The Pacific crossing.

Making land fall after 43 days at sea.

Hello !. Sorry for my not posting anything earlier but access to the internet is scarce out here in the Marquesas Islands and where it does exist bandwidth tends to be quite modest which makes it difficult to upload content to the website. Finally I am able to share the first of my sailing experiences with you. This is a post that I wrote upon our arrival at the island of Hiva-Oa where we chose to make our first landfall after our Pacific crossing.

We did it !. Now I can actually say that I have crossed the Pacific ocean in a 28 foot sailboat. It took us 43 days from leaving Panama to our arrival at the island of Hiva-Oa in the Marquesas island chain which is where we are currently at anchor.

It has been such an enriching, wild and eye-opening experience and I can honestly say that this crossing has already changed my perspective on both life in general and of myself in ways that I could never have imagined. When one is sailing in a small boat, like we are, one has the privilege to get really close to the natural world, in what I can only describe as a truly grounding experience. At first this can feel a bit daunting owing to the unfamiliar surroundings and so it was for me. I felt the change from being at Vista Mar Marina, Panama to being out on the open ocean a bit overwhelming to begin with. The sudden change in the environment initially felt very alien to me,

For example on my first night watch shift out of Panama my boyfriend, Axel, sat alongside me in the cockpit for an hour to reassure me that the boat was behaving normally and we were sailing safely within it’s performance envelope. I had felt anxious as the waves grew ever larger and more powerful as we traveled further away from land. My anxiety was heightened at the unexpected, by me, movements induced in the boat by the increasing ocean swell. It felt raw and I was nervous in handling the boat on my own under those conditions. But Axel is an experienced mariner and he could discern from my body language that I was becoming uncomfortable so he sat down alongside me and knew exactly what to say to reassure me that what I was observing was entirely normal for the prevailing conditions and that Mare was responding as intended to the wind and waves. It was my first real life experience as to how a small sail boat behaves on the water and the first of many nights to come where I would experience at first hand the unbelievable atmosphere of sailing under a clear night sky looking resplendent in it’s starry canopy.

Having grown more confident with my ability to understand and master the external conditions my next challenge would come from within. My problem actually began one week earlier whilst still in Panama. It was right after I had celebrated my 30th. birthday when I suddenly started feeling unwell. Having first lost my appetite I then developed a high fever and felt very weak. After another couple of days my condition progressed into some really uncomfortable stomach cramps.  Until one morning I awoke and could not move because of the severity of the cramps. At that point Axel, wisely, decided to seek professional medical assistance. He arranged a car to transport me to the nearby hospital in San Carlos, which was a twenty minute drive from the marina where we were moored. This proved to be a wise decision as it emerged from the subsequent medical investigation of my condition that I had contracted a particularly virulent form of parasitic infection. The staff at the San Carlos Hospital was both professional and kind and I received excellent care there. They prescribed antibiotics and treated me with some intravenous fluids to aid my recovery. This intervention really worked fast and I already felt much better the following day. Following another five days of treatment with antibiotics I was back on track again and eager to begin our great adventure. However as a precaution and to seek  reassurance that it was safe to set forth on a 40 to 60 day ocean crossing both myself and Axel returned to the hospital for one final test to ensure that we were both infection free. We could not  take the risk of a reoccurrence of the problem whilst we were at sea. Having both received  a clean bill of health we were good to go and felt confident that we had taken every precaution to avoid a relapse.

Unfortunately despite our diligence my symptoms returned on our eight day at sea when we were some 60 nautical miles south of the Galapagos islands. As this would be our last opportunity to seek medical assistance before heading for the open ocean we decided to call our travel insurers to get some advice. Fortunately Axel has a satellite telephone for use in emergency situations. We were both very nervous as to the outcome of the whole situation given that landing at the Galapagos islands can cost more than 2,000 US dollars. Having known about this exorbitant landing fee we had decided, during our pre voyage route planning, not to visit in the islands in the first place. However this was a potentially a high risk situation and we did not want to have to deal with being ill whilst crossing the biggest maritime wilderness on earth, devoid of any recourse to medical assistance, so we decided to reroute towards Galapagos and hoped that our travel insurance would meet the costs of so doing. Axel managed to contact another sailor friend of ours called Venu who helped us to find the contact number for an agent in Galapagos. We sailed through the night to arrive there by sunrise. It was with a mixture of relief and frustration that we changed our course to go northwards again towards Galapagos. In our eight days at sea we had been so happy and enjoying favourable winds which propelled us along at a rate of five to six knots which for our tiny craft was the best start we could have wished for. Mare was performing admirably and we were so excited to be engaged in the task that we had mentally prepared for over so many months.Upon our arrival into harbour Axel went ashore to talk to the authorities and agents. The result of his negotiating skills saw us getting a military escort to the hospital where following some tests the medical staff there attributed my symptoms to a reaction caused by the antibiotics that I had taken earlier in Panama.They gave me some medicine and prescribed some vitamin tablets which we obtained from a nearby pharmacy. Our entire stay in Galapagos lasted a mere eight hours. In the end both the cost of the hospital visit and the landing fee were waived together with the agent’s charge which once again proves that humanity and the kindness of strangers really does exist in our world. We were both relieved and exceedingly grateful to everyone who rallied to our aid and we set sail before sunset and resumed our epic voyage with renewed confidence and in high spirits.

To lend some authenticity to documenting our passage I have decided to share some extracts from our diary entries which recorded our contemporary thoughts as we sailed across the mighty Pacific in our trusty little craft. Hopefully they will convey some of the daily triumphs, challenges and breath taking wonder of my first ocean crossing. Enjoy.

21.03 Finally, after over a month of intensive preparation, we are on our way into the great unknown and the start of this life affirming adventure.

21.03 First night at sea and my first night watch, feeling every emotion now. So thankful to have an experienced and supportive mariner by my side to ease this novice into ocean life.

23.03 The wind is filling our sails and we are really moving now making 6k for the first time, as Mare finally gets to stretch her sea legs.

25,03 Where did the wind go ? almost becalmed and having to resort to motor propulsion.

25.03 Midnight drama as an exhausted bird landed on our windex, essentially a wind vane attached to the automatic tiller system, and broke it before tumbling unto the deck with a thump. Axel later commented that he was awoken by a scream from deck and he was quite sure that it did not come from the bird !. Our little avine stowaway remained with us for twenty four hours by which time he regained enough strength to resume his own travels but not before I named him ” Silver Arrow” to reflect his effect on our windex.

30.03 Motoring again and looking forward to getting further south to pick up the westerly blowing trade winds that we need to speed our passage..

03.04 Another nocturnal visitor invades my space as I receive an uninvited peck on the cheek from a flying fish !. This definitely rates as one of the more unusual events of my life thus far. Once again it was Axel to the rescue as the invader was returned from whence it came.

05.04 Spotted some Chinese flagged fishing boats at work, we really do live in a global village.

07.04 A bumpy night with plenty of wind prompts us to reef both sails.

08.04 What is with these flying fish ? today we had one inside the cabin.

09.04 It is really blowing today with 20 knot winds. My intrepid crewmate caught a dorado fish which made for a very tasty Indian fish soup for supper.

11.04 The dish washing bowl was lost over the side. Some people will do anything to avoid their turn to wash the dishes !. We put the incident to good use though by instituting our man overboard emergency drill in order to retrieve it,

12.04 Spotted some plastic jetsam floating past today reinforcing the sad reality of the proliferation of this almost ubiquitous pollutant that represents such a blight on our natural ecosystems globally.

15.04 Incredibly we spotted some birds again today, way out here, literally thousands of kilometres from land.

16.04 Joy as we celebrate reaching the half way point in our epic voyage today.

17.04 Busy day bread baking and making cinnamon buns, somewhat of a messy affair in my rolling and pitching kitchen but the end product tasted all the more delicious.

18.04 Had only one client today in my floating hair cutting studio !.

19.04 Despite our speed we noticed quite a crustacean build up on Mare’s hull.

20.04 Awoken in my bunk by Axel’s excited exhortations to come on deck as we had visitors. What a spectacle awaited me as a large pod of 50 to 60 dolphins greeted and entertained us for over an hour. Highlight of the trip so far, feeling both humbled and privileged to witness these graceful, intelligent and magnificent  creatures revelling in their natural environment and reminding us in a gentle and friendly manner that we are but guests in their domain.

21.04 Just passed the three quarter distance mark as we celebrate a very different Easter this year. Missing family and friends but very much engaged in this new lifestyle.

22.04 Today was laundry day and the drying was excellent !.

23/25/04 Encountering some difficult weather now with squally conditions and big seas making our passage quite uncomfortable.

26.04 Tracking a little to the North of our intended path to find some calmer water. Completed our sewing projects of sunshades and storage bags today.

27.04 Mare is impacted by three huge waves one of which lands on my lap in the cockpit as we watch a movie, this is the true reality sailing experience.

29.04 Used the last of our fresh water from our main tanks. Parsimonious usage of such a vital resource saw us consume a mere 150 litres in 39 days.

30.04 Discovered that our remaining fresh water reserve, stored in containers, was contaminated. Activated our contingency procedure of desalinating seawater using our reverse osmosis equipment. We can produce four litres per hour using this method. I have developed really well toned biceps as a result !. It also makes one appreciate how much we take such a vital natural resource for granted in our everyday, first world lives.

01.05. Axel has just calculated that we have a mere 350nm left to run.

02.05 Slow progress today meant we had time for a swim followed by pan cakes for breakfast

03.05 Our gennaker sail failed as the wind suddenly increased causing us to broach, a little scary but we are on the move again having deployed our genua sail.

04.05 Land sighted !. We did it ! Mare we love you !. We arrive at Hanaiapa bay on the northern coat of Hiva Oa island after 43 days at sea and toast our arrival with a glass or two of champagne.

After our safe arrival at Hiva-Oa I am delighted to report that our little boat functioned perfectly during the entire voyage and it’s performance exceeded our expectations arriving ahead of some much larger craft that had set out before us. We are so grateful to our beloved Mare for delivering us safely to our destination.

To sum up some of my impressions from my 43 days on the Pacific ocean I can say that I really learned how important it is to slow down one’s natural rhythm whilst sailing. This came as quite a revelation in my case. One simply cannot fight the natural elements heading one’s way when out there alone. One has to adapt to the conditions, let one’s guard down, forget one’s ego and start listening and cooperating with the natural forces that surround you. The funny thing is that one might not think or recognize that you are resisting this to begin with. I sure did not recognize this in myself until I had, on several occasions, found myself setting out unrealistic ambitions and goals for a day that proved impossible to achieve given the fact that I was on a boat in the middle of the vastness of a natural world with it’s own dynamic. I had to hit my head on the cabin roof, fall out of the bed and almost damage my guitar and music equipment when everything  was tumbling around in the boat before I realised that I had to stop that nonsense and alter my way of thinking. I had to start adapting to what was happening around me and it was actually quite liberating to let go of “my plan” for the moment and just surrender to the rules dictated by the natural world that I was now part of. It was when I gave into this idea that I began to see the real beauty of the ocean and started to really enjoy the adventure I was undertaking. After some time living by nature’s rules we soon lost track of time and that in itself was such an amazing feeling. Not to mention how unbelievable it was to observe, at first hand, the beautiful colours and rich textures that the combination of sun, clouds, sky and water spontaneously created for us throughout those days at sea. It was truly breath taking to behold.

Now I am really eagerly looking forward to the next phase of our adventure which will see us exploring these incredible islands.

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