Monday, November 28, 2016

Our Longest Passage: The Galapagos to Easter Island

Tuesday, November 15th 

Yesterday we weighed anchor and sailed out of Puerto Ayora. It´s amazing to fall so in love with a place, and just as quickly decide to get out of there. We are determined to make haste and have begun to speak in numbers. 1945 miles from Galapagos to Easter Island. 1231 miles left. 15-18 days overall, depending on our average speed.  Max came to bed and whispered, We did 136 mile VMG (velocity made good) in the last 24hrs. What was our overall? I ask. I don't know, he says, but I didn't touch the tiller my whole watch. Me either, I say. If we are lucky, it will take us eleven more days to end up 2000 miles from anywhere. How had the Polynesians ever found this place? 

A port tack convinced us to abandon the v-berth and move into the main salon where gravity holds us in a space too narrow to at anchor. Everything else is uphill or insufficiently padded. Better to sleep like two sardines than suffer sagging lee clothes or boards in your back. This passage has been so serene we have taken to being below deck together for longer
periods of time, even dozing off for fifteen minutes as we switch watches. The boat just goes ever since we hit the steady South Easterly trades. There are no shipping lanes to cross and this wind should hold for days. Still, I am nervous. This time we are really venturing far out into the Pacific. That being said, I can't deny the obvious facts. The sky is partly cloudy everyday, it hasn't rained at all, and the temperature has cooled to that of May in New York. Could it be this easy?

There were times in New York when I would say things like, the passage from The Galapagos to Easter Island scares me, but by that time we will have sailed over 5000 miles. We will be different sailors by then. I bring up this memory at cocktail hour. Remember when I said that? Do you feel like a different sailor? We decide that in fact, we are different, but certain things are remarkably the same. I still wake up with a certain amount of anxiety and have to immediately find Max. Even his shadow will do. I am relieved when I see him go from fast asleep to calling my name, and know he shares that anxiety. I still look at the waves and imagine myself falling in and being swept away, but by now I realize that's not too likely and,

to a large degree, up to me. Max and I are only awake, together, and talking during meals and at cocktail hour when we discuss the looming feelngs and questions that have been developing in our minds throughout our separate watches. We talk about what worries us, what we have noticed about ourselves or the boat, and what we miss or look forward to. As sailors, we have begun to feel what the boat feels. We know its textures, its leaks, its splinters and sharp corners. We know how to keep the water in the kettle and the kettle on the stove. We know how to wedge our bodies into place to cut a clove of garlic without losing it. We have installed, inspected, and run our hands over every piece of harware, line, bungee, and know when they are under strain. We try to be a little paranoid. To notice. Sometimes we notice things a little too late.

Early in this trip we noticed two things: a crack in the tiller and three screws missing from the base of the roller furler. we discussed each in turn. Had the tiller always been cracked? Could we have not noticed that? We each traced our memories back to those early days in the woodshop. I could feel the sandpaper between my hand and the wood. No, I say, it was perfect. But Max remembered the sandpaper too, and could recall a small crack, something that the paper tripped over, toward the base. Regardless, what would we do if it broke? We discussed what would be necesary to fit the spare tiller, a long alluminum bar, into the space where the current tiller is. We would have to drill holes for the blocks that hold the self-steering system, the little nipple that holds the electronic autopilot, and then how to fit it tightly into the space in the back so that there would be no play would be an issue. We decided to put dots at the ends of the crack with a Sharpie, continue to mull it over, and see if the crack was existing or developing.

As for the furler, three screws of a certain thread and metric had wiggled themselves free reminding us that every screw, bolt, nut, inch of adhesive, cable, pulley, cleat, is under constant strain. They are all wiggling free, chafing, deteriorating in the sun, etc. Everything has a life expectancy, everything is breaking, all things fall apart, and it's our job to see it happening. Even today, a thin line was touching the top of the tiller, and as the boat drove itself by making small adjustments to port or to starboard, the line rubbed gently on the varnished wood. After a day of this, six layers of varnish are gone and the edge of a piece of bronze hardware was polished to a bright gold finish. Our problem with the screws on the furler system is that we have no more of that type, which is impressive considering the bulk of our hardware box, and didn't want to risk damaging the threading by using a different type of screw. Thankfully, Max had found one of the three in the scupper days earlier, and not knowing where it had come from, put it aside. So, one screw holds the furler in place. A wrap of Gorilla tape provides resistance. We furl gently and hope for a hardware store in Easter Island. 

Thursday, November 17

Going above deck this morning I am in awe of what has become normal. Our boat charges, rushes, plunges through the dark. The waves are just discernable, but I don't need to see them. I can tell that they are short and steep, heavily textured by the wind. I can sense that they are building and stick my hand outside the dodger to feel the cold sting of rain. The
 leeward rail dips deeply and clear, cold ocean runs back into the cockpit scrambling the sheets and flooding the cockpit floor. This is my cue to reef the Genoa and I go below to put on foulies.  

Full moon night photography

We are passing through endless squalls. Stripes of gray that reach down to the horizon. Evenly colored, thick as flannel, and smudged where they meet the water. We are constantly reefing in expectation of the weather and then shaking reefs once it passes. Between squalls the wind dies completely and the climate seems to be reeling from the storm. We dropped all the sails and motor. Another squall comes and we hoist enough sail to get through it. This is
the type of sailing that we find most challenging. Constant sail changes can exhaust even the most patient sailor. By the end of a six hour watch, I have reefed and shaken reefs, furled and unfurled, motored. I am wet and my hands are aching, lines of blood blisters have formed on the inside of my fingers. I go below to wake Max and say, It is with great pleasure that I hand over the sailing of Tortuga to you this morning Captain.

Friday, November 18

From Nuqui, Colombia to Puerto Ayora, Galapagos we almost caught one Tuna, so small we didn't even bother to get the gaff or a net. He threw the hook between the water and the cockpit, and we were relived because he was too small. Since The Galapagos, we have caught one shark, one coil of green line, a cluster of cassette tape plastic, and one half of a Tuna. The shark bit soon after we left Puerto Ayora- a last reminder of the abundance of life in those magical islands. We didn't want the shark of course, but thought we might be able to get the lure back, which would be mutually beneficial. Max reeled him in slowly and when he came alongside the boat I could see that he was a white tip shark, about five feet long. He swam steadily just below the surface and seemed unconcerned by what was happening. Terrific to watch, we tried to get him as close as possible before cutting the line. We hoped to leave as little as possible with him. We did our best.

A white-tipped shark on the line
Today we caught half of a Tuna. Max had been complaining all day about how many bites we had that didn't turn into fish, about catching sharks or bunches of plastic. He kept saying, I just want to catch one fish before Easter Island. When the reel went off, he wasn't taking any chances. We could tell it was a big fish and Max reeled in slowly, letting it run a few times. When it got close, Max took the pole out of it's metal sleeve and walked it forward. He sat down and kept reeling while I got ready with the gaff. We saw the dark blue back of a Tuna cut the surface of the water a few yards behind the boat. Then the fish dove and Max's shoulders and arms were shaking with the effort. He kept saying that it felt really strange. The struggle stopped and the fish came to the surface, apparetnly dead. I reached down with the gaff and noticed that something was very odd. Half of the fish was missing. After a second I yelled, Max, Half of the fish is missing! As I yelled that I saw a large shadow just beyond the Tuna and the brilliant,

unmistakable stripes of a TIger Shark. He had obviously helped himself to half our catch and was hungry for more. Gaff it!! Max was yelling while I was fixated on the vibrant shark moving himself towards me in that muscle bound way they swim. I pulled the half Tuna into the cockpit and Max and I collapsed laughing. The shark did us a favor actually. Even just the head is too much meat for us to eat, and it is so much easier to pull in a dead fish that has already bled out. No violent fish blugeoning in the cockpit with hard to clean blood spraying all over the place. Whenever a fish is caught, it means an hour of work for each of us. Tuna blood stains incredibly. We made delicious steaks for dinner and there is a lot left. 

Sunday November 20

I have been seeing the most amazing things. Last night I learned what the sky is capable of doing. The sun set in an almost cloudless sky. The where the horizon is hunting season orange and then above the first stars and planets are as bright as LED lights in a deep lavender
atmosphere. Max and I watched the sunset together on the cabin top while discussing the passage so far. Just as the sun sank I reminded him of the green flash, a phenomenom of light that appears just after the sun disappears and can only be seen by the dedicated and patient sky gazer. Max is a non-believer, so I covered his eyes and told him I would oncover them at precisely the right moment. Wait for it, wait for it, and Now! I yelled uncovering hs eyes. Just then a crown of neon green light shot up from the horizon. Did you see it? That was amzing! But Max hadn't seen it.

After dinner I had the first watch, 8pm to 2am. I dressed in my foulies, made a pot of coffee, and went above deck to watch the sky. On such a clear evening I could welcome each star to the sky and watch its constellation form, trying to remember the names and stories. With a six hour watch, there is time for this. Venus was brighter than I had ever seen. Such a diamond of sharp light I kept mistaking it for another ship very close to us. Orion appeared close to the horizon and I could see the face of Taurus rising. The scene of the great hunt I consider every evening. The sails were trimmed to a broad reach, seas were calm, and the boat was easily making 6-7 knots without my help. I pulled a blanket over my legs and got lost in a daydream. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a bright green light and jumped up, thinking that I had missed the approach of a ship and that its starboard light was incredibly close. I stared into the night trying to decipher the even darker shape of the ship that must be there. But there was only the green light going quickly passed and my heart beating at the thought of who could be out here with us, and so close. When I was sure that the light was passed I relaxed a little, but then saw another coming. Another neon orb floating quickly across the water, the size of a basketball. I woke up Max for this one and we watched it together, and then another, and another. I guess there are glowing orbs in the South Pacific. Who knew? We stayed awake together for a while looking at the exceptional sky. The stars on the horizon were flashing red, blue, white. Venus, before deisappearing in its rotation was also flashing bold colors at the horizon. Max went to sleep and I spent the rest of the watch enveloped in my senses. Clouds covered the stars and vision was traded for sound. Beyond the leeward rail and the working and non-working lines, I could hear the rushing and collapsing sea. A pulley to my right clicked line in and out and the wind generator rushed and slowed with the changing wind.

It took 14 and a half days for us to reach Easter Island. When we left The Galapagos my neck was in a brace due to a pulled muscle, leaving Max with the burden of any heavy lifting. We kept pace the entire passage, motoring when necessary, and making incescant sail changes to keep up our speed. The South East trades treated us well and we sped over a large section of ocean while playing cards below deck, or reading for hours in the cockpit. There were a few days of hard work, squalls, and fickle wind. Overall, it was easy. It was easier by far than NY to Bermuda or Guadeloupe to Colombia. There were no big seas and no storms. Mostly the sky kept changing back to partial sun, fluffy cumulus clouds, and spring like weather. 

We passed Thanksgiving underway and managed to make potatoes, stuffing, and even gravy with canned Rouladen (pickles rolled in venison). We missed our families intensely and talked for hours about how much we love that holiday and why. We discussed each
recipe of our mothers in great detail. We carefully described the Christmas traditions of our families and what is eaten when. I began to realize that the holidays aboard the boat by ourselves are going to be tough.

Max and I are closer than we have ever been, though romance has given way to something more practical. We show our love through splinter removals, rash inspections, and small gestures that are so meaningful at sea. A pot of coffee for your watch. New sheets on the bed. A swept main cabin floor or cleaned head. I think Max's journal entries from the passage sum it up beautifully...


Night is settling in as an improvised boat dinner fades into memory.  The smell of coffee fills the cabin along with warm yellow light. Sam Cook plays in the background.  I put on my sweater, waterproof pants, and jacket.  I feel completely relaxed as if I have lived this momemnt a million times before.  There is no rush to go outside.  The wind is still blowing and the boat is on course as assured by her heel and movement.  She has found her groove in the south east trades. She keeps running and running pushing water out of the way like she never has before.  It´s as if she is chasing something.  Something tickling the dried up tuna tail tied to her bowsprit maybe. The woman of my dreams dreams in the forpeak leaving me with the main salon, cockpit and deck to myself.  My somatch tingles with anticipation as it does in a child retreating to a secret hiding place.  Anticipation for the place itself, for its potential, for the memory of this moment.  The perfect night in the South Pacific, a place I have always dreamed of exploring.  It seems I have it all to myself with the only company I will ever need sleeping quietly in the forepeak. 

I hate this picture, but Max loves it. I had to wear this neck brace for our fist week out from The Galapagos.

Night watch letter writing

Max sewing a new waterproof bag for his clothes

Finished War and Peace!

First sight of Easter Island