1645, Friday 19 April
We weighed anchor at Isabela Island, Galapagos and headed out to sea to sail over 3000 nautical miles across the South Pacific.
Our destination was some of the most remote inhabited islands on earth – the Marquesas.
But … on the morning of our departure I sent a panic photo of my swollen foot to my GP niece, Lucy.
The message came back …
“It looks like a parasite infection … possibly some sort of worm. Have you got any ivermectin?”
Ah – no.
And so it was, with no time to get any other meds, it appeared we were now a crew of three …. Paul, myself and a worm stowaway we named ‘Perry’ (the parasite.)
This was our longest passage and likely to be the second longest of the entire circumnavigation.
To be so far away from land, for so long, and to be completely independent, suddenly felt a brave and mad thing to do on a small 36’ yacht.
At the half way point we were a very long way from civilisation. 1500 nautical miles away from Galapagos to the east; 1600 nautical miles away from Mexico to the north east; 1600 nautical miles away from Easter and Pitcairn Islands in the south and 3000 nautical miles away from Hawaii in the north west.
We saw only three distant cargo ships the entire passage.
We experienced heavy squalls and swell; waves crashing against the hull; burning sun; clouds of every shape and colour; the Milky Way and a full moon cycle.
It took us a few days to pick up the south east trade winds, but once we did we simply set the sails, set up the wind vane on a direct rhumb line to the Marquesas Archipelago and let Baggy and Mowgli (the wind vane) do what they both do best – sail the boat.
We averaged 135 nautical miles a day at an average speed of 5.6 knots.
The wind was mostly behind the beam, so we set the main sail and poled out the genoa.
A few reefs went in and out, the genoa was tweaked and we gybed a couple of times to maintain the correct course with fluctuating wind. But overall, we really didn’t have a lot to do.
The bad squalls brought torrential rain and the true wind peaked at 30 knots and this called for hand steering on deck, securing flying objects and mopping up leaks down below.
The sea became confused with four metre swells and choppy waves which would viscously slap the side of the boat and send us careering over, soaking the deck and whoever was stood in the galley at the wrong time.
It was impossible to sleep when the sea state was like this and we suffered a few bad nights and days when there was little else you could do other than hold on, keep safe, try to eat and get through it.
But the rewards were EXTRA ordinary.
We were joined by a pod of around 30 pilot whales who stayed with us for a whole morning. We heard them before we saw them … loud sonar calls resonated through the hull into the saloon as if they were calling to us.
‘Babs’ a red-footed booby (Beryl’s mate from our Panama to Galapagos crossing) took up residence on the solar panel for a night. She left a terrible mess!
And one of our daily ‘household’ chores was to clear the deck of flying fish and squid. Those ink stains get everywhere!
Every night we sailed under the misty glittery dome of the Milky Way that draped itself over us like a big velvet blanket of sparkles.
And – wow – the clouds. Pure white angelic balls; pink, purple, all shades of blue and orange – painted with rainbows, scattering sun rays. And big bad gun metal bovver-boy rain clouds armed with gallons of tropical rain! Every day the vast sky was dramatic and different and stunningly beautiful.
I loved everything about this passage.
A Typical Baggy Day
No two days were the same, but we did settle into a rhythm of life and it went a bit like this.
7am – I would get up after 3.5 hours ‘sleep’ to take over from Paul, who had been on watch since 3.30am. We’d have a chat about the weather and sometimes make sail adjustments. Paul would have breakfast (cereal and fried egg wrap was a fav choice till the eggs ran out) and then go to bed.
8am – 11am I’d have the morning to myself and would:
– check on ‘Perry’ and give it its first antibiotic feed (though this stopped half way across as it seemed to be thriving on it)
– have a green tea on deck and meditate for half an hour
– have breakfast (usually oats soaked in almond milk with fruit and seeds)
– inspect all the fruit and veg to see what needs eating and turn all the eggs (it helps to keep them fresh)
– top up ready use water bottles in the fridge, turn the fridge on as soon as enough sun was hitting the solar panel
– plug into the ipod and work out for about an hour on deck
– read or get on with a job
11.30am – Paul wakes up. We have a cup of tea together and assess the days sailing conditions and then he goes on ‘chafe patrol’ inspecting all the rigging, lines, and clearing the decks of stranded sea creatures!
12pm – midday log and announcement of mileage over the last 24 hour run.
We decide what we’re going to have for lunch and dinner. The fishing line might be put over the side – if we decide it’s a fish day.
We caught three Mahi Mahi using a small hand line during the passage. And this means a commitment to fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
We both have ‘to do’ lists of fixing, mending, making, clearing out, cleaning, practising, learning etc.
1300 – lunch time, I have a nap and Paul reads or does jobs
1400 – flute practise, scrabble tournament, jobs and Paul has a nap
1700 – salt water bucket washes on deck, with a fresh water rinse
1800 – log time, soft drink sundowners and popcorn on deck
1900 – dinner … we take it in turns
2000 – card games, more reading, music, crosswords, writing, chatting and Paul has a power nap
2100 – I go to bed. Paul starts night watch; he either reads, listens to podcasts or watches DVDs. His re-watch of all the Rocky films was a particular highlight.
0000 – log time. I get up and take over night watch and either read, listen to podcasts or star gaze on deck
0330 – Paul gets up and takes over night watch
0600 – log time.
0700 – REPEAT x 22
Did you see anything?
A booby and flying fish
Have you had enough to drink?
My wee’s fine (dehydration was a key concern)
What needs eating up?
The cheese smells/the bananas still aren’t ripe/what goes with cabbage/we could put a tin of tuna in it/I fancy potatoes/I had another bad egg/there’s something in the bottom of the fridge/todays tomato is fine, just cut the bad bit off
How’s it been?
The winds up/the winds gone/there are dark clouds/we’ve had dolphins/it rained
How’s your foot/finger/bruise/spot/head?
Don’t pick it/ don’t scratch it/put antiseptic on it/drink more water/it looks better/eughhhh
In other news:
Perry the parasite: firstly, a brief explanation! My foot was bitten by something in Bonaire, Dutch Antilles back in January. It was itchy as hell, turned nasty and I treated it with various antihistamine and antibiotic creams. But – it grew and morphed with each passing day. It seemed to thrive on the antibiotic cream I fed it, but didn’t like the sun. By the end of the passage I had a 6cm long red worm shape and circles across the top of my foot!!!!!!!
Strange phenomenon: Some 400 nautical miles away from land the air would suddenly smell intensely of fresh warm laundry, perfumed cut flowers, pine needles or herbs … and then it would go as soon as it came.
We both heard voices. Distinct but distant conversation from somewhere else on the boat like ghost voices. And we twice experience a high pitched tone in our ears – a single note that lasted 10 seconds then suddenly stop. Submarine? Whale?
Landmark moment: We crossed the 10000 nautical milestone mark since leaving Gosport
Foodie fiascos: We found crawly critters in the rice (again) so had to chuck it all over the side.
We had a lot of bad eggs – around 10 out of the 24 we’d bought. We think they must have been refrigerated at some point. And we failed to master making yoghurt in a flask with powdered milk and dried culture. Any tips?
Foodie fabs: We’ve mastered storage techniques for tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, cabbages and limes. AND our fresh stores lasted the passage – apart from the eggs.
We made spice cake (amazing with apple sauce), muffscones (amazing warm with jam); coconut macaroons and chocolate sticky no bake oat thingys!
Boat stuff: Baggy was a complete star. A shackle snapped on the kicker and the furling line got caught in the drum. Both fixed on the spot.
Jobs: We made mosquito meshes to fit all the windows and hatches
Repaired two pairs of broken flip flops
Repaired various household and clothing items
Did a lot of life and trip planning
The Marquesas Archipelago is mostly high volcanic mountains. Our first ‘land ho’ was a giant rock called Fatu Huku, but another night passed before the early dawn sighting of cloud cushions on the horizon. A very welcome sight after such a long passage.
As we neared the waypoint we were able to estimate our arrival time. We didn’t want to sail into an unknown harbour and anchor next to other yachts in the pitch dark. We had an option to slow down or mooch but we couldn’t speed up. Luckily the timing was perfect and we arrived as dawn broke.
Out of the grey misty morning gloom a land of giants emerged – rugged, ethereal, and veiled in a sweeping rain cloud. We were approaching Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva, the largest of the islands – in the early dawn of 0530.
And we were magically greeted by a double rainbow and brief two dolphin escort.
We’d arrived on a Sunday – after a 3059 nautical mile epic journey – and everything was closed. But to be honest all we wanted to do was sleep … and Paul celebrated with a beer breakfast.
French Polynesia is the central hub of the South Pacific. It comprises 118 islands, across five archipelagos, over five million square kilometres. Each island is different but linked by the ma’ohi culture.
We have a 90 day visa for touring the area. One month of that will be spent sailing between the different archipelagos and islands … which means being selective about where we choose to visit to make the most of the short time we have.
After the Marquesas we will visit the Tuamotos Archipelago and then the Society Islands, before leaving French Polynesia and heading to the Cook Islands – enroute to New Zealand.
You can track our progress around the islands on Yellow Brick … and I’ll keep you posted on Perry’s progress. A visit to the hospital is imminent.