Monday, April 23, 2012

Nearing Land

> With just 100 miles to go to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas, we are facing
> another challenge...slowing "Blue Rodeo" down so as to make landfall
> during the daylight hours.  Entering a poorly lit and unfamiliar port at
> night is never a wise idea so we will be dragging our feet today and
> tonight so as to arrive at first light tomorrow, April, 24.  We are both
> anxious to be there, partially due to our excitement of seeing the
> beautiful scenery, smelling the exotic tropical fragrances and being able
> to go ashore for a leg-stretching walk and partially due to our desire to
> put an end to the constant, uncomfortable motion that we've been
> experiencing for many days.  We have little to complain about regarding
> this passage except that the sea conditions have remained unsettled with
> swells from several directions interacting to cause the surface of the
> waters around us to heave up and down unpredictably causing us to pitch,
> yaw and roll rather vigorously.  Often along this route, sailors
> experience long-period, large ocean swells that gently cause their vessels
> to rise and subside in a pleasant rhythm.  We've experienced conditions
> that make it impossible to move about the boat without hanging on with
> both hands and often, despite our best athletic efforts, we find ourselves
> careening off the walls and furniture.  Needless to say, meal preparation
> has been challenging due to the inability to set anything down on a flat
> surface without watching it slide across a counter top.  The motion,
> combined with the heat and humidity have reduced our dining options to
> just the basics.  We are also a bit "rummy" from lack of sleep and look
> forward to being at anchor where we can start to get caught up.
> Overall, the passage has gone very well.  We have had periods of heavy
> rain as we transitioned the Inter tropical Convergence Zone but
> thankfully, no lightning.   Winds have occasionally gusted into the 30
> knot range but have averaged in the teens.  We have managed to avoid the
> doldrums and have keep "Blue Rodeo" moving swiftly without ever having to
> use our motor.  Often, we have found ourselves staring in awe at the
> incredibly blue sea around us during the day and brilliant, star-filled
> sky above at night.  Many of the simple things about the passage have been
> immensely enjoyable.  For instance, the other day, while having lunch in
> the cockpit and basking in the Equatorial sun, we marveled at the immense,
> azure expanse around us taking time to appreciate the diverse shapes and
> textures of the scattered clouds in the sky.   As we dined on tuna
> sandwiches, carrots, apples and corn chips, we were being serenaded by our
> I-Tunes music library playing through our cockpit speakers and treated to
> artist David Gray's rendition of the beautiful song "Sail Away".   How
> appropriate!
> Mechanically, "Blue Rodeo" has held up well to the challenge of non-stop
> sailing for almost 3,000 miles.  We continue to be very pleased by what a
> safe and swift vessel she is.  We love our boat!
> In the next few hours, we will heighten our senses for detecting the first
> signs of land.  Often it is the sign of more birds in the sky or cloud
> development over the islands.  Sometimes it is the unmistakable smell of
> damp, fertile earth.  Before long, one of us will be the first to shout
> "Land ho!" and the final phase of this passage will begin

Friday, April 20, 2012

At 4am on the morning of April 19th, we crossed the Equator and, according
to sea farer’s lore, morphed from being pollywogs to “shellbacks”. As is
tradition, the event called for celebration and merrymaking despite the
early hour. The party also gave us a head start on celebrating Anne’s
birthday. For eons, sailors have used the occasion to relieve the stress
and monotony of long ocean passages by dressing in costumes, imbibing in
spirits, and initiating the shell backs. In that vein, we dressed Anne as
King Neptune, complete with a tin foil-covered, card board crown and
trident made from a wooden galley spoon. A tropical lei and shaving cream
beard completed the costume. Mark dressed as a mermaid with a wig made
from strips of scrap felt , one of Anne’s bikini tops and a green blanket
wrapped around his waist and legs to form a tail. We enjoyed the
silliness and took many photos to commemorate the event. A high point was
opening a gift and card given us by sailing friends from California before
departure. Lee and Cathy, Mike and Dave and Marissa had given us a large
envelope marked “To be opened at latitude 0”. It contained a thoughtfully
written card and a flag with an embroidered “Golden Shellbacks” patch
sewn on. We were so touched by their thoughtfulness. We concluded with
sips of cinnamon whiskey. The last drops were offered to King Neptune
while asking for safe passage, fair winds and following seas for “Blue
Rodeo” and her crew. When the thirty minute celebration ended, Mark
continued to stand his watch and Anne returned to our bunk for a bit more

Our first day in the Southern Hemisphere was spent sailing along under
mostly clear skies using our colorful spinnaker (large, lightweight head
sail) hoisted to help pull us toward our destination. Winds near the
Equator are often very light and the area is known as the “doldrums”. Our
goal was the keep the boat moving at an acceptable speed without having to
resort to using our diesel engine. Fortunately, “Blue Rodeo” sails well
in light air so we were able to continue to click-off the miles to the
Marquesas. By evening, we had less than 700 to go. The rather relaxing
day sailing under spinnaker and main sail also gave us the opportunity to
celebrate Anne’s birthday. She was delighted by email greetings from
friends and birthday wishes from other cruisers during our early evening
radio check-ins. Mark gave her a break in the galley by making lunch and
baking chocolate cup cakes in lieu of a birthday cake. She even got to
open a gift that friend Cathy had given her before we left Mexico. Like
most days before it on this passage, we found that the time passed quickly
and, before we knew it, it was time to settle in to our night time watch
schedule. The birthday girl took the first several hours after dinner
with Mark taking over around midnight.

As we write this during an early morning watch, we get a chance to reflect
again on how fortunate we are for having the opportunity to have this
adventure. We feel that life is about challenges and new horizons and our
sights continue to be set on the splendid adventures ahead. Life is

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's 3am, the winds have shifted slightly causing our sails to alternately fill and then collapse and aside from the light of a few stars peeking through the cloud cover, we are sailing along in what seems like the blackness of outer space. Brisk winds and lumpy, confused seas caused by several low pressure systems interacting with a weaker than normal NorthPacific high pressure development conspire to give us a fairly uncomfortable ride . The normally large, gentle, long-period, northeasterly swells have been replaced by short period, steep waves that approach from several directions and often combine in height to slap us from our stern quarter and send us rolling and surfing forward. It's rough enough that Anne has had to resort to taking sea sickness medication once again after thinking she had acclimated to the motion. Meal preparation has been especially difficult with all of the pitching, rocking and rolling and even moving about the boat is like contact sport. We have the bruises to prove it! Though separated by hundreds of miles, we are sharing the enormous expanse of blue ocean with thirty or more other sailing vessels known as the 2012 Pacific Puddle Jump fleet. Most check in nightly at an established time to report their positions, weather, sea conditions and state of welfare. We get an occasional chuckle hearing others complain about their rides and comparing notes about how many seemingly well-stowed things have been flying around their cabins, ending up on the floor. We have been underway now for a week since leaving Isla San Benedicto and two weeks since leaving the mainland coast of Mexico. We have passed the half-way point on our voyage to the Marquesas and are looking forward to our crossing of the equator in another three days. All is well aboard"Blue Rodeo" but each day offers us an assortment of challenges. As is the case for most offshore sailors, weather and sea conditions top the list followed by navigation, boat maintenance and repairs, meal preparation and personal hygiene. Sailing hard, 24 hours a day for weeks at a time, subjects equipment to more abuse than most boats see in years and can certainly take its toll. Mark has fixed two major items in the last two days. While on a trip forward to the bow, he kept a sharp eyeout for anything amiss and noticed that a large, stainless steel clevis pin that secures the lower end of "Blue Rodeo's" mast's head stay (forwardguy wire) had nearly worked its way out, almost allowing the stay to detach. Had that happened, the mast would , almost for sure, have come tumbling down doing significant damage. The cotter pin put in place to secure the clevis pin had sheared almost completely off allowing the clevis to work its way sideways. When Mark noticed the problem, he scrambled back to the cockpit and went below to gather up tools and a newcotter pin. We both ended up going forward in rough sea conditions to complete the repair. Anne stabilized the now unsecured head stay and jib furling unit while Mark drove out the pieces of old cotter pin, pressed the clevis pin back into place and secured it with a new pin. Crisis averted! Though we had precious little time to enjoy them, an audience of 20-30 dolphins joined us to surf in our bow wake and watch our antics during the repair. Our other problem occurred yesterday, when after starting our diesel auxiliary motor to make water and run our refrigerator, he noticed that the glow plug indicator light remained on. When he attempted to start the motor the next time, he found the starting battery nearly dead. Apparently, even though the motor had been shut down normally and the ignition turned off, the glow plug heating element remained powered causing the battery to be drained. Fortunately, Mark was able to use the main engine start battery to restart the auxiliary motor and recharge its battery. He has since insured that the battery is disconnected from the start circuit when the motor is off to prevent having the problem again until he can further trouble-shoot the glow plug control circuit. Another crisis averted! Each morning on the passage, as soon as the sun has illuminated our decks, we make a check for any alien life forms (sea creatures) that have decided to come aboard in the night. We usually find an assortment of squid, small mackeral and flying fish. The record so far is 16. Several times now, in the early morning hours, while Anne has been on watch and reading a book, she has been quite startled by flying fish jumping into the cockpit, one even landing on her lap. During the daytime hours we try to catch up on sleep, read, check for e-mail, prepare meals, examine our diminishing supply of fruit and vegetables and do general housekeeping chores. If conditions are calm enough, we might shower in the cockpit and do some laundry with a plunger in a 5 gallon pail. In the afternoons, between naps and constantly checking for other boat traffic, we often treat ourselves to a DVD episode or two of "West Wing". In the evenings, after dinner, we check in with two radio "nets", ( PPJ and Sea Fare'rs ) to report our position , heading, speed, wind and sea conditions and barometric pressure. We also listen with interest to reports from other boaters heading to the Marquesas. Despite the lumpy sea conditions, we have been making good speed. Infact, our best 24 hour run so far has been over 220 miles. We will beapproaching the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) during the next 36 hours and can expect rain showers, and possibly squalls with thunder andlightning. Our friends Bob and Ann of the vessel "Charisma", who are about 400 miles ahead of us, just told us about the harrowing experience they had while transitioning the area. We are hoping that by using our radar, we can avoid most of the areas of bad weather. As the old saying goes," it's better to be lucky than good", so we'll wish for a little luck with the weather as well.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Our 65 hour passage from La Cruz to Isla San Benedicto in the Revillagegdos Archipellago gave us a chance to test both our sea legs andour light air sailing skills. Conditions the first night after leaving Banderas Bay were pleasant but somewhat lacking in wind. We did manage though to keep "Blue Rodeo" moving in access of 5 knots until the windfreshened the next day. The wind speed increased but the direction was mostly from the west which meant we had to sail close hauled (close to thewind) the entire way. At times, our windward side deck was awash from wind driven spray and waves. The lumpy sea conditions meant that any moving about the boat had to be done with care while reaching from one hand hold to the next. Anne was happy that she preemptively put on a Scopalamine patch before leaving La Cruz. Despite the lumpy conditions we were both happy to be at sea, excited about the prospect of where this path will take us. Rather than sail directly to the Marquesas like most Pacific Puddle Jumpers, we had chosen to make a stop at one of the remote islands west of Mexico rated among the top ten dive spots in the world. Our decision would be a good one as our stay at the islands was truly a magical experience. Isla San Benedicto is a small volcanic island featuring lava flows and a huge cinder cone. It last erupted in 1952. Its location, far from any major land masses, and the fact that it rises from water depths of nearly 3,000' mean that it often has crystal clear water and is home to countless species not seen elsewhere. Over the years, fishing took a toll on the fish population in the area but the Mexican government now strictly enforces a fishing ban around the islands and requires park permits for each visitor. On our approach to the island we were greeted by one of the huge Manta Rays that the island is so famous for. While anchoring "Blue Rodeo" in a marginally protected bay on the south side of the island, we were visited by yet another that came close to the boat as if to invite us into the water for a swim. A short exploratory dive with masks, fins and snorkels the next day left us a bit disappointed. Due to strong winds that had been blowing for a few days and the associated large ocean swells, the water visibility was less than we hoped for. We did encounter schools of large inquisitive fish that seemed totally unafraid of our presence. It wasn't hard to see the area's potential and we hoped that the visibility would improve during our stay. Over the next few days we were joined by the crews from fellow PPJ (Puddle Jump) boats, "The Rose", "Shantiana" and"Lightspeed". It was with these folks that our diving excursions began to become more rewarding. While diving a rocky area not far from the anchorage, we saw several octopi, dozens of large lobster, and a big fat Hammerhead shark. The shark swam close enough to get our attention but, appearing well fed, had no interest in us. Unbeknownst to us we were diving near a deep ocean trench where it is not uncommon to see hundreds of Hammerheads at any given time. A special treat was observing playful Humpback Whales frolicking nearby and clearly hearing their songs while we were underwater. The next day, our combined group traveled from the anchorage to the northwest side of the island aboard the catamaran"Lightspeed" to dive the rocky pinnacle known as "The Boiler". While the others jumped in the water to snorkel, we donned our scuba gear and began exploring the area at greater depths. We were treated to the sight of several Silver Tip sharks and more octopi and lobster. Nearing the end of the dive, two huge Manta Rays approached and we wasted no time greeting them and trying to hitch a ride. Anne got close enough to gently touchone but Mark was able to grab hold for the ride of his life. His Manta effortlessly pulled him through the water with such speed that it nearly ripped his face mask off and, at one point, swiftly descended to over 80'in depth before Mark chose to let go. Back closer to the surface, our group was playing with another Manta, though no one could quite catch up to it for a ride. Mark was able to climb aboard his for a second time but his ride was interrupted by a large Jack that decided to take a nibble out of one of his fingers as he held onto the Manta's head. Mark's only thought was that the fish seemed to resent that he was having so much fun. Fortunately, one of our friends captured much of the action with an underwater video camera so, in addition to our memories, we will have some treasured video to share with others. We all returned to our boats that afternoon giddy from the amazing experience and talking excitedly about how special the interaction with the sea creatures had been. The next day we attempted to locate another submerged rock pinnacle, not far from our anchorage, that was reported to be a frequent hangout for theMantas. Using our hand-help GPS receiver, we zeroed-in on the reported coordinates of the pinnacle. Unfortunately, we failed to locate it on ourfirst attempt and made one descent into the abyss to over 100' without even seeing the bottom. Back on the surface and aboard our dinghy, we conferred with Pat, John and Rebecca from "The Rose" who were also searching unproductively nearby. At one point, Pat and Rebecca spotted a Silver Tip shark, a little too close for comfort, that caused them to reconsider diving in the area. With Anne ready to throw in the towel on the afternoon's dive, Mark spotted the top of the pinnacle and urged her to follow him in for a check of the area. An hour later she would be bubbling with glee about having made the right decision. The dive started like others in the area with sightings of huge fish schools, lobster and octopi. At one point, we took time to hover near a camouflaged octopus and Anne gently extended a finger allowing it to respond by extending one of its tentacles. What happened next was magical as we were joined by a pair of enormous Manta rays with 15' plus wing spans flying in formation. Mark wasted no time in climbing aboard one for a ride but Anne had trouble swimming fast enough to catch up. So, as Anne swam with all the speed she could, Mark was able to release his hold on the Manta with one hand, reachback and pull Anne aboard for a tandem ride. Mark soon let go so she could enjoy the majesty of the creature one-on-one. Before long we had ridden both Mantas and, rather than seem annoyed by our presence, they returned to us time and time again to offer more rides. We will remember the special interaction for as long as we live. You see, Mantas are filter feeders, straining minute animals from the ocean water, so their interest in us was definitely not about begging for a hand-out like some animal in a petting zoo. It was ever so clear that they enjoyed the interaction with us as much as we did with them. In fact, when we had nearly exhausted our air supply and were forced to return to the surface, they followed us back to our dinghy, gliding nearby as if to encourage us to continue the play time. It's hard to describe how moved we were by the experience. Just remembering it, as we write this, causes the emotions of that special moment to well up within us. Later that night, our friends gathered aboard "The Rose" to share snacks and stories and say another adios before heading out the next day on the 2,700 passage to the Marquesas. The next morning was spent re-stowing dive gear and supplies and making our boat ready for the serious ocean crossing. By 2:30pm we raised our anchor for the last time until reaching the beautiful tropical Islands of French Polynesia. We set sail that afternoon again feeling so fortunate to have made the efforts to make this adventure happen.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

As we write this, we are gliding swiftly under sail across an incrediblyblue sea under brilliant sunshine. The winds are fairly light but "BlueRodeo" is moving along at about seven knots and giving us a smooth ride.We have finally had time to reflect a little on the days leading up to ourdeparture from La Cruz and wanted to say a bit more about the process ofprovisioning and preparing for an extended voyage. The last few days in LaCruz were very hectic. Provisioning for 3-6 months was quite a chore,especially without a car! While Mark devoted most of his time to boatprojects and verifying that all of "Blue Rodeo's" systems were workingproperly, Anne made numerous trips to various stores and markets topurchase all of the food and supplies we would need. This was certainlynot one-stop-shopping and involved transportation via buses, taxis and anoccasional lift from friends with cars. Some of the meat we needed waspurchased at the last minute from Costco in Puerto Vallarta but Annediscovered a great resource in a store in nearby Bucerias called Carnesdel Mundo (Meats of the World). They will commercially seal and freezeany meats you order from them. That is especially attractive since ourfreezer has a hard time freezing a lot of items all at once. Most of thecrews leaving for the South Pacific ("Puddle Jumpers") placed large ordersfrom them and, like us, took advantage of delivery to the docks. Theeveryday items were bought at Mega, Walmart and Costco. Anne typicallytook a bus to these businesses, shopped, and, depending on the size of herloads, either took the bus or a taxi back to the marina. Back aboard, herdays were spent trying to stow the items and log their location on paperso we could find them at a later date. On most boats, the luxury of alarge pantry does not exist so we all have to get creative. It is oftenhard to remember under which floor board we have hidden a food item. Shealso spent quite a bit of time vacuum sealing items including even toiletpaper and paper towels to reduce their bulk. The last items on ourshopping list were fresh fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, every weekon Tuesday and Friday in La Cruz, a vegetable warehouse behind popularPhilo's bar and restaurant opens to the public with an ample supply offreshly picked produce. All the local restauranteurs and shop owners showup to buy in bulk. The night before our departure, we took one of themarina's dock carts to the warehouse with us to insure we could carry allwe needed back to the boat. For those of you reading this unfamiliar withboats and long voyages, rest assured that we are far better off than theseafarers of old but making produce last requires significant effort. Forinstance, here are a few examples: Limes and celery were wrapped inaluminum foil, carrots were wrapped in paper towels and put in "GreenBags". Bananas went in the fridge. A net hammock was strung across thegalley celing to keep fruit from getting bruised. Crates filled withcabbage, potatoes, yams and chaote squash were stowed wherever they wouldfit, hopefully in cool shady places. Onions and garlic had to be cratedand kept separate from the others of they cause premature ripening. Itwas quite a daunting task to clean up the produce and stow it where wewouldn't be tripping over it all of the time, a task not totally completeduntil we had been underway for several days. Before casting off our dock lines, we did manage to squeeze in some lastminute socializing. In addition to get-togethers with other "PuddleJumpers", we had breakfast one morning with Dennis and Linda of the sailboat "Rapture". They live in Mexico year round and operate a chiropracticbusiness in La Cruz. Based on their medical backgrounds and tropicalsailing experience, they were a great source of medical and first aidinformation for us. We also attended several musical performances in ourlast few days but, as departure time drew near, we had to limit oursocializing and focus to the most important tasks. While not on a strictschedule, we found ourselves exhausted and crabby trying to take advantageof the next forecasted, good weather window.On Friday the 29th we officially cleared out of the Mexico. To do so, wemotored to the harbor at Nuevo Vallarta with two fellow PPJ'ers, tied upto the transient dock and checked in with the Port Captain. We presentedour personal and boat papers and forms were filled-out to obtain our Zarpe(exit papers). Next, we had to wait aboard to boat to be inspected byofficials from Immigration followed by another trip to the Port Captain'soffice to complete paper work. With the clearing-out process complete, wereturned to the marina for last minute preparations. Finally, on theevening on March 31st, with a group of well-wishers dockside, we untiedour lines and motored slowly out of the harbor. Even though, we wouldstop for several days of SCUBA diving at the Revillagegedos Islands, thiswas the beginning of our grand South Pacific crossing adventure. Years ofplanning and anticipation had come to fruition....we are underway toparadise.