a webbing jack line that will allow us to move easily fore and aft, with our safety tether running along this line. We also rigged a web strap borrowed from our camera bag for the galley, so that the chef is secured opposite the stove in case of rolling. Finally, John came up with a good simple idea for securing one of our closet doors that has a tendency to swing open when at sea - we lashed a small line from inside the closet, through the thumb hole catch, and seized a loop in the end which just fits over the monkey's fist pull handle. This prevents the door from opening more than a few inches if the light plastic catch pops open at sea.

Rani has been a stern task-master the last few days and in addition to daily pot-lucks on 'Time Piece' and 'Eagle', plus a bit of swimming and hiking, we have carried out a number of projects. We have sewn cushion covers for two square cushions using left-over 4" upholstery foam. These will be used as comfortable cockpit cushions. Rani has fashioned some fruit/veggie hammocks from netting given to us by our friends Karen and Jim on 'Socdologer'.

The latest project is the addition of rat lines that will allow us to climb up the shrouds, pirate ship style, in order to scout or coral heads. Normally these lines are made by splicing and seizing 3 strand line between the two lower shrouds, on one or both sides of the boat, much like the rungs on a rope ladder. In addition, one needs to 'serve' the shrouds where each step will be tied, by lashing small twine around and around the shroud. This is required to prevent slippage because the steel shrouds are thin and slippery. We are trying out a simpler system that uses a knotted line, looped over the spreaders (and protected by fire hose where it loops to protect from chafing). This line serves as the two sides of the ladder and all we need to do for the rungs is to tie lines across and around the knotted side lines and the shrouds - one line for each knot. This method does create more windage, but requires no seizing or splicing, and can be easily removed or adjusted. Pictures to follow when we are back in port.

Friday, March 2, 2012

More Boat Projects and Provisioning

A few more pictures from recent provisioning and boat projects. Both activities are going well and we are on schedule to depart in a few days. However, we have just realized that if we get to French Polynesia too early, we will not be there for Bastille Day (July 14) due to Chris only having a 90 day visa (Rani has EU citizenship and no restrictions on her stay). So we now plan to leave La Paz around March 15, stopping en route a few times so as to arrive in Polynesia on April 20 or so.

Two carts loaded with groceries - about $600 worth. One of the Mega grocery store employees drove us across town in his own car with this load because it would not fit in a taxi!

We are using some of the bilge to store wine and other liquids. We found some excellent Spanish Rioja for about $6 a bottle at the Mega.

Sorting things out in the cockpit. The bottles Chris is holding are Jamaica concentrate and each of these will make about 6 liters of refreshing hibiscus flower juice.

For provisioning, we will carry enough non-perishable goods to last us until New Zealand (6 months away!)  This is a serious amount of food and we have already made 2 substantial trips ($1000 total) and a few lighter ones. We still have one more heavy one for all the perishable items and a couple of lighter runs for miscellaneous. We have made a provision plan for the boat and tried to allocate entire lockers to specific food types (e.g., dry goods such as flours, oats, granolas, rice, tea, coffee, and noodles go under the starboard V berth locker, long term can storage in the port V-berth locker). So far we have found a place for everything, but marvel at our neighbors on a 24 foot Pacific Sea Craft Dana who have stowed similar stores neatly in their much smaller boat.

Chris is spray painting our slightly rusty chain with enamel. He will mark every 25 feet with orange bands to help us when anchoring.

The solar panels were zip tied to the lifelines (pretty tenuous) but are now attached via u-bolts and aluminum cross pieces to 1 inch dowels that are in turn lashed to the stanchions and the pushpit rail.

Completed autopilot cantilever bracket

Slip covers are finished for the settee. We still need to make covers for the dinette. The cushions are more blue than the purple shown in this picture.