Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 15- Halfway mark pizza party

Time: 1700 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position: 19-deg 09-min N 131-deg 22-min W
Wind: ENE 12-knots Seas: NE 4-ft
Avg. Course: 274 T Avg. Speed: 5.3-knots
Rig: Single-reefed main, 80% jib poled out
24-hr distance traveled: 113-nm
Distance to Hilo: 1343-nm

Early this morning (5/31 0430 Zulu), we reached the halfway mark, and were 1,405-nm from both Punta de Mita, Mexico and Hilo, Hawaii. We celebrated last evening with homemade pizzas (BBQ chicken, onions, and hearts of palm), cold caffeinated cokes, and fair trade Trader Joe's dark cacao chocolate bars. Halfway there in mileage, but the second half we expect to have more consistent NE winds nearly howling the rest of the way to Hawaii, pushing us along the 19th parallel more quickly than the first half.

That said, last night, winds waned and this morning they have barely ramped back up. Our weather data shows that the 1018-mB contour that usually is found at this latitude, will swing a bit further south for the next day or two bringing us lighter-than-normal winds. Although with less wind the swell has become a bit more tedious, we are fine with slowing down a little. At the rate we were going, we were looking to land in Hilo on a Friday afternoon, and we are more aiming for the next Monday so we can properly check all of us and Grizzly into the Islands within 48-hrs of landing.

So we left the 80% up alone most of yesterday as the squalls got further apart and finally disappeared completely. It wasn't until the middle of the night when the winds dropped to less than 10-knots Chris raised the main. Now that it is daylight again, we will jibe the main, run wing-on-wing and likely put the 100% back up to take full advantage of the lighter winds. Or maybe, if we're really motivated, we'll fly one of our bigger head sails or even the spinnaker?!...

Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 14- Squalls?! Yes, squalls...

Time: 1700 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position: 19-deg 01-min N 129-deg 23-min W
Wind: NE 15-knots Seas: NE 5-ft
Course: 276 T Speed: 4.9-knots
Rig: 80% jib
24-hr distance traveled: 127-nm

It was an uneventful afternoon. But just as the sun started going down, things got exciting. First we noticed that the seas were no longer so organized. They were building (to 8-ft) and coming both from NE and from due N. As we enjoyed some chili and cornbread (with fresh celery, tomato, cheese and sour cream fixings) and looked at the stormy cloud formations, we discussed "a little tendril of rainy patch at about 20N and 130W that has been sitting there for a while" that Jacob had mentioned in one of his e-mails to us. Shawn was just clearing the dishes when Chris noted with a little confusion, that he was standing in a "rainy mist". We were both on deck just in time to see the leading edge (i.e. strongest winds) of our first squall. Thankfully, there was still enough light to get a view of what was happening. Our 20-knot winds bumped up several knots and we watched a cloud that reached the water's surface marching toward us. It appeared almost yellow in the waning light. Then it engulfed us. Winds increased. Rain flew horizontally. We were in a cloud. Then 10 minutes later, the sky lifted and we watched as it continued moving downwind away from us. Another 10-min and another cloud was upon us.

We still had the 100% jib up at this point and it seemed to handle the intensified conditions okay (though in truth we were a little bit overpowered, rounding upwind a bit with the heavier gusts). Since we could see that the path before us was riddled with these clouds and night was nearly upon us, we decided to be pro-active and reduce sail. It was a slow process (we really need to practice sail changes more often) and is the specific scenario that begs for roller furling. Although a few squalls went by while we bobbed around side to the swell and bare poled, the winds and waves weren't unmanageably great. Once our 80% was finally set, we observed how it handled another passing squall. Same boat speeds = good choice for the coming night.

The entire night, this scenario was repeated over and over, though time between squalls did increase toward morning. When we questioned Don Anderson about them he replied "South of 22-deg N, you are in the tropics, my darling, squalls are everywhere and are impossible to forecast. You forecast them with your eyes and your radar. They always travel NE to SW and you will see an increase in local winds of 5 to 10-knots". Yup, this was exactly what we saw (though we don't have radar). Get used to it was written between the lines. We wonder if we will see squalls daily for the rest of the passage and are grateful that our first round did not include lightning. So, as we dig deeper into our remaining warm/dry clothes, we continue our watches, just sitting back and enjoying the wet and dramatic shows.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day 13- riding the 19th parallel

Time: 1700 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position: 19-deg 01-min N 127-deg 10-min W
Wind: NE 17-knots Seas: NNE 6-ft
Course: 260 T Speed: 5.6-knots
Rig: 100% jib
24-hr distance traveled: 131-nm

We think our bodies are getting a bit more used to this motion and schedule. Our stances (even Grizzly's) are very stable to counteract the roll. We continue to enjoy our overlapping time and spend it discussing the most up-to-date weather, excitement that happened when the other was off-watch, and checking in with how we are individually feeling throughout this voyage. We each have a cup-of-tea during our solitary dark watch hours, and punctuate the time by filling in the log book with our hourly position and weather observation data. We read. We munch. We get weather data from the HF radio. We stare at the ocean, thinking deep thoughts, looking for signs of change, watching how Tao rides each wave a little differently, noting the constantly changing sky and it's reflection playing on the water, and generally feeling in tune with nature and our smallness in the universe.

Windiest in the morning hours yesterday, we sensed a slight lessening of intensity and chose to leave the 100% up. We were rewarded with the perfect amount of wind for carrying it all day and night. We did, however, button up the old blue mainsail cover since we don't expect to be doing much upwind work for the next while. It was interesting to note how much more difficult this normally menial task was in 20-knot winds and 6-ft seas. Together we struggled to pull the lazy jacks aft, hold the cover so it wouldn't blow away while simultaneously buttoning it closed. Shawn found herself bear-hugging the boom during several rolls, being tossed first back upwind toward a wave and then forward a mere few feet from the water on the leeward side and back again. And of course it made us want to add "sew new terra cotta sail covers" to our project lists.

It has been colder and moist, so warm meals have been welcome. Yesterday we enjoyed Cheesy Ginger Carrot Pasta, cold cucumber-tomato-romaine salad and fresh warm golden brown, oatmeal topped, salt water pressure cooker bread (possibly the best loaf of bread that Shawn has ever cooked thanks to all of the previous testing done with Julia of s/v Pisces). Last night on watch, Chris clearly sighted a ship off our starboard heading eastward. He was able to see a change in bearing quickly so didn't check for it on the AIS, but guesstimates it was probably a mere 5-nm away. A good reminder that there are other boats out here to reinvigorate our 15-minute horizon scans. The winds have shifted more easterly, enough for us to cite NE in our log book, though the extra fresh winds we expected today have not yet materialized. Still, 15 to 20-knots is more than enough to send Tao racing along, so we continue sailing due west.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Day 12- Dryness is a losing battle

Time: 1700 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position: 18-deg 55-min N 124-deg 51-min W
Wind: NNE 20-knots Seas: N 6-ft
Course: 266 T Speed: 5.6-knots
Rig: 100% jib
24-hr distance traveled: 131-nm

We are grateful for many things. Of course, Tao, who steadily moves forward with no hesitation in the face of a 6-ft wave and if she gets knocked just turns back up and keeps going. Our stout SF Bay sails that hold up during this heavier weather. Our new cockpit enclosure/weather cloths that keep us indefinably dryer. Grizzly, who rolls with all of it only getting loud if she smells a can of tuna being opened, all the while providing loving snuggles. Moni (our Monitor wind vane), who is the only one of us that has previously experienced crossing the Pacific (this is his 3rd trip from east to west). Attached to our tiller, he stands watch every moment of the day, holds a better course than either of us could dream to, and only squeaks a little. Really, how did we think we could ever manage without any of them?

The first order of business today was to replace Moni's steering line as it had already nearly chafed through. The second, to eat warm blueberry muffins together in the sun. The third, kitty litter cleaning, during which Chris managed to keep ahold of this important tool as a blue water wave swept over our leward rail. For a moment Grizzly's bathroom turned into a miniature rapid and as the water passed through it redeposited more than half of the rocks to the ocean floor. And then there is radio contact- Chris now has a check-in time of 1900 Zulu on 14.306 with family up in Gualala (please feel free to check in with him at that time if you've got an HF rig). It is great for Chris to get time on the radio as he's been missing it while Shawn has been getting a crash course with both Net checkins occurring during her watches.

Dinner time brought happy hour with apples, cheese and crackers followed by saffron rice with madras lentils to carry us through the night. Having nearly reached the goal of 19-deg N, we decided to fall of a smidgen for a more comfortable ride relative to the building seas. Sunset, a moist star-filled night, and a sunrise later and we find ourselves in the thick of it. We have found the SE quadrant of the NE Pacific high and solid 20-knots of NNE wind. 131-nm is about as fast as we want to go so as not to put too much strain on ourselves or the rig. Just about time to pull the 100% jib down and replace it with the 80%. With current conditions, dryness is a losing battle, though Chris has hung wet cushions, towels and clothes out each day in the sun and we're still doing our best to maintain some sacred areas.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 11- Epic Epicurean Adventure

Time: 1700 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position: 18-deg 52-min N 122-deg 33-min W
Wind: NNE 15-knots Seas: N 6-ft
Course: 266 T Speed: 5.6-knots
Rig: 100% jib
24-hr distance traveled: 128-nm

Day 11 was a beautiful sailing afternoon with lots of speed in the right direction. However, winds and seas were still from the N, and with our heading W, the seas on the beam have made for some relatively solid side-to-side roll while underway. Pretty much impossible to do more than one task at a time (remember, slow and steady wins the race).

Determined to make a delicious dinner anyway, Shawn forged ahead. First the tomato salad. How often does one end up with extra fresh ripe tomatoes ready to eat? Slice about 2-lbs and set aside on the engine cover under the companionway ladder to marinate. Next step, shift focus to the pasta. Before even starting, Chris calls a warning, but too late. Enter sneaky wave #1 through the companionway to create a waterfall directly into the tomatoes. Close companionway hatch cover. Empty dish of salty water, re-marinate. Cook the gnocchi, make the pesto sauce, whisk together to a boil. Take the top-of-the-hour position report, whisk sauce more. All the while keep stance solidly wedged for stability and work with the crazily gimballing stove. Open can of chicken, give Chris juice, add chicken to sauce, whisk, add gnocchi, stir. For rockstar quality, top with pine nuts and fresh grated Italian parmesan cheese. Enter wave #2, add hysterical laughter as Shawn is drenched, put in clear weather boards and drain the tomatoes again. Don foul weather gear. While getting dressed, extra big roll knocks tomatoes off engine hatch into quarter berth. Five-second rule, scoop up tomatoes and replace in container. Finally, both of us wearing foul weather gear, clipped into the cockpit sit down together to enjoy a rolly Pesto Chicken Gnocchi with Extra Salty and Tossed tomato salad. All is well with a full belly.

The night watches were relatively uneventful. Good for star gazing with only 25% cloud cover and very little moon. As per normal, the winds abated in the wee hours enough to raise the mainsail to double reef. Then, as the sun rose in beautiful oranges in the relatively cloudless sky, winds built enough again to drop the main completely and even included some of the easterly component we've been searching for. Crew morale has been up and down. We've decided that long passage-making is a game of attrition, slowly continuously wearing down the bodies, fraying the nerves, the gear, the boat. But the low moments beget the high ones when deep thoughts about sailing are realized and challenges surmounted lead to satisfaction. No matter how much we struggle through this we are reminded time and again that together we make an excellent team and we're in the midst of an epic adventure.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 10- chasing the high

Time: 1700 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position: 18-deg 11-min N 120-deg 25-min W
Wind: N 10-knots Seas: NNW 6-ft
Course: 308 T Speed: 6.2-knots
Rig: double-reefed main, 100% jib
24-hr distance traveled: 128-nm

Yesterday afternoon the clouds broke apart to allow some solid sunshine through. The winds were filling in from the N, the seas built almost instantaneously to 6-ft and we were still headed upwind a bit to gain northing. We decided that whether or not we needed it, it was a good time to grab a shower. So we pulled out our shower gear, the bucket, the freshwater filled insecticide sprayer, and braced ourselves, one foot in the cockpit and one foot up on the downwind seat to wedge ourselves safely. Several buckets of not-so-sudsy saltwater and a pressurized freshwater spray rinse later and it felt good to be clean again.

When the winds/seas increase, we want to be far enough north to be able to fall so all day yesterday we headed above the beam, moving quickly. As we are nearing a new moon, it has been very dark during night watches. Forced to use senses other than sight, small changes in the conditions are more difficult to notice. It's like being able to read another language but unable to understand an overheard conversation in that language. In addition, the protection of the dodger, creates a false sense of calm conditions. Still, even in the dark, around 10pm it became obvious that conditions were changing as waves splashed over the bow more frequently. Since the wind direction hadn't shifted, this must mean an increase in intensity was forcing our windvane to steer us higher into the wind.

Maybe Shawn just figured it would cyclically reduce as so many nights past it had, or maybe she just wanted to put off any sail changes until after her Pacific Seafarer checkin. Either way, plans rapidly changed when a sneaky wave got past the dodger to soak Shawn, the comfy dry watch cushions, and with the hatch open, the navigation station. This of course awoke Chris who joined on deck and together we pulled the main from it's 3rd reef down completely and fell off to a more comfortable beam reach. With the increased seas, being beam-to with the main down for several hours made life aboard quite rolly from side-to-side. This new configuration gave us a whole new chorus of noises (not worrisome but note worthy) to listen to and individually identify including the water in our two stainless tanks sloshing loudly around beneath our bunk.

We haven't quite broken into the southern edge of the high as it has been elusively moving west, just a day ahead of us as our newest weather guru Jacob (s/v Pisces) teasingly pointed out. (He is now in the midst of his physical oceanography PhD at UW and has been looking at models and sending us information- we are amazed that he can basically tell us exactly what we are seeing and thus we're trusting his predictions. Thank you, Jacob). Both he and Don Anderson say that we're close to some solid NEasterlies. This morning as we munch on pineapple and mango topped granola, the barometer is back up to 1015 and we are watching the winds fill in. Day 10 was our biggest mileage day yet, speeding over the peaks and gliding through the troughs of the waves. We are presently holding speeds so fast, we wonder if there is a current helping us along as we continue to chase the edge of the high.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 9- seamounts and sleep

Time: 1700 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position: 17-deg 38-min N 118-deg 15-min W
Wind: N 10-knots Seas: NNW 3-4-ft
Course: 284 T Speed: 5.5-knots
Rig: full main, 100% jib
24-hr distance traveled: 115-nm

Yesterday afternoon we were just 65-nm SW of Isla Clarion after which we made a comfortable point of sail between several seamounts noted on the chart (no one has mentioned them as hazards, but just to be safe we wanted to stay clear). This means that we've cleared the Soccoro Islands and Mexico and are now in international waters and true open ocean. The sailing has been a magnificent, fairly consistent, 10-knot breeze with wonderfully small seas.

The only excitement last night was watching the far away glow of a fishing vessel not on the AIS (likely fishing for large pelagic fish that thrive around such seamounts), and eventually passing within 10-nm or so. Today dawned beautifully as the cloud cover broke down to 60% allowing the sun to peek through as it rose. Shawn pulled out the camera to capture it when a blow from a whale came from the peak of the wave that was about to pass under Tao. Fear flashed as the pilot whale incident was still fresh, but with the camera already out, she caught a picture of it diving just in front of Tao on its path southward. From the size and the fin, we think it was possibly a finback.

These calm conditions have allowed us some excellent sleep and Chris slept much better getting off watch before the sun rose this morning. We are still basically sticking to the 6-hrs on 6-hrs off schedule, but each of us are spending a portion of our "off" time up and about "working" at the things we most enjoy. We've been calling these our crossover periods and have really been appreciating them- having extra hands to pull a reef, another mind to discuss ideas of what the best point of sail for the current and predicted weather, eating breakfast and dinner together, all of which have been special times. Not to mention Grizzly loves having the bunk to herself for a few hours a day.

So we continue to try to gain northing with our westing and therefore find ourselves pleasantly close hauled in these settled conditions. Our weather guru, Don Anderson, says that we should be seeing 20-knot NE winds within the next 48-hrs so we want to gain northing while we can before we fall off for a more comfortable ride in the heavier wind conditions. Our barometer has just bumped up to 1015, so we are definitely getting closer to the edge of the NE Pacific high.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 8- wildlife and guesstimates

Time: 1700 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position: 17-deg 19-min N 116-deg 11-min W
Wind: N 12-knots Seas: NW 2-ft
Course: 277 T Speed: 5.6-knots
Rig: single-reefed main, 100% jib
24-hr distance traveled/miles made good to Hilo: 114-nm/112-nm

We've been eating well with garlic-chicken-bell-pepper-quinoa for dinner last night and stick to your ribs hot Red River cereal (Thanks Mum!) for breakfast this morning. Sleep schedules are also working quite well. However, we're trying to figure out where Chris can take an extra hour of watch since Shawn's responsibilities above and beyond standing watch (feeding all of us, dishes, radio net checkins, blogging) seem to be taking up more of her sleep time than Chris' additional tasks (SPOT, GRIB file, kitty litter cleaning, trash dumping). Today we tried the sunrise hour which was great for Shawn's sleep, but Chris had trouble falling asleep once daylight and was further tempted to listen in on the Amigo Net. So maybe tomorrow instead, he'll come onto the graveyard shift an hour earlier...

This morning dawned with 2 boobies stubbornly resting on our front pulpit. After chasing off four others earlier in the night, Chris let these two hitchhikers stick around and they didn't take flight until after a photo shoot with Shawn. Speaking of wildlife, yesterday just before sunset, we were joined by a pod of cetaceans. We didn't actively see them at first, but we heard their echo-location clearly from inside the cabin. Dolphins? We went on deck and strained to see them. Finally, what looked like round-nosed-triple-sized dolphins were spotted swimming sleekly below our keel. Not too many surfaced, but when they did, definitely cetaceans but unlikely dolphins. Our book confirmed, 25-30 pilot whales were surrounding our boat. All of a sudden we heard a thump and our hull shook as one of the starboard side whales bumped our boat. Thump, and then again, thump. Each time felt like Tao was slamming into a steep wave. Being so far off shore and surrounded by these creatures half the size of our boat demonstrating what might be aggressive behavior was quite a disconcerting feeling. What to do? Are there recommended protocols for situations like this- like what you do if you come across a bear in the wilderness? Chris took control of the helm from Moni, Shawn put on her life vest. Do we turn around? Heave to to stop our momentum? Turn on the engine? Another thump. Shawn could hear the underwater communication loudly down below and remembered reading something about the sonar from depth sounders disturbing whales so she flicked it on. Soon after, whether due to the sonar or just disinterest, the echo-locating ceased and the pod turned southward leaving us, adrenaline pumping, to continue on our way.

There has definitely been a diurnal pattern we've noted with winds abating during the nights and strengthening during the morning/afternoon (and sometimes sunset) shifts. At these times, we're constantly putting in and shaking out reefs in our mainsail. This is the first time we've spent so many miles sailing on a beam reach in which we really need our main, and we're very grateful to have put in that 3rd reef (thanks Sweetie). We're making our way into the N winds and are still gaining westing (and even some northing back). Last night we past 115-deg W so only 40-deg of longitude left to go. As this is a daunting thought we've been looking at it in much more manageable chunks to avoid getting overwhelmed. Still, we did place our guesstimates about time from Isla Soccoro to Hilo. Trying not to go over, Chris' bet is on 23 days and Shawn's a mere day later. What do you think?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 7- going south to get west

Time: 1700 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position: 17-deg 19-min N 114-deg 17-min W
Wind: NNW 10-12-knots Seas: NW 2-ft
Course: 256 T Speed: 5.6-knots
Rig: double-reefed main, 100% jib
24-hr distance traveled/miles made good to Hilo: 97-nm/82-nm

Our diagnosis of the propane problem is a tired, corroded solenoid. We do have a replacement, but at this juncture have chosen not to install our new (used) one. Instead, Chris bypassed the solenoid, leaving the pressure gauge and regulator and, Voila, just in time for dinner, we had stove usage again. With the propane issue solved, the newest challenge being gaining the skills to negotiate the refrigerator. We installed our Norcold AC/DC front open fridge, just forward of amid-ships on the starboard side in the top half of what was called a half-hanging locker. It's original purpose was for usage while outfitting, plugged in at the dock, but since it's aboard, we've been making it work. Besides the obvious inefficiency from being a front loader, when heeling on a starboard tack, ungimbaled, it's contents tend to tumble out upon opening. We are aware of this and when paying attention, it is indeed possible to utilize especially with a map of its contents in your head. Yesterday, however, an ill timed wave launched a missile (aka metal water bottle) from the upper "freezer" portion. Attempting to catch it, the precious yoghurt took a dive, but not to be outdone, Shawn caught the yoghurt in mid-air. Still, the top came off and 1/4 of the contents sloshed out of the container oozing into every possible nook and cranny including the kitty litter located just below. <sigh> Oh well, note to self, always wear foul weather gear when opening a fridge from the downwind side.

We are very much enjoying the mellow winds while we have them. In less than 10-knots of wind we are able to sail comfortably on a beam reach (our fastest point of sail in light air) with our full complement of sails and no weather helm (whereas in heavier winds as the boat tends to round up, we have to drop the mainsail to move the center of effort forward in order to ease the workload on our Monitor, tiller, and rudder systems). We have been questioned by folks looking at our track as to why we're going south instead of heading straight line (called rhumb line) for Hilo- are we unable to point that high with our current winds? Not exactly. We could indeed point that high, but (1) it would be close hauled (i.e. uncomfortable) and (2) for long distances one must take into account the great circle route (i.e. follow a curve around the 3-dimensional Earth). The course we are sailing, actually is neither the rhumb line nor the great circle route. Instead, we are riding the south edge of the North East Pacific High. So, the course that we make is completely dependent upon where we are related to the high and what its winds are doing. As we're in the Northern Hemisphere, weather turns clockwise around the high, therefore, along the 19th parallel on the south edge of the high we've started with NW winds and as we move west, winds will shift N, then NE, and eventually ENE with which we'll be quite off the wind for more comfortable westward sailing and able to make up any northing we lost at the beginning.

Last night was quite mellow. The winds continued their cyclic bursts from the north, then shifting more NW and slacking some more before bursting from the north again. After dolphins visited during Chris' quite calm graveyard shift, Shawn awoke as the winds transitioned and filled in a bit more strongly from the north. The morning watch was something like this: log weather data, mix pancake batter while waiting for winds to cyclically slack, make pancake, winds haven't slacked so pull reef 1, flip pancake pour another, Moni still has too much weather helm, pull reef 2, flip pancake. So, with bellys full of apple-pecan-pancakes, we're currently flying along in fresh breezes sailing just under 6-knots getting used to a bit of a new point of sail as the winds continue to transition from NW to the north.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day 6- pleasant sailing and flying fish

Time: 1500 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position: 17-deg 50-min N 112-deg 44-min W
Wind: NNW 5-12-knots Seas: NW 1-2-ft
Course: 262 T Speed: 5.0-knots
Rig: full main, 100% jib
24-hr distance traveled: approx 105-nm

Dare we say that the last 24-hrs of sailing has indeed been pleasant?! It started out with us sailing under jib alone while we got ourselves re-acquainted with being underway. Chris made great contact with his dad on the HF radio and when Dave asked if there was anything we wanted looked up on the internet, Shawn replied "flying fish, please". Later that day, we downloaded e-mails and learned lots about these cool little fish. Apparently their large pectoral fins enable them to jump out of the water and glide distances up to a thousand feet to escape predators, which unfortunately backfires when they take flight to avoid a boat and either a boobie is waiting to catch them or they land out of water upon our deck. Maybe this is why boobies circle our boat all night- trying to find a perch to fish from. Good thing we got the wind indicator with a spike on top.

As we got further from the promontory effect of wind around Isla Soccoro, the winds diminished and we put up our main. Since then, we've been cruising along on a comfortable beam reach with winds cycling from 5 to 12 knots. This means sometimes enough for us to put in a reef or two and other times easing to shake all reefs and generally keeping us in the 4 to 5 knot range. The GRIB files predict these nice light winds in our area through this week and Don Andersen confirms that the models show solid and consistent 25-knots of ENE wind west of 125-deg longitude (approximately 700-nm from here). We shall see. The cloud cover continues to increase and we are grateful to still have a few openings for sun to shine through during the day and with the moon waning and more clouds, phosphorescence is transfixing at night.

With the calm conditions, Shawn has gotten excited about cooking again and made a wonderful creamy poblano chicken over rice (which we put an amazing Italian Parmesan on thanks Dream Keeper!) with a side of beet salad for dinner last night. Unfortunately, when she went to cook up potatoes and eggs for breakfast, the solanoid kept kicking the propane off. While Chris is currently investigating the problem and not worried in the slightest, Shawn is pushing away thoughts of having to cook without a stove for the next 30 days. We're both appreciative that the conditions are calm for this fix so we don't have the added difficulty of waves washing over the deck while we're working in the propane locker. While we were on deck working on it, a huge pod of dolphins visited us playing in our bow wave and echo-locating while we hung over the bow pulpit getting within feet of them. It is amazing to realize how much life there is in this not often visited ocean wilderness.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 5- sweet sleep and underway again

Time: 1500 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position: 18-deg 38-min N 110-deg 02-min W
Wind: NW 10-knots Seas: NW 2-3-ft
Course: 233 T Speed: 5.1-knots
Rig: 100% jib
24-hr distance traveled (actually only 2-hrs of movement): approx 8-nm

Who knew we could possibly sleep 12 hours in a row?! As we sat down from our joint repairs over lunch with exploded boat insides surrounding us, we completely agreed that it was worth the time required to stay a night and regain some sleep and strength for the long push to come. That decided, we exhaustedly got the boat re-organized and pulled out our full bed (which we thought we wouldn't be seeing for a month, what a treat!). We settled in for an early evening as the light of the setting sun made the island's colors (a mix between arid Mexico and lush volcanic Hawaii) pop and accentuated the energy of the waves crashing so hard into the steep isolated shores that a mist erupts. Chris managed to get up in the night for a quick Grapenuts fix (thank you Kenta Anae!) and HF radio time to check-in for our PacSea roll call and contact his dad. At the same time, Grizzly took a long bath and Shawn groggily listened in. For the rest of the night, all three of us snuggled down and slept hard until we saw the pink light of sunrise creeping into the sky marking another day.

We both awoke extremely well rested and even took a little extra time for a morning "coffee talk" over our steaming mugs of milky tea. After our Amigo Net check-in we got a little anxious to get underway and started the process of strapping everything down for passage-making. At 1000 we brought Rocky aboard once more, and as we motored along the 100-ft contour on the south end of Isla Soccoro, proceeded to detatch him and bring him aft for stowage in the starboard lazarette. Once we had the 100% jib raised (and after re-rigging our jib down-haul which we had managed to foul when we reattached the tack of the jib) we sat back to eat a papaya-pear-coconut salad, and listened to our newly tuned rig under sail again. Sweet, sweet sounds of a normal rig stretching and groaning in the swells minus most of the previous creaking and crackling reports with which Tao had been telling us all was not quite right. So, after a 33-hr unexpected (though welcome) respite, we are again sailing westward, away from the blue hole in the sky surrounding Isla Soccoro.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Day 4- clumsy boobies, Isla Soccoro, rig adjustment

Time: 1500 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position 18-deg 43-min N 110-deg 56-min W
At anchor, Isla Soccoro
Wind: NW 10-12-knots
24-hr distance traveled (actually only 11-hrs of movement): approx 55-nm

No better way to break a seasickness fast than gorge on cantaloupe and cottage cheese, a bowl of pork and beans, and celery with peanut butter. Um, yum? We have been trying to continue to make westing as well as hold our northing while the winds aren't too strong, so we've been close hauled for the whole afternoon. Our boat is quite tender, so beating into the wind is, shall we say, a bit less than comfortable. After reorganizing things on the high side, we attempted to entice Grizzly to check out her new litter box spot in the more stable quarter berth. She gobbled up all of the treats, but was not interested in the box. The answer (of course) was falling off the wind. As evening drew near, we pulled the main down and fell off to a beam reach for the night. The ride was much improved and Griz's litter box went back to it's normal spot. After several hours of quasi-comfortable sailing, she gave it a couple of visits. These visits were accompanied by lots of meowing making sure we heard that she wasn't too happy to be getting into a little box to be thrown around while trying to do her business.

The sun is setting noticeably later each day as we continue west. Around 1900 PV time, as the sun sunk lower, Isla Soccoro was just coming into view with rays of light breaking through the low cloud cover to illuminate a majestic volcanic island. As darkness fell, the beacon of the lighthouse on Isla Soccoros' southern tip blinked comfortingly and a few hours further west, a series of lights appeared on shore (which we assumed to be the navy community that is rumored to use this island). The winds were lightening as Shawn signed off and Chris' watch started. Continually trying to understand where each creak and groan of the boat was coming from, Chris still hadn't slept well. He'd expected much more quite from our rig for his post falling-off-the-wind nap. As we are well aware that this is likely the last island we will see until Hawaii, when the groans didn't disappear after turning downwind, the wheels started turning.

While we were discussing whether to make a quick repair stop or not, a boobie alighted on our solar panels. Not a problem, that is, not until it slipped off and fell into the enclosed cockpit with a honking fuss. Inside the enclosure there was not much space for it to spread its wings as it clumsily clopped around the cockpit. Chris tried to gently persuade it to leave ushering it with a folding chair (?), but instead, it headed straight for the light of our cabin companionway. From down below, Shawn stopped its entrance by holding up her hands, which its downy-soft feathery mass bumped into. The bird was then nudged out onto deck and uncoordinatedly plopped itself into the water. Random.

Long story short, we dropped sail just south of Isla Soccoro to await dawn (6 precious hours) and a few hours at anchor to safely adjust the rig. Our theory is that all keel-stepped masts flex under sail and ours has been making contact with the deck on the forward and port edges. This in turn puts pressure on the non-flexible deck, which is connected to bulkheads below. It is these bulkheads which have been loudly talking to us as we have been tossed around through this passage thus far. So, as the morning dawned, we hailed the Mexican Navy base (whose lights we had watched twinkle all night) and requested permission (without permit) to stop and anchor for some repairs.

To reattach Rocky, we had to pull everything out of the starboard lazarette, so Tao already looked like an explosion when we set the hook at 0930. Chris went to work on the rig adjustments; loosening everything forward and port and tightened everything aft and starboard until the mast was more centered through the deck and the rigging was again appropriately tensioned. Shawn tackled organizing the food stores, cleaning, and quarantining any aging produce for imminent use. Three hours later we're still here with everything awaiting re-stowage for passage making. But it's a Friday and it's supposedly bad luck to start a passage on a Friday. We could talk ourselves out of that one as we weren't really starting from here, but really, we're tired. So, maybe we'll spend a little more of our precious time gazing at this volcanic wonder and resting and push off again in the morning.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day 3- the care and feeding of the crew

Time: 1500 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position 18-deg 47-min N 110-deg 09-min W
Wind: NNW 10-12-knots Seas: NW 4-ft+
Steering: 250 T at 5.9-knots
Rig: double-reefed main, 100% jib
24-hr distance traveled: approx 90-nm

Gratefully the seas settled down a bit just after last post. The 80% jib went down, the 100% went up and the main came down and we sailed under 100% alone all night making decent (approx 4.5) knots most of the evening. Should have put up some main earlier in the day, but Chris was finally sleeping and Shawn didn't want to wake him with the noise of it, so we crept along at barely 4 knots all morning. Since just after a beautiful starry evening before the moon rose, the sky has clouded up so we have had only small holes of sun which we are milking and have been enough to keep us mostly charged up.

Chris is feeling much better. Wore earplugs on his off watch and actually slept. Shawn is feeling okay, but any attempts to cook have been difficult in our upwind configured sailing. Imagine pouring boiling water into a moving target while you are performing a dance yourself. Pulling food stores to peel and cook, that are quickly going bad, only gets started and she starts to feel green and loses the motivation to eat and hence cook. Chris has done well keeping the boat moving- now it is imperative that we start eating properly. Shawn needs to get back into the swing to be able to keep the crew well fed, so she started taking seasick meds today.

Another issue is that we can't seem to coax Griz into her litter box- she hasn't gone since the mellows of Day 1, so we're working on that. Our bodies are getting used to being so hard on the wind (therefore heeling approx 15-degs), but we have had to reorganize some of the windward side of our cabin for access (i.e. the litter box needs a more comfortable setting, all the cans in the upwind locker have fallen forward, caught by the door closure, but in an inaccessible jumble thwarting utilization). We have nearly made the longitude of the Soccoro Islands which marks the end of the beginning of our passage. This means that we have made it past the "no wind" area between Banderas Bay and the Soccoros and are now looking forward to the winds veering more northerly so we can fall off onto a more comfortable reach.

Other unforseen boat stuff so far: (1)one of our windex flags has mysteriously moved. Chris' theory is that a Boobie flying along next to it, eyeing it as a perch, got bonked by it as the mast randomly swung in the confused seas of Day 2, which bent the flag. Everyone seems to want to hitch a ride including some crazy flying fish. (2) Although we knew that it would be a wet endeavor to sail upwind at all in Tao (and hence all portholes and hatches are securely closed), the flu of our stove is letting in a bit of water as waves wash over our deck. This has been stopped by a duct tape job, but has left a sooty mess on the foot of our bed down below. (3) Fatty has had to be retied to keep his bow into the waves and to stop lateral movement of the stern. (4) We now have a head sail change/bean bag seat tied over our stern lazarette for increased accessibility.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 2- Seasickness Sucks

Time: 1500 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position: 19-deg 17-min N 108-deg 15-min W
Wind: NW 0-5-knots Seas: Mixed, Confused 2-5-ft
Steering: 235 T at approx 4-knots
Rig: triple-reefed main, 80% jib
24-hr Distance traveled: approx 95-nm

After the first blissful day, the past 24-hrs have been rough both literally and figuratively. Just after the last post, Shawn spotted a cargo ship rather close. As the computer and GPS were already on, it was a wonderful AIS moment and before she could take a second bearing, the computer was telling us the closest point of contact would be 4-nm. It was also a success as Shawn made radio contact with the ship and they confirmed they saw us (though only after being asked to check their radar and told where we were relative to them...) Then the winds picked up and the sea state in turn became quite unsettled. The day continued with mixed confused seas of large size, too much wind, not enough wind. Wrangling the 100% jib down in the middle of the night in the large seas... all the while feeling nauseous, both of us. Chris especially, but Shawn too has been caught crawling out of the bunk or coming up from below doing dishes looking grey and had moments where she thought she might get sick. It's not so much the motion, it's trying to focus or do anything while being tossed to and fro. Chris keeps remembering a single-hander-circumnavigator saying that "sometimes you'll hate it and wonder why you're doing it, that's normal". Shawn keeps thinking "slow and steady wins the race."

Chris has been wonderfully persistent, even through his seasickness. He's been continually making calls to try new things to change the motion of the boat- different points of sail, different sail configurations, the engine, the windvane, the autohelm, middle of his off watch sail changes while tossing the seasickness meds in his stomach overboard etc. This morning we checked in with Don Anderson and he encouraged us to make it as comfortable as we could while still making westing- that this area around the Soccoro Islands is always mixed and uncomfortable as we are still in the lee of the Baja peninsula and therefore experiencing seas from the Sea of Cortez meeting with the Pacific. Everyone that has done this section reports that the first few days are quite difficult, so we will continue to keep ourselves as hydrated, fed, and rested as possible and move slowly and steadily with deliberate intent to try to sail through this area into the steady NE winds. Poco a poco (Little by little).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 0- Punta Mita to San Benedicto

Time: 1500 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position: 20-deg 20-min N 106-deg 49-min W
Wind: WWNW 5-7-knots Seas: W 2-3-ft
Steering: 235 T at approx 4-knots
Rig: Full main, 100% jib
Distance traveled: approx 80-nm

We pulled Rocky aboard at just before 1500 PV time and were off! Breezes were brisk with a promontory effect as we left Banderas Bay with two reefs in the main in slightly confused seas. Soon the reefs were shaken and though the seas were still coming from several directions, they settled into a predominately W swell at 2-3-ft. It was difficult to stay sad as the sun set and we waved goodbye to our last view of mainland Mexico because a brilliant full moon was rising spotlighting our way.

Nice mellow winds held through the night slacking only as the sun rose. This is the chance we have taken leaving during no specific wind event- calms between here and the Soccoro Islands. The GRIB files foretold very little wind and what there is from the direction we are trying to go. Knowing that hurricane season has officially begun we feel a bit of pressure to get into the NE winds as soon as possible so as the sails began to flog we decided to bring down the main and motor sail for awhile. This is the price we pay to not leave during a norther and have solid 20-knot winds, instead the light and variables (the comfort of which we so far much prefer). An hour later Shawn powered Yannie down in order to hear the Amigo Net weather and check in after which there was just enough to make way again under sail. Back up went the main and though we are not able to make our Soccoro Islands (aka Islas Revillagigedo) waypoint (specifically we're making way toward Isla San Benedicto) with a near-Westerly wind direction, the sailing is beautiful. We call them "Shawn winds" as they are steady yet relaxing, pulling us along at around 4-knots through the blue water dappled with silvery sun. With the winds this light we've even rolled out our awning creating very luxurious conditions aboard (i.e. this is being written on the computer in the shady cockpit sitting on comfy cushions with a nice breeze coming over the rail).

We have chosen to employ a non-rotating schedule of 4-shifts, 6-hours each (during settled weather at least) in hopes that a sleep schedule will emerge. Chris gallantly accepted the graveyard shift (1am-7am) and even got up (though he wasn't actually tired yet) to sign into the Pacific Seafarer roll call (10pm or 0300 Zulu) and caught his dad on frequency. Shawn is working to get a galley schedule rolling attempting to get through all of the freshies aboard (which managed to get wet when a random wave strangely slapped the side of the boat and came directly in through our front hatch...). Chris' seasick meds are working okay, Shawn just burps a lot as her body finds it's balance, and Grizzly joins us staggering around as we all re-gain our sea legs. Sea-time is strange as every task seems to take at least 15-minutes at which point we do another horizon scan for boats. None seen yet, though when we checked our GRIB files this morning we also switched on our AIS and it showed an unnamed boat near it's closest point to us over 50-nm away. We are loving the Mexican sun, winds and waters as current life aboard revolves around the slightest shift in weather conditions, sleep, food, and radio check-ins. It will indeed be interesting to see how our journey evolves.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Almost off... blog post test

Position: Punta de Mita, Mexico
Distance to Hilo: 2,785-nm

Although we truly love it here in Mexico, we're trying not to drag our feet on the take off. The winds are just filling in now. We just have to pull the East Pacific Ocean and Soccoro Island paper charts, download winlink, upload this test post, bring the flopper stopper aboard, take one last swim, weigh anchor and we'll be sailing!!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Savoring our final hours in Mexico

We're fully loaded and have broken free from La Cruz. We've been pushing hard to make safety upgrades for this passage and have done well but we are tired. Yesterday afternoon as Chris was squeezing more water than ever into our two 30-gallon-that-only-actually-hold-25-gallon tanks he noticed a leak. It turns out that the port tanks old level sender (which we knew was there but never used) was so rusty that the pressure of an exceptionally full tank of water was making it leak. The proper fix would require us to have a circular stainless plate made, remove water to dry the area to 4200 the screws, and would keep us at the dock until at least Monday. We chose to jury-rig a fix cutting off a wooden through-hull plug, putting pressure on it to hold it in with the stainless cover plate, and adjusting where we pull water from first. This speed bump traversed, we finally motored out to the anchorage as the sun set.

It was refreshing to be in the anchorage and feel the ocean moving under us again. This morning we awoke to dolphins swimming around our boat and now out of the marina, were able to make radio contact with the weather guru Don Anderson. He assured us the weather conditions are safe for the beginning of our passage and told us that there are currently about 6 other boats crossing to Hawaii. We then proceeded to make contact with two of them, Witte Raaf already nearly half way across and Commotion just one day out of Cabo. It is nice to know that others will be out there too. From here we weighed anchor and motored to the Marina La Cruz fuel dock. We tried, unsuccessfully to get some last internet as the breezes started to pick up. Always the adventurous one, Chris took the sail covers off and wanted to sail off the dock. Shawn was game, though tentative. Up went the 100% jib and after a first jumbled attempt, once we had the boat in a good position relative to the dock, we sailed smoothly off the dock and out of the marina!

The normal afternoon onshore thermals were filling in so we put up our main double reefed and did one long tack out into the bay and back toward Punta de Mita. It was beautiful Banderas Bay sailing. We munched on our rosemary ham-n-cheese sandwiches and admired our new dodger while sitting in its shade and the shade of the solar panels on the stern arch. As the sun continued to beat down and we shook both reefs we decided to try out our new awning too and marveled at the enclosed feeling of our cockpit. It is like having a covered porch attached to your house expanding the comfortable interior space outside. Another tack later and we were back at what we consider our home base- Punta de Mita. We sailed onto anchor and sighed with tired happiness to be here and splashed into the water to cool down.

It was an added bonus that we were able to get an internet connection to Skype our families and do a little last e-mailing and this final pictured post before we become quite disconnected for the next 30-days or so using the HF radio to make updates. We still have to get Tao truly ready for passage making, check the rig tension, cook lots of food, etc. So we plan to weigh anchor tomorrow whenever we're ready and point toward the Soccoro Islands. As the sun has set and the near full moon is up and the flopper stopper is set, it is time for us to enjoy what is likely our last grilled meal for a month (steak and chili poblanos with fresh salad) as celebration in this beautiful anchorage. We'll keep the blog updated as power allows, so please follow along and send us good weather thoughts!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Final Preparations?

The last week has been crazy.

  • Climb mast- Chris check masthead rig and prep for painting, Shawn paint red visibility stripe atop mast and several pieces around boat: check.

  • Fit dodger, awning, and weather cloths: check.

  • Have stainless tiller bracket backup fashioned: check.

  • Assemble abandon ship kit: check.
  • Complete hand sanded teak plugs for haus pipes (where anchor chain goes through deck), remark anchor chain, detach for long passage to reduce leakage: check.
  • Provision dry stores at Mega: check

  • Spend several hours pulling the freshest fruits and vegetables for a 30-day long passage at the local La Cruz Thursday evening veggie market. Borrow marina dock cart, wheel through town, fill with veggies, stop at favorite taco stand for dinner en route back to Tao: check.

  • Clean each fruit and vegetable individually and dry: check.

  • Pack all food so it is organized, secure, and accessible: check(?)

  • Motor in early morning calm to Nuevo Vallarta to obtain zarpe and officially check out of Mexico before the port captain and immigration offices close for the weekend: check.

  • Sail back to La Cruz in beautiful breezes with 100% jib alone- our first sail with the cockpit enclosures: check.
  • Continue to tie up details, download weather data (GRIB files), attempt to relax at the Friday night cruisers movie in the Sky Lounge: check.
  • Clean and grease winches: check.

  • Still to do: blog updates, final water and fuel fill, Skype family members, clean the bottom of the boat...

Throughout this tumultuous time we have worked to find peaceful moments slowing down enough to enjoy the moment. We have luxuriated in the supportive cruiser atmosphere by taking part in Andiamo's dock party, going surfing with Popoki, eating street tacos with Safety Cat, enjoying pineapple icebox cake with Kenta Anae, and celebrating with the fun young couple on Dream Keeper their just completed circumnavigation and our near jumping off for Hawaii. It has also been fun to follow friends in their cruises across the Pacific over the last months (Mystic, Britannia, Piko, Midnight Blue, Ka'Sala, Buena Vista, Saviah, etc.) and educational in regards to our upcoming attempt. Not to mention we've received lots of advice and had many easy interesting conversations with too many other boats and marina employees to name.

Our excitement runs high and we have only a few last things to do before leaving the dock and heading out to anchor (don't worry we will be sure to reattach the chain). Once we're out of the marina (and most of the radio interference) we'll be able to listen to weather on the Amigo and Southbound Nets and also check-ins from around the Pacific on the Pacific Seafarers Net. We hope to make it out to the La Cruz anchorage tonight and then Punta de Mita tomorrow where we'll attack the tasks still left undone. It will be at anchor that we'll do final passage preparations and await the "perfect" moment to pull anchor and head west. The weather data is looking good for a Monday departure, but only time will tell.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

At the dock, voyage preparations in Marina La Cruz

It was an abrupt transition from surfing all day everyday and living on the hook in Punta de Mita's rolly anchorage to tying up to a dock. We haven’t spent time in a marina since Berkeley in 2008 and had forgotten what it was like. The first night, it was so still, we awoke wondering if we were on-the-hard. And socially there is so much activity, a little dock community if you will. We came in that Tuesday the 26th to meet Ivett from A Stitch in Time so she could start work on our dodger. Marina La Cruz was able to offer us a good deal if we stayed the last few days of April before the off-season May prices (and also the heat wave temperatures) kicked in. It has been completely worth it. Our first afternoon at the dock Ivett was aboard making a pattern for our dodger while we ran around taking off the traveler and shaping blocks for a dodger bracket for solid forward attachment points.

Since then, while our dodger is being sewn, we’ve both been chipping away at our “To Do” lists. They didn’t seem very long at first, but progress is slow. Somehow no matter how hard we work at sitting down and making an efficient list, when we break and start the work, inevitably we are each all of a sudden working on some little un-noted-on-the-to-do-list task… Such is life on a boat. Of course there are all of the “daily” boat tasks (finding and filling up with fresh water, propane tank fills, food shopping, and cleaning). Then, we’ve made a few trips to the big city, Puerto Vallarta, to borrow charts (Hawaii, South Pacific, and Micronesia, thanks Kavenga!) and have them photocopied at the local Office Max, find hardware items not available in just every corner store (1.5” inside diameter flexible bilge hose), and vanilla soy milk (which Chris found after extensive searching at a natural food store flanking Walmart).

During the days at the boat we are, as usual, exploded all over the dock. Chris is on deck attaching dodger mounts, extra life raft mounts (thanks Britannia, Krister you got Chris thinking about the forces of breaking waves on items on deck!), a mount for Fatty’s stern atop the dorad guards, and custom teak plugs for our two haus pipes. Shawn is down below sewing weather cloths, inventorying dry food stores, organizing all of Grizzly’s paperwork for as seamless a check-in to Hawaii as possible (including on line contact with US Customs, RabiesFree@hawaii.gov, the USDA inspector in Hilo, and a Hawaiian traveling veterinarian as well as trying to talk a veterinarian here in La Cruz into selling us supplies for a cat-first-aid-kit), and a general deep clean so Tao is ready to receive provisions.

We did have a break on April 30th to celebrate Chris’ birthday. We caught a bus into PV (Mexico’s bus service is so good!). We stopped on the way in at A Stitch in Time to pick up extra material we had ordered for Shawn to make our weather cloths. But the main purpose of the trip was to spend a blissful matinee drinking frozen frappachinos and eating buttery popcorn in the air conditioned surround sound movie theater enjoying a fun flick (in English with Spanish subtitles) The Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon. We literally had the entire theater to ourselves!

When we came back the winds were up so we pulled Fatty’s sailing rig out and sailed her out of the marina for a maiden voyage in 15-20 knots with 2-ft chop. She did well. We, on the other hand, were getting doused by waves, slipping all over the newly painted interior and had to play around shifting our weight to get her to tack properly in such winds. Great practice and super fun (although Shawn might wear her life vest in the future- just in case, and it's hard to imagine using this as a life raft in conditions that one might need to abandon ship). After weaving through the anchorage several times we brought her back into the marina and Chris spent the next hour tacking up and down each isle of sailboats enjoying the winds with the responsive little dinghy and no seas.

Grizzly has been catching up on her sleep during the day (she no longer needs this rigged "safe-zone" as the hinge for her hiding spot has been fixed) and we are all happy that her kitty-head (converted litter box) has received a deep clean. She has been helping out by wandering the perimeter of the boat keeping the marina rats (yes, rats!) away. In the evening time she does require supervision because though she has yet to jump ship onto the dock, she really, really wants to. Thankfully both weeks of Semana Santa have finally past so we can get some good sleep (the first week here carried sounds of revelry celebrated faithfully in La Cruz every night until the wee hours of the morning and end capped by repeated fireworks (not the pretty kind, the loud jarring kind) at both dusk and dawn). Still, the upcoming week will indeed be crazy. It will be filled with the second and final fittings of the dodger, calculating, purchasing, and storing provisions, last minute trips up the mast to check the rig, watching the weather, and much much more as our departure date draws ever closer.