Many of my sailing friends are excellent researchers. They read about their upcoming destinations and are forearmed with a knowledge of what they will encounter. My tendency is to have enough knowledge to be prepared for our trip but allow the next harbor to reveal its offerings upon arrival. This way I form my own impressions and I have the delight of a child on Christmas morning – I arrive to an “unknown” destination and have the pleasure of watching the new location unwrap its mysteries. Thus I didn’t have a clear impression of what the Marquesas would look like and offer.
In my mind, I often thought that sailing in the Sea of Cortez felt like we were sailing through a vast desert canyon that happened to have a large sea in the middle. We were surrounded by arid cliffs dotted with cacti and a few tenacious, scrubby plants. We anchored near appealing sandy beaches that offered little in the way of vegetation. How, I wondered, would The Marquesas compare?
After more than 2,500 nm of ocean, Nuku Hiva erupted from the Pacific Ocean as a large, mountainous land mass. In contrast to Mexico, Nuku Hiva’s rocky cliffs were draped in an assortment of greenery; low lying ground cover carpeted the jagged heights and a variety of trees interrupted the undulating ground. Gone were the occasional succulent plants, replaced by foliage that clamored skyward with flowers and fruit dotting the branches.
Even the smell was different. The Sea of Cortez, especially in summer, had the smell of heat and dust, but in Nuku Hiva, the scent of plumeria and rich, damp soil wafted on the breeze to our boat. Our senses were assailed by the changes in our location.
The Marquesas are the youngest of the five Polynesian Archipelagoes and unlike the majority of the French Polynesian Islands, these islands do not have surrounding fringing reefs. We found the anchorages generally deep and open to the ocean, allowing weather and waves to influence the comfort of our stay. And often dictate the need to find a different bay.
Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva, where we first dropped anchor in the Marquesas, was littered with sailboats because this port is an official check-in point for French Polynesia. Nuku Hiva is the capital of the Marquesas and in 2017 had a population of just fewer than 3,000.
.After cleaning TTR and clearing into the country, we strolled the main street that boarders the crescent shaped bay and we meandered into “magazins” to see what provisions and fresh foods were available. Good fortune was with us as we learned that the supply ship carrying fresh vegetables would arrive the following day.
After strolling the main street and finding our land legs, we met our friends Nan and Doug of s/v Paseo for lunch at the Keikahanui Pearl Lodge. The Lodge is situated on a rise at the northwestern side of the bay and offers a beautiful view of Taiohae Bay. We sat in the open air restaurant, scanning across the swimming pool, into the Bay where we could see Ticket to Ride happily resting on anchor. It was very fun to enjoy someone else’s cooking and swap stories about the crossing with friends who had recently sailed a similar route.
Our friends Bruce and Alene on s/v Migration were due to arrive from Mexico a day or two after us. We looked forward to welcoming them and talking about how closely we traveled, yet were unable to catch glimpses of each other.
Erik, one of our crew, was scheduled to leave TTR soon, so after spending a couple of days checking in, catching up on internet, restocking our fresh food and enjoying sleep without night watches, we upped anchor and moved to Hakatea or Daniel’s Bay.
Hakatea is best known for its hike to the Vaipo Waterfall, which we definitely wanted to make. The hike starts at a very pretty volcanic sand beach where a few local families live and harvest copra (dried coconut from which oil is made) to sell in Tahiti. The beginning of the hike passes the home of a local family who offers lunch to hikers. We had heard the lunch of local fare was excellent so we made our reservations to dine after our trek.
The walk to Vaipo Waterfall meandered along wide tracks and narrow trails.
Sometimes we hopped from rock to rock through dense ground cover and other times we balanced along a low lying tree limb to traverse a stream.
Most of the time we were in the shade of crisscrossed leaves and vines but always we were angling upward toward the waterfall basin that was our destination.
Four and a half miles along, we walked through thigh high ground cover with a sheer rock face to our left and a glimpse of the waterfall in front of us. We rounded one last group of rocks and there before us was a beautiful pool surrounded by boulders, bright green foliage and a vertical mountainside rising 1,148 feet into the sky, per Wikipedia.
The pool was glassy calm where we approached it. The base of the waterfall was recessed into the rock wall behind some huge boulders. It is hard to comprehend the magnitude of this area, so look at the same image below with Amelia standing on the sentinel rock to get a better feeling for just how large this cliff is.
We promptly discarded our shoes, then swam and climbed our way to the other side of the large boulders standing guard before the waterfall. Finally we monkeyed our way into the cavern behind the boulders where we could see and hear the water tumbling somewhere in the recesses of the high, huge cave. (Oops, no waterproof camera, so no photos.)
The fresh water pond was bracingly cool after fording the trail. We spent a long while playing in the darkened hideaway where the sounds of the water cascading into the pool and our voices echoed off of the rock walls. Small fish and 4 inch crawdads swam in the shallows, ready to nibble toes if we were still too long.
The fresh water was refreshing and a fun change from salt water, but in the shaded depths we soon grew chilly, so we made our way back to shore to begin our return hike.
Amelia has a lot of plant knowledge and as we clambered along she taught us about several of the plants we passed. Some were edible. Others were medicinal. Most were pretty to look at, but a few needed to be avoided. Learning about the plants distracted us from our rumbling stomachs. We were all anxious to try the local fare that waited at the end of our walk.
Simeon and René (I think I have their names correct) served grilled tuna caught that morning, fried ulu (breadfruit), plantains and a bit of cucumber salad, along with passion fruit juice. It was an interesting experience eating at the rustic picnic tables, with smoke from the grill enshrouding our table between breezes, watching several cats scavenge leftovers from the table top next to us as we constantly waved flies off of our food and ourselves. Certainly these were not the health standards found back home, but the food was delicious and it is pretty awesome to know that everything we ate was grown on site or caught just outside the anchorage. One of the original ‘farm to table’ dining experiences. (I have NO idea why I didn’t take pictures of lunch – it was worth photo recording)
The following morning we upped anchor again and continued south and west along Nuku Hiva to a small inlet called Marquisienne Bay (Anse Eua). This small inlet can manage only two boats and we had it to ourselves. The weather was settled so we were able to do some snorkeling, free diving and scuba diving.
The water in the Marquesas is not the gin clear variety you see pictured in Tahiti. Instead the water is teaming with plankton and alive with fish, manta rays, sharks and even some jellyfish and unidentified squiggly things.
We had a couple of really nice experiences in Marquisienne Bay including seeing a “manta train” of about 8 mantas cruising back and forth along a point. We also spied an octopus, which always makes my day.
Interestingly, the Marquesas Islands have a variety of climates on each island. Taiohae Bay, where we made groundfall, is on the southern, rainy, lush side of the island, but it was obvious in Marquisienne Bay that we were getting close to the more western side of the island which garners less rain and is actually a desertlike environment. We would get a much better feeling for the variable climate of Nuku Hiva during our drive to take Erik to the airport.
Erik’s was scheduled to fly out, so we headed back to Taiohae Bay. We rented a car and drove Erik to the airport on the NW side of Nuku Hiva, Although small, the airport was clean and comfortable with nice people working tiny shops that were only open when airplanes were arriving and departing.
After waving goodbye to Erik, we put the rental car to good use and explored Nuku Hiva. Crisscrossing the island we drove through lush landscape and encountered some dry, parched conditions.
In between, we saw prairie like areas of tall grass where cows and horses grazed, and in the highest altitudes of 4,000 feet, we encountered pines forests!
It was interesting to see the vast difference in climates interspersed with gorgeous views of the ocean, especially when covering an island only 18.6 miles long and 9 miles wide.
One thing that we have had to adjust to is the hours of operation for stores and restaurants in French Polynesia. Nuku Hiva was our first island and we had not adjusted to strictness of hours. Unlike the U.S., breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at very specific hours and we missed the lunch window. We had hoped to eat at Chez Yvonne since we had heard it was excellent. Instead we bought soft drinks and a snack which we ate sitting while on the edge of the water, across from the church. No baguettes were available, so we ate peanuts and crackers while looking out over the Hatiheu Bay; because we don’t get ocean views very often! : )
When we arrived in Nuku Hiva, the fuel supplies were depleted but the ship with diesel and gasoline arrived and we wanted to top up the fuel tanks on Ticket to Ride. The fuel dock in Taiohae Bay lacks any protection and we weren’t willing to risk damaging or scratching TTR by tying up to the dock, so instead we rented jerry cans from Fakarava Yacht Services to transport fuel. We made trips between the fuel dock and TTR in the dinghy, filling the jerry cans, then transferring the diesel into our boat tanks. Luckily we hadn’t used much fuel since leaving Mexico and we only needed 75 gallons of diesel which we were able to acquire in just two trips!
Although we were all anxious to move on to our next island, I was very interested in seeing the tattooing event scheduled in Taiohae Bay. The event included tables where traditional Polynesian tattooing was done, Polynesian dance demonstrations were performed and some traditional foods were available for purchase.
After the festival, Amelia, Frank and I made a final provisioning run to stock up on fresh food before heading to less populated islands of the Marquesas.
One fun fact for those of us who grew up watching Gilligan’s Island, per Wikipedia, “In the Gilligan’s Island episode X Marks the Spot, the Professor gives coordinates for the castaways’ imaginary island that would put it in the outer fringes of the Marquesas group.”
We may be overlapping with some Gilligan’s Island trivia, but we have NO desire to offer three hour tours much less end up stranded on some remote island. Visit remote islands? Absolutely! We are so lucky to do so. But get stranded on one? Nah, we prefer to skip that!!
Thanks so much for reading our blog. We would love to hear your thoughts through the comment section. Wishing you good health and fun adventures.
After sailing 25,000+ nautical miles on Ticket to Ride, plus the 20,000+ miles sailed on Let It Be, one might consider Frank and me pretty accomplished sailors. But the fascinating thing about the sailing and cruising life is that, regardless of how long you live it, you continue to learn and improve your skill set.
Learning to navigate the islands of French Polynesia, especially the atolls of the Tuamotos, is a perfect example of how our knowledge and ability for sailing and living on a sailboat continue to grow…
Anyone who researches sailing in the Tuamotos quickly reads about three influential factors: 1. ‘Passes’ which are entrances and exits to the atolls, 2. Traversing atolls, which are littered with coral and rock bommies, and 3. Floating your anchor chain.
Initially each of these can sound very intimidating and could discourage sailors from exploring the Tuamotos, but we like to look at challenges as opportunities to learn and improve our proficiency. Also, after seeing the pictures below of an atoll, who wouldn’t want to find a way to visit some, especially in the comfort of your own floating home?
Very few sailing books about the Tuamotos are available, but the cruising community has some extremely organized and helpful folks who have written and compiled a good amount of information about their personal experiences here in French Polynesia. These compendiums are often regularly updated and they are invaluable resources when preparing to sail in French Polynesia. These are a few excellent compendiums if you are interested: Jacaranda Journey, Soggy Paws and Pitufa
PASSES: When perusing the compendiums, passes garner a lot of typeface! Passes into each atoll vary greatly. Some are wide and straight while others are angled or have dog-leg turns. Some are pretty short but others are much longer. My estimate is that the passes range from less than .2 miles to over .75 miles (321 – 2,308 meters). Not all passes are actually navigable, so sailors cannot assume that any opening into an atoll is an entrance.
Once a navigable pass is found, the state of tide within the pass must be considered before attempting to enter. Diurnal tides empty or fill an atoll every six hours. To add a bit of perspective about tides within a pass, consider that the lagoon of an atoll can be miles in length and width.
Let’s imagine a perfectly round atoll that has a diameter of 10 miles. A two foot tide change would displace 585,366,279 gallons of water; but it is hard to relate to that number. Instead consider that an olympic sized pool holds 660,000 gallons of water. That means that four times a day, at each tide change of two feet, our imaginary atoll moves the same volume of water as 887 olympic sized pools through a pass(es). That is a LOT of water.
When the tide in the pass is outgoing, or exiting a pass, there are usually choppy, abrupt areas of water near the outward end of the pass. When the tide is strong and collides with incoming ocean swell, one can encounter short, sharp waves as well as eddies that bounce a boat one way or another. If the current is incoming, often the inside portion of the pass has the short, steep waves where the incoming tide is meeting the waters of the atoll.
There are tide charts and applications for predicting when tide will be ebbing or flowing in specific places. One such tool is called “The Guestimator” – the name doesn’t inspire great confidence! We have read many accounts of the inaccuracy of all of the tide estimation tools. In our opinion, the best way to determine the state of a pass is to check the nearest tide chart and wave report, then approach the pass and observe the state of the sea at the entrance and inside the pass. Your own eyes and a decent set of binoculars will definitely help you determine a good time to enter or exit an atoll.
Remember, atoll passes can have a lot of current, the highest current we have encountered so far is about 5 knots, though I have read of currents up to 8 knots.
If possible, the best time to enter or exit an atoll is at slack tide; when the tide is in transition and doesn’t create a noticeable current in either direction.
Passes funnel water into a narrowing and shallowing area, so in addition to tides, we pay close attention to ocean swell direction. Extra caution is necessary when swells are rolling directly into a pass. Whether we are leaving or entering a pass, we do not want to be surprised by incoming ocean waves.
We have spent a few hours fishing the outside of an atoll while we wait for the conditions of a pass to become favorable. It is better to wait outside a pass for proper waves and tides rather than force your way in and create a dangerous situation.
Fortunately, Ticket to Ride has two 57hp engines that are in excellent condition, and therefore have been very reliable. Those who sail on boats with less powerful engines or less reliable engines will need to sail through the passes or wait for slack tide when they will have easier water to navigate.
Side note; although the passes can be challenging and require good timing and attention, they are also filled with sea life and are excellent places to snorkel or scuba dive during slack tide or an incoming tide. We have seen tons of beautiful fish, coral, sharks and manta rays when diving or snorkeling the passes.
TRAVERSING ATOLLS: All atolls are not made equally. Some are very large and others are very small. Some have towns with regular supply ships arriving weekly and others have no residents, no town and no supplies. But all of them have coral or rock areas that can cause damage to rudders, keels, dagger boards or any other part of the boat they encounter.
The water in the Tuamotos is beautiful, but it isn’t always possible to see the floor of an atoll. Visibility may be poor because the sun is causing glare on the water instead of shining into the depths or wind and waves have stirred up sand under the water. The atoll could be 100+ feet deep and a bommie can suddenly tower up to just a few feet below the water surface. Or perhaps the wind and waves are high and you cannot clearly read the water on the day you are traveling.
Our solution is to use satellite imaging overlays that show where our boat is and what is hiding under the water surface. We owe huge thanks to Bruce Balan of s/v Migration for his countless hours of work putting together charts for just this purpose. Bruce stitched together images for thousands and thousands of miles of sailing grounds with three different satellite photo sources overlaying the charts. ALL of this amazing information is available for free or with a donation at The Chart Locker.
Anyone can access and download these charts. We have downloaded all of The Chart Locker charts for French Polynesia and we literally navigate within the atolls using these satellite photograph overlays.
On Ticket to Ride, when traversing an atoll, we have one person on deck watching the water and one person at the indoor helm station studying the satellite images. We have TTR on autopilot so the person on deck or the person inside is able to adjust the course of TTR based on the chart or on our vision. Usually the person with the chart has a much better idea of any impediments from below. The person on deck can identify surface objects like other boats, debris, pearl floats or fishing buoys.
Traversing the atolls can be extremely stressful, but these charts make them more manageable, much less stressful and safer. Using these satellite overlays gives us “sight” where without them we were moving blindly through the water.
By the way, we also use these satellite images to assess every pass before we enter or exit it. The satellite images cannot tell us the current state of the water flow, but they can tell us the shape of the pass and where the deep, clean water lies.
Another added bonus is using these charts to scope out anchorage spots long before we decide where to drop the hook. Having the ability to look at the ocean floor for potential anchor spots opens up many more places to anchor safely and without damaging coral.
FLOATING ANCHOR CHAIN? Who ever heard of floating anchor chain?! Isn’t that an oxymoron? Nope. We are not talking about chain that floats, we are talking about adding buoys to our chain to suspend the chain in the water off of the ocean floor.
The purpose of floating your chain is twofold: 1. Floating the chain prevents it from hitting and damaging coral heads that are growing in an anchorage. 2. On light wind days, a boat can swing and twist in different directions and the anchor chain can become wrapped around rock or coral. When the chain is floated, the air filled buoys suspend the chain in the water high enough to prevent the chain from becoming entangled in the rocks or coral.
Chains that are wrapped around bommies harm the bommies and create a big challenge for the boater. It is difficult to maneuver a boat around rocks to untangle it, especially in high winds or if you must avoid other anchored boats or additional hazards. It is also difficult for a swimmer to dive to the chain then lift the chain to untangle it from the rock or coral. A scuba tank may be needed if the wrapped rock is deep or the chain is hard to disentangle.
It is much better to deploy floats, preserve the coral and avoid chain entanglements.
Deploying the floats requires a person to attach the buoys as the anchor chain is being released. This is a pretty simple action on most monohulls and many catamarans where one can easily reach forward on the bow and attach the float to the chain as it pays out over the anchor roller.
On Ticket to Ride, the anchor chain is encased in the longeron and drops into the water from under the crossbeam and trampoline. While we like this feature for esthetics and cleanliness, it does make deploying the buoys a challenge. We have created a manageable system that works for us.
Regardless of how the buoys are attached, we find that adding the first floats at one to two times the water depth is a good distance from the anchor to allow the hook to bite but the chain to be suspended. The next two sets of buoys are added at intervals of about 25 feet. Then we add the anchor bridle as usual.
This method of anchoring is a little challenging and it definitely took us a few iterations to refine the process, but now it is working well. Even though deploying the floats adds time and difficulty, it is worthwhile. Our hope is to leave the places we visit in better condition than we found them or at least to cause no harm. Floating our anchor chain preserves the beauty of the area, demonstrates respect to local residents and leaves the anchorage in good condition for the next person who visits.
Of course French Polynesia is unique and has many additional differences from other places we have sailed. We are learning about things such as weather in the southern hemisphere, traditions of local residents, species of aquatic life we haven’t seen before and more. All of these are adding knowledge to our cruising tool quiver, however, the three points covered here are unique and will immediately affect anyone who wants to sail in the atolls of the Tuamotos.
Thanks for stopping by to read our blog. I hope you found this information interesting and helpful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and we will do our best to answer them. Wishing you good health and fun adventures.
As Ticket to Ride takes us jaunting to different parts of the world, we find unique aspects about each place we visit. However, regardless of where we are, we consistently celebrate the sunset each evening. When living on land we rarely saw the sunset; often we were busy with tasks and didn’t even realize the sun had faded until we needed to turn on lights inside the house.
Living on TTR, we have a 360° view of our horizon and it is hard to miss the daily sky painting as the sun disappears. Moreover, we salute as many sunsets as we can and intentionally pause to appreciate their beauty and offer thanks for what the day has brought. Often this means sitting on the front deck or pausing dinner preparations to sit on the back steps to observe the process.
Having spent most of my life north of the equator, I assumed that sunsets around the world would be the same. While the setting of the sun is the same process, the colors I perceive here in the South Pacific have been different from those I was accustomed to seeing.
I love the vibrant oranges and pinks typical of the sunsets I saw north of the equator. Watching the colors develop and become more florescent as they twine into a collage feels new every evening
Here in the south pacific, I am surprised by how different the colors of sunset appear. If I had to use one word to describe the sunsets here in French Polynesia, I would use “pearlescent.”
Instead of brilliant pinks and oranges, the colors of the sky seem to have a pearly base to them. We see more whites and creams that become softer hues like lilac or cotton candy pink.
Eventually the colors arrange themselves into horizontal lines of color. Later in the painting process, rows of color similar to those of a rainbow develop. Here it seems like the colors stay more in delineated rows rather than intermingling.
For me the greatest difference in the northern verses southern sunsets occurs at the beginning when the opalescent quality of the south is most obvious and the colors are much softer.
The vivacity of the northern sunsets with intertwined, jewel tone colors is gorgeous and often feels like they are bursting with energy. Here in French Polynesia, the sunsets feel more calming with their gentle colors and organized lines.
In reading about the coral reefs here, we have learned that carbon dioxide emissions may be a factor in the different appearance of the sunsets here in the southern hemisphere. Having less carbon dioxide in the air here might be influencing the appearance of these sunsets.
Not everyone will agree with these differences between the northern verses southern sunsets, but to my eyes, the differentiation is obvious and beautiful to recognize. I only wish I could capture the difference between them more accurately in my photographs.
Can you see any distinction based on these photos or have you observed the same variances when you visited the two hemispheres? We would love to hear your opinion in the comments.
Thanks so much for reading our blog. We hope these sunset photos bring a smile to your face. Wishing you good health and fun adventures.
**This is a REALLY long post! If you are only interested the sailing bits, please read the 4th paragraph, then skip to the table at the bottom of the blog.
Similar to the old joke that you eat an elephant one bite at a time, our trip from Mexico to The Marquesas in French Polynesia was accomplished one nautical mile at a time until Ticket To Ride had consumed 2,859 nautical miles.
However, we broke up our consumption by making a stop at the Revillegedo Island of San Benedicto after leaving from La Ventana, MX. With provisions topped off in La Paz, we took a few minutes to festoon TTR with roses at the stern steps and bow. This Hawaiian tradition for a safe journey calls for Ti leaves, but since those weren’t available, we used the powerful rose instead.
On April 21st, we sailed to La Ventana where we dropped anchor and enjoyed a day on the hook to decompress from the city and the stress of provisioning and preparing. We spent the day relaxing, enjoying the water and settling in as a traveling group of four. Since Amelia and Erik passaged with us from Hawaii to Alaska, the process of settling in was really the fun of reuniting with friends who are excellent travel companions.
La Ventana to San Benedicto was an easy 329 nautical miles.We departed La Ventana after the southern winds died and we hoped for some north winds. A leisurely departure around 9:30 am with only 6.5 k of wind speed, we motored a bit until the wind angle improved then we put up the mainsail, genoa and spinnaker staysail. Day one we only covered 88nm between 9 am and midnight. The second day we had better winds and covered 188nm which set us up for a lovely 7:40 am arrival on April 25th. Our trip to San Benedicto took a little over 46 hours with an average speed of 7.1k and a maximum speed of 14.8k. This was a great warm up for the crossing to the Marquesas.
The Revillegedo Islands are sometimes called the Galapagos of Mexico because they are remote, rarely visited and have plenty of sea life. We chose to stop here to scuba dive again (our third visit) and enjoy watching the giant manta rays and other wonders below.
Above water, San Benedicto is desolate, without growth and covered in a loose ash that can infuse the air and dirty the decks on windy days. Under the water, San Benedicto is filled with colorful fish, huge rock pinnacles, deep canyons, giant manta rays, schools of fish and plenty of sharks.
In the evening we turned on our underwater boat lights and watched the small fish gather. But soon larger fish and sharks arrived for some easy hunting. Then we were surprised that dolphins moved in and usurped the territory forcing the sharks to share the hunting ground….. We didn’t leave the lights on very long as we don’t want to alter the natural tendencies of the ocean dwellers. We did enjoy the show while the lights were shining though.
The ocean is a marvel of life and we seem to observe new behaviors or new things regardless of how much time we live on the water.
While we enjoyed San Benedicto, there was a little looming reminder that we had a long passage before us and we were all excited to begin. Our weather window arrived quickly and we departed on Thursday, April 28th at 11:20 am. The first day of we had steady winds between 8 and 16 knots and very calm seas. We managed a bit over 106 nm with an average speed of 8.9k. I remember thinking this trip would be a cakewalk if we kept those conditions.
Our first surprise arrived in the form of a land bird who joined us as we were leaving San Benedicto. We tried hard to shoo him back to San Benedicto and off to Socorro when we were passing that island. Alas, “Lenny” had other plans and he chose to turn in his Ticket To Ride with us.
Initially, Lenny was very brave, perhaps in shock, and would land on us or near us. Once I was lying down in my room and felt something near my face….. it was Lenny sitting next to me on Frank’s pillow! Cute as that sounds, Lenny was not house trained so we shooed him outside.
As animal lovers, we couldn’t bear to leave Lenny in need, so we began feeding and watering him regularly. Ironically, this made Lenny less willing to come near us. Soon we had a knowledge of his food preferences (he loved corn chips and cashew clusters) and we had taught him not to enter the salon but to stick to the outer parts of TTR!
Training Lenny not to come inside TTR was very quick but also a little sad. The first evening, in an effort to train him, we closed the sliding doors while we ate dinner. Lenny kept flying up to the door to try to join us! Then he would walk along the sliding door peering in and making little flying hops to try to find an entrance. It was both comical and sad, but effective. Lenny rarely entered the salon after that evening even though we left the sliding doors open the remainder of the passage!
Lenny was not a fan of winches and would fly to the front of the boat or hide in the dinghy and sometimes fly off the boat whenever major sail changes occurred. When the noises of sail change ramped up, Lenny would fly away, then return shortly later. One the night of day six from San Benedicto, we had several sail changes and there was a bit of rain and wind. Apparently Lenny was pretty unsettled by all the noise and flew a little further than usual from TTR. But since he had disappeared and reappeared many times over the last days, we weren’t too worried.…
Until we didn’t hear any chirps all morning. On day seven, Lenny did not return. We were hoping he was just extra tired after a busy night of sail changes, but alas, Lenny never returned. We kept Lenny’s spot stocked with his favorite food for a day or two, just hoping he would surprise us and reappear. We really hope Lenny found a different boat where he is happily ensconced and being well fed. I don’t like to think of our little feathered friend fatigued and lost at sea.
Days and nights on passage are a collidescope of skies, ocean, sunsets, sunrises, naps, food, podcasts, music, stars, stars and more stars! After a few days, a loose routine sets in where we rotate night watches of three hours each, unless there is a weather concern, then we have two people on deck for six hours and they take turns up and sleeping. During the daylight hours, with four souls on board, it is easy to grab naps as needed because somehow all of us end up wanting to sleep at different times. This trip we changed watch hours so that we could have a variety of views; one person didn’t always have the sunrise or the deep dark hours around 2 am.
One interesting and slightly disconcerting aspect of this passage was time and time zones. As we traveled south and west, our location changed the timing of sunrise and sunset. Not very far into the passage, sunset was occurring around 8:45 instead of 7:15ish. And sunrise had become 5 am. This alteration of the sun in comparison to the Mexico time zone on our clocks made it necessary to alter our shifts so we were actually covering the hours of darkness. We had to determine the correct time in Nuku Hiva so we could adjust our internal rhythms as well as our clocks and shift schedule. This passage, the change in time zone felt more drastic than when we sailed from Hawaii to Alaska.
Turns out, Nuku Hiva time is actually 3.5 hours behind Mexico time. I didn’t even know there were places that altered their clocks by 30 minutes; I thought it was always by the hour. Though upon reflection, the need to adjust incrementally makes complete sense.
The one consistent event on TTR is dinner. We always make dinner a satisfying meal that all of us eat together at the table. The autopilot is on but we remain aware of conditions as we enjoy a meal together. This is a great time to discuss concerns, recap the day and strategize based on weather information. This is also a time for us to adjust sails in preparation for night watches before dark sets in. It is MUCH easier to adjust sails in the light and perhaps even be a bit conservative on our sail plan, rather than throw the dice and have to make major adjustments in the dark when conditions have become a little spicy.
As mentioned in the Hawaii to Alaska blog, we eat really well on Ticket To Ride! If you are interested, at the end of this post I have listed our dinners during this passage.
Fishing, or as I call it “dragging,” is definitely hit or miss on TTR. Often we are sailing so quickly our lures get frayed or we are too fast to hook up fish (9+ knots). But we still try. The first day we had our lures out, we sailed near a group of birds obviously diving into a fish-boil. Moments later one rod offered the “zing” of a fish on, though the pull was light and sporadic. We hopped into action, furling the headsail, heading to wind to slow the boat, etc.
Imagine our dismay when we realized a Booby Bird had snagged our line! We brought the bird in as gently as we could and found he had tangled a wing in our line. Thankfully, he allowed Frank and Erik to carefully remove the line – he didn’t even become aggressive. Really quickly the line was free but the bird chose to ride along with us for about 15 minutes while he was catching his breath. Perhaps Lenny gave him confidence that we were safe.
We spoke gently to the Booby and encouraged him to be well and fly back to his friends, which he did, without issue. Phew! Enough fishing for that day!!
Sunday as the sun was descending into the horizon, the starboard side fishing rod zinged to life. Amelia and I handled sail furling while Frank and Erik pretended to be participants in The Deadliest Catch! Actually, they didn’t pretend anything, but they did land a beautiful Mahi! Yum!
Calm passages are a good time to catch up on some “Boat Love,” as we refer to many boat jobs. The skies were clear, the seas were calm and we took a moment for some TTR maintenance. I polished a little bright work while Frank waxed some painted surfaces. Not wanting his shoulders overexposed to the sun which was growing more powerful as our trajectory moved us closer to the equator, Frank donned a shirt for protection. However, the combination of sun and effort soon had our captain’s temperature rising; so in the best way possible, Frank made a costume adjustment and rocked his Britney Spears look!
Erik received the award for strangest event during this passage. One night while on watch, he saw a huge object fly across the sky. He still can’t figure out if it was a meteor, a UFO, a comet or something else. Of course we couldn’t access the news to see if anything was reported but Erik did manage to snap this photo which he says doesn’t begin to do the event justice.
I find it truly amazing how vast and small the ocean can be. Days on end we will see no one, hear no chatter on the VHF and wonder if the world has disappeared while we were in no mans land. But sometimes it is crazy to actually see another boat come very close to you when there is so much space in the ocean that you could easily pass someone nearby but not within eyesight.
Our friends on s/v Migration, Bruce and Alene, had left a different Revelligedo Island than we did and upped anchor only 45 minutes before us. Bruce and Alene were about 200 nm further along than we were but we hoped to somehow meet in the middle of the Pacific and say hello.
We kept in touch via satellite messages and hoped we would catch them. Late one evening, the VHF sounded a familiar call, “Ticket to Ride, Ticket to Ride, Migration here.” We jumped for the radio, galvanized by the voice of our friends, only to realize that our VHF was not transmitting well, or maybe not at all! It was very frustrating to hear Migration call and not be able to respond.
We were not within eyesight, but we could have been within earshot!
Frank and Erik addressed the VHF issue and learned that an essential component had failed. Luckily Frank attached our back up, handheld VHF directly to the mast antenna making it possible to use the radio. Our next visitor will get to bring us the part necessary to make our boat VHF operational.
Just a few days later we spotted a light on the horizon during the early morning darkness. As the run rose, we caught up to s/v Pablo, a monohull heading to Nuku Hiva with five souls on board. Amelia grabbed the camera and took some lovely pictures which she shared with that family once we were all in Taiohae Bay.
I am not one for “Bucket Lists” but I really wanted to swim in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and I really, really wanted to swim at the equator. There is an area known as the ITCZ, Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, where the weather can be dicy or dead calm; stormy and squally or smooth as glass without a ripple of wind. The ITCZ is a moving area that expands and contracts based on weather, so it is a moving target that sailors try to move through at its most narrow point.
We were blessed with a calm passage through a narrow ITCZ which allowed us to SWIM on Wednesday, May 4th. First we floated a long line off the stern of TTR as a grab line in case of a current or boat movement. Next, Frank and Amelia chose to jump from the helm station roof, while Erik and I donned our mask and fins. On the count of three, the team jumped into the Pacific Ocean!!
Erik was immediately approached by a HUGE marlin – we estimate he was 8-10 feet without his bill! The marlin approached to within about 12 feet of Erik. When I spotted the marlin, he had his mouth open and it looked like he was determining if we were all tasty nuggets dropped from above. Thankfully he decided we weren’t chum and with one slight flick of his tale, the marlin disappeared into the depths.
I will never forget the beauty and power of the moment I saw that marlin. He was a shiny, sleek sliver-blue suspended in a perfectly clear, dark blue sea. The only thing I can reference to describe him would be a glass sphere, like one on a dest, that has a marlin suspended in translucent blue glass that reflects against his armor-like exterior.
What an experience!
I am beginning to think Bucket Lists might be as powerful as positive thinking since I was also gifted with the opportunity to swim at the Equator!! Now that was icing on my wishes since my true hope had been to swim at the equator; but often the weather isn’t cooperative or a boat crosses during darkness.
Not TTR! At 10:38 am on May 7th, the chart plotter showed 0 00.000’ We were ON THE EQUATOR!
We pointed our bows to span the equator and allowed Jude, the auto pilot, the direct our course while we celebrated and swam!
Tradition demands a celebration/initiation of sailors who cross the equator for the first time. Post ceremony, a sailor looses his status as a Pollywog and becomes a Shellback. At its essence, this means a person is no longer green or untried but rather has earned his stripes as a sailor. Celebrations and hazing are often hand in hand with the initiation and as the only shellback on board, Amelia had control of the initiation for Frank, Erik and me….
Fortunately Amelia is very playful but doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, so I knew fun would be had with just a smidge of hazing. Having said that, our playtime becoming Shellbacks was so fun that it deserves its own blog. Check back for our next piece with all the details and photos!
Many people told us they found a .5 to 2.0 knot favorable current beginning anywhere from 3 degrees N of the equator all the way to Taiohae Bay on Nuku Hiva. We knew Nuku Hiva was only a few days away yet we had only experienced unfavorable currents of up to 1.5 knots. If we could find that positive current, our travel time could be reduced by at least one full day.
Alas, no such luck! We only saw negative current or neutral current throughout our passage. Still, our arrival time was anticipated to be sometime on May 11th which would mean our total travel time since leaving La Ventana was only 16 days. Complaining is completely unwarranted.
May 10th arrived bright and sunny with just a few wispy clouds – perfect for celebrating Erik’s 40th birthday! Amelia had masterminded a fun celebration and while in La Paz we had procured “things” to make this birthday a memorable one.
Ironically, several times during the passage, Erik had bemoaned not buying a piñata before leaving Mexico. Unbeknownst to him, Amelia had squirreled one away and it was the first step in Erik’s birthday celebration and gift hunt!
We had a great time watching Erik unravel Amelia’s clues for where to find his gifts. New clues and fun surprises were dispersed in the freezer, the dinghy, the mast line bag and even the bilge. Erik was a good sport and wore the piñata as a hat for much of the day. That evening we celebrated with burgers, homemade buns, yummy veggies and blondies for dessert dessert which we topped it with ice cream we had hidden in the freezer for this special occasion.
Throughout the trip, I tried to have some little special things to help keep the crew happy and make sure spirits were lifted if needed. At the equator crossing, Frank, Erik and Amelia received t-shirts from La Paz. At the 1/2 way point we had a pretty fancy dinner of pork tenderloin in a brown sauce with green beans and rice followed by brownies. When we reached 500 nm remaining, I brought out dark chocolate covered cherries straight from Michigan.
None of those things are really important, but they do make life aboard a bit more fun.
The day after Erik’s birthday we could clearly see Nuku Hiva in the dawn light. A small group of dolphins acknowledged us by swimming past us as we approached Taiohae Bay. The water washing against and away from the mighty elevation of Nuku Hiva was sharp and tumultuous as we jetted in under main and reacher. By 10:20 am on May 11, 2022, 13 days and 23 hours after leaving San Benedicto, we had set our anchor in French Polynesia. We had completed our passage to French Polynesia and achieved a milestone! Without regard for the early hour, we broke out the bubbly to celebrate a successful and excellent trip across the Pacific Ocean.
It bears stating that our passage was truly a blessed one! We saw storms on the horizon that looked destined to inundate us with wind and rain, yet they all passed before or behind us or dissipated before we reached them. At times it felt like the Red Sea was parting before us! TTR felt like she was enclosed in a special space of protection as we encountered very few weather or sea surprises.
Our travel time was quick and our breakages nearly non-existent. The only problems we had were: 1. the VHF Box failed and needs to be replace, but Frank rigged up a temporary fix. 2. Our IridiumGo antenna was knocked by the leach of a sail when the wind flogged but while at the Rev’s, Frank went up the mast and installed a protective margarita mix bottle – hahaha, now our antenna is very happy. 3. When we arrived in Nuku Hiva, the anemometer at the top of the mast was loose and Erik took a ride to the top of the mast to tighten the loosened screws.
SAILING SYNOPSIS: This is a simplified table of our sailing, not a perfect representation of detailed sail changes and wind speeds or angles.
|Rev Islands to Nuku Hiva, FP on Ticket To Ride||TRUE WIND SPEED||TRUE WIND ANGLE||SAILS DEPLOYED||TOTAL 24 HOUR MILES|
|Day 1||13||114||Main R1, drifter||106 (13 hours)|
|Day 2||14||119||Main R1, drifter||212|
|Day 3||13||170||Drifter, genoa||158|
|Day 4||10||160||Drifter at night, double headsails by day||148|
|Day 5||11||155||Drifter only||156|
|Day 6||13||152||Drifter only||169|
|Day 7||4-13||17-160||Drifter 16 hours, 1 engine 8 hours||145|
|Day 8||16||65||Main R2, genoa||185|
|Day 9||18||100||Main R2, genoa||231|
|Day 10||14||105||Main R2, genoa 12 hours, Main R1 w Reacher – 12 hours||195|
|Day 11||12||125||Main R1 and reacher||205|
|Day 12||15||100||Main R2, genoa 12 hours, Main R2, reacher 12 hours||243|
|Day 13||18||123||Main R2 and reacher||242|
|Day 14||17||130||Main R2 and reacher|
Dinner on TTR is a “thang”
~Mykronos Aubergine Stew – veggies, including eggplant – yum.
~Grilled AK Halibut on a bed of mixed greens and avocado with sautéed poblano pepper, asperagus, onion, etc
~General Tsao’s Tofu with cilantro garnish
~Erik’s Chicken Noodle Soup for lunch on passage
~Chicken Tacos with homemade salsa: creamy cashew cilantro sauce
~Grilled Pork Chops, salad, rice
~Pasta Bolignaise and sauteed green beans with mushrooms
~Honor-da-veg Day: mixed veggies in Mexican seasoning in flour tortillas
~Pizza Night – homemade pizzas
~One-Pot Chicken pesto pasta (using homegrown basil!), E’s vegetable soup, roasted green beans with candies rosemary almonds
Caught the first fish – Mahi
~Cajun seared mahi, black coconut rice, salad
~Mahi mahi tostadas…. (Lenny’s last meal)
~Pork tenderloin, curried green beans, rice
~Cinco de Mayo! Chicken tostados
~Cold asian noodle salad with panko crusted tofu
~Equator Pasties (meat pies) and blueberry pie
~Mahi, salad, rice
~Breakfast for dinner – eggs and waffles
~Birthday burgers, buns and fried potatoes, blondies with ice cream as birthday dessert
Phew! This was a long blog. Thanks for reading ALL of that. I hope this gives you some insight into our passage and how our time is spent while at sea. Please send us a comment if you have questions, and keep an eye out for our really fun pollywog to shellback ceremony!
P.S. I didn’t have enough internet to preview this post, please forgive poor formatting or mistakes. 🙂
Two years ago we went through all of the hoops to obtain a Long Stay Visa for French Polynesia. Ticket to Ride was prepped and stocked. Son Clayton and friend Connor were on board as crew and our weather window had arrived. I walked to the proper authorities to obtain our zarpe (clearing out papers) and we would leave the next morning. BUT – my zarpe was denied!
French Polynesia was closed due to COVID. Like everyone else ~ our plans had to change.
Fast forward 25 months and the reset button is officially pressed!
This time we will leave from La Paz instead of Puerto Vallarta and our destination is Nuku Hiva, Marquesas. The actual departure date from Mexico is expected to be April 22nd, depending on the weather, as usual.
We are super excited to finally begin our passage to these storied islands and accomplish a goal that has been in our sights for years.
If you would like to follow us on our journey across the Pacific, please follow this link or tap the “Where is TTR?” box under the main photo of our blog.
Back for a second passage on TTR are Amelia and Erik who traveled with us from Hawaii to Alaska. It is quite an endorsement that a) we invited them back for another passage and b) they are willing to spend another few weeks out on the Pacific Ocean with us.
When this announcement actually posts, we may already be on our way. Please feel free to follow us as we travel 3,000 nm from the Sea of Cortez as we enter and explore the southern side of the equator! We will post messages as we go which you can see via the PredictWind link listed above.
See you on the southern side….
Thanks so much for reading our blog and spending some of your time with us. If you have a favorite place or suggestion for places we shouldn’t miss in French Polynesia, please share them with us in the comments. Stay well and stay positive; we need all kinds of good thoughts in the world right now.
After spending an unexpected but excellent year cruising the Hawaiian Islands, it is time to seek new cruising grounds. Although our original intent when we left Mexico in March 2020 was to sail to French Polynesia, the decision to turn toward Hawaii proved one of our best. During the difficult times of a world pandemic, we were fairly isolated from risk because of our location, the precautions taken by Hawaii, and by our own actions which were guided by safety.
Cruising Hawaii during Covid 19, while restricted, also allowed us a glimpse into what Hawaii must have been like 30 or 40 years ago when tourism was not the mainstay of the economy and fewer people were exploring the trails and beaches. Certainly many attractions and restaurants were closed due to Covid, but the ability to walk trails that were almost devoid of people and have the natural beauty of places to ourselves was a unique gift that we will always treasure.
As lovely as Hawaii and its people have been, our original plan of traveling to French Polynesia is still our goal. We prefer to arrive in FP with a long stay visa in hand, which would allow us to stay for a year rather than three months. Long stay visas are not available at this time, so we have decided to point our bows in a northeast direction and “reset” our itinerary.
The plan is to leave Hawaii, sail north and east to Alaska and spend several weeks exploring the northern most state of the U.S. By the time weather forces us to seek a more southern location, we hope the Canadian borders will be open so we are allowed to stop in Canadian ports throughout the Inside Passage. From Canada we will sail to Seattle, then make a long jump to San Francisco, followed by stops in Long Beach and San Diego. Of course, all of these plans are “written in sand, at low tide” because we will be directed by the weather and border restrictions.
Unlike our east to west trip across the Pacific which was driven by the trade winds, this passage in the opposite direction will be influenced by the Pacific High weather system. We await its formation because once that high is in place, the low pressure systems are less numerous and our travel weather should be more stable and predictable.
But there is no guarantee that we will be able to avoid low pressure systems completely because the trip is expected to take 11-18 days and weather forecast predictions are not accurate that far in advance.
We have hired Bruce “The Weather Man,” a weather router located in Perth, Australia who studies the Pacific and will send us daily updates and course recommendations based on the information he has available. In addition to Bruce, we use the PredictWind weather application which gives us weather updates a few times each day.
Hopefully between Bruce and PredictWind, we will be able to find a comfortable and reasonably fast weather window. If you would like to follow our trip, here is a link which shows our location and speed.
Those who have sailed Alaska tell us the beauty of the area is amazing and that one season is simply not enough to adequately explore all Alaska has to offer. We are certain this statement will prove true and we will decide later if we want to extend our exploration beyond one short season.
We have also heard a wide range of reports about the weather in Alaska and I am certain those reports vary greatly depending on what weather each summer unleashes. Obviously the temperatures will be much different from the warmth of Hawaii. But we also anticipate encountering fog, ice, big winds, no wind, fishing boats, fish traps and perhaps a few cruise ships. To say the least, we expect our experience in Alaska will be about a 180 degree change from Hawaii.
We will trade the lush landscape and warm waters of Hawaii for the unknown and cold temperatures of Alaska.
We have mentioned often that the “aloha” we have received in Hawaii is amazing. If our saying so wasn’t enough proof of that, perhaps the fact that we have three crew members, all of whom we met in Hawaii, on board for this passage will cement our statement.
Our three crew are: Erik who we met in Maui in May 2020, Tommy who we met in Kaneohe Bay in June 2020, and Amelia who we met in Kauai in July 2020. Needless to say, we would not have asked these people to join us on a long passage unless we enjoy their company and they are capable hands on board Ticket to Ride. Inviting three Hawaiian residents to crew for us certainly proves that we have been well blessed to meet many excellent people while also enjoying the beauty of Hawaii.
So, when you see this post, know that we are somewhere along our course toward Juneau, Alaska. Hopefully the weather window we chose is a good one and we are enjoying a smooth, comfortable, safe and uneventful trip across 2700 nautical miles of Pacific Ocean.
Thanks for reading our blog. Take a peak at the link above to check our progress and perhaps add a little prayer for our safety. We have no idea how much internet/cell service we will have while in Alaska, but we will update our Facebook and Instagram pages more quickly than this blog page. See you soon from the chilly north!
OK, that is a dramatic headline, but certainly COVID-19 has affected nearly every part of the world, including those of us living on water.
Here on Ticket to Ride, we have kept our ear to the water, so to speak, while still preparing to sail across the Pacific Ocean to French Polynesia. We have spent many days preparing the boat, stocking up on information and supplies, buying food and preparing meals that can be reheated in case of rough seas, etc.
Yesterday, March 18th, I visited the Port Captain to prepare our departure paperwork and we scheduled our appointment with officials to sign us out of Mexico today at 11:00 am. We were excited and ready to depart.
However, this morning we were informed that this port of Mexico will not issue us a zarpé to French Polynesia. (Zarper: Spanish verb: to set sail.)
The information we have gathered from Polynesia concerning sailboats entering the country is contradictory.
Tuesday we learned:
- All arriving into FP have a 14 day quarantine for the Coronavirus.
- Boats would be restricted to the island where they enter the country.
- Inter-island travel for residents is restricted to work, family emergencies or returning home.
Wednesday evening we learned:
- Passage time will count toward the quarantine time for sailors.
- FP will not allow incoming air travelers.
- Non-residents will be repatriated.
Thursday (today) we learned from our entry agent:
- Cruisers can enter the Marquesas and Tahiti to fuel, provision and leave.
- We do not know any news about the Long Stay Visas yet. (We have preliminary LSVs but we also have to reapply when we arrive in French Polynesia and now that acceptance is questionable.)
In addition, there are other sources of information stating stronger restrictions and some stating fewer restrictions and still others saying the restrictions do not apply to sailboats.
The only constant is change, therefore our plans are fluid.
Are we still leaving for French Polynesia? Will we stay in Mexico and if so, where? If we leave but don’t go to French Polynesia, where will we go?
The answer is, we just don’t know. Here are the options currently on the table:
- Stay in Mexico.
- Sail to Hawaii then a: leave for FP when it opens or b: sail to Alaska after exploring Hawaii.
These are great options to have and we definitely consider ourselves blessed to be in this position.
However, juggling the information and determining our destination is a serious decision. We must consider the length of the trip, the sea and wind conditions, where we can land, if we will be welcomed and how the Conronavirus is affecting our destination.
One huge blessing on our side at the moment is having Clayton and Connor aboard TTR; their experience, intelligence, energy and enthusiasm are greatly appreciated.
So there you have our current non-plans. Look for a quick message on Facebook once we decide to depart. Until then, we will continue to consider our options.
Wishing all of you good health and calm surroundings.
As always, thank you for visiting our blog. Our prayers are with everyone affected by COVID-19. All the best from Ticket to Ride.