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Landing in the Marquesas; First Impressions of French Polynesia

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?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

Nuku Hiva arose abruptly from the depths of the Pacific Ocean

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.

Overlooking Taiohae Bay

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.

Migration finding her dropping spot upon arrival in Nuku Hiva.

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.

This soft, dark sandy beach was where we left our dinghy while we hiked.

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.

Erik using a live tree limb to cross a stream.

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.

Frank picks his way across layers of of fallen debris.

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.

Our first view of the pool near the waterfall.

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.

Amelia looks very small even though I have zoomed in a little on the camera.

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.

Frank, MaryGrace and Amelia returning from Vaipo Waterfall – Intent on reaching lunch, Erik was ahead of us.

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.

Marquisienne Bay is less verdant than Taiohae Bay.

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.

Nuku Hiva airport.

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.

Church in Hatiheu Bay.

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.

Men dancing at the Nuku Hiva Festival.
Polynesian men dancing while women play instruments.

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.

French Poly Toolbox – Skills We Are Adding to Our Cruising Quiver

Ticket to Ride anchored in Amanu Atoll, Tuamotos

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. 

Atoll: a fringing coral reef that creates a lagoon. Satellite photo of an atoll in the Tuamotos.

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

A satellite view of one pass into an atoll.

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.

The pass into Makemo Atoll during calm waters.

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.  

This is an example of an outgoing current or ebbing tide meeting open ocean on the outside of a pass pretty calm in this example.

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.

Sharks and fish abound in the Tuamotos.

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.

Those are not amoebas, they are satellite images of four atolls

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.

Image of Toau Atoll from one of The Chart Locker overlays

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.

The same chart with greater zoom for more details.

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.

The red boat represents TTR and the line extending from the boat is the course of TTR.

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.

Anchor floats suspended on TTR just prior to being deployed. We do not store the floats here on passages!

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.   

Image of how floating chain looks under water. Drawn by spiritofargo.com

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.

3 (Pollywogs) + 1 (Initiation) = 4 Shellbacks

NOTE:  Per my agreement with Amelia, our ceremony began with a prayer to thank God for our safety and blessings. It was important to me that we acknowledge these celebrations as a playful tradition and not acceptance of any other god(s).

When Ticket To Ride exited Mexico and headed toward N 0° 00.000’, there were three pollywogs on board plus one shellback.  Any sailor who has not crossed the equator is considered a “dirty pollywog” or “slimy pollywog.” Those who have already crossed the equator and endured the requisite ceremony are hailed as “Trusty Shellbacks,” “Honorable Shellbacks” or “Sons of Neptune.” 

Seafaring tradition, both civilian and military, 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. 

Image taken from Wikipedia article.

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…. 

When researching the “Crossing the Line Ceremony,” I learned that this practice was originally created as welcome “folly” to boost morale on board ships. The pollywogs had to endure some pranks and prove they were capable of handling long and uncomfortable passages before being declared Shellback worthy. Even prominent guests on board ships were included in the initiation. Charles Darwin’s account from February 16, 1832 describes a bit of his initiation experience and concludes “at last, glad enough, I escaped.”

There are stories about the ceremony on board US Navy ships, including an account by Franklin D. Roosevelt in a letter to his wife, Eleanor. Roosevelt was on board the USS Indianapolis and his letter of November 26, 1936 refers to his “Jolly Companions” when describing his line crossing ceremony.

However, some very dark accounts about just how rough and wrong some of these ceremonies became were also found in my research. Since the 1980s, the US Navy has placed heavy restrictions against harassment during the ceremonies and today they are supposed to be well meaning, morale boosting events rather than an opportunity for hazing.

Fortunately for us, Amelia is very playful but doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, so I knew fun would be the sole purpose of our ceremony, with just a smidge of silly antics mixed in.

To fully appreciate the fun of this ceremony, please open this link to Amelia’s page where you will find the actual verbiage of our event. 

While in La Paz, Amelia and I had spent time shopping and finding some interesting items for her to use to create our initiation. I had an inkling of what was in her bag of tricks, but I had no idea how Amelia would put to use the items we had chosen. As we approached the equatorial line, Amelia brought forth her ever present pink, waterproof bag; a clear indication that the shenanigans were about to begin!

Our first ceremonial requirement was appropriate clothing. As Neptune’s designated representative, Amelia doled out neon green spandex shorts for Frank and Erik.  My shorts were equally stunning but in a flattering orange!

Three dirty pollywogs awaiting initiation instructions.

Once property attired, our first mandate was to individually demonstrate our gratitude to Neptune by getting our groove on. We had to show off our dance moves to the funky sounds of James Brown’s “Get Up Off Of That Thing.”  

I could have used some liquid courage for this particular part! Frank won the dance round as he threw down some break dancing moves! He went all out, hitting the rug and spinning about to show King Neptune how badly he wanted to become a Shellback. I cannot believe we didn’t take pictures of the dancing!!

Amelia reading an excerpt from the ceremony.

Remember that liquid courage I mentioned? Well, unbeknownst to me, that was exactly what was coming our way! 

Neptune’s mermaid helper had written a poem received an edict from Neptune’s Court which I have transcribed below:

Truth Serum

Truth be told

Honesty is gold 

Whereas lies get you shoaled

They’re shallow and prone to mold

In the realm of the sea 

Only truth comes to be

And so entertaining fallacy 

Is a zero tolerance policy

To test your integrity’s girth

And to ensure your worth

A serum of truth and mirth 

Shall purify your bodily berth 

Dose-e-doe

True colors will show

If your pollywog fellow 

Is friend or foe! 

Stand a beam’s length apart

Make eye contact to start

Like Cupid’s intoxicating dart

Broke da mouth, not the heart

We uninitiated pollywogs weren’t certain what this tale foretold, until Amelia decoded the instructions…. we were to take turns: one dirty pollywog would don swim goggles and stand in the middle of the trampoline while another slimy pollywog would shoot him in the mouth using a squirt gun filled with “truth serum.” 

The truth serum was a mixture of tequila and piña colada flavored Tang. For anyone who travels in Mexico, Tang comes in a ton of flavors and they are surprisingly delicious. They also make excellent mixers for sundowners – or truth serum!

Honestly, we were laughing so hard just standing in the middle of the trampoline wearing ridiculous shorts and goggles, that we were choking on laughter before the truth serum was shot. Aiming a squirt gun is not a perfectly accurate endeavor, especially when combined with a moving boat and a springy trampoline! 

Soon our faces and chests were tie-dyed with truth serum.  When the alcohol actually hit the mark, it ricochetted with vigor into our mouths and we would all double over in laughter while the sprayed pollywog gasped to swallow before laugh-snorting truth serum through his nose!  

The final act of devotion required was signing a creed to Neptune. 

“Now, the third and final deed is a signing of our creed. However, as the rulers of ink are preoccupied with international peace treaties, the octopus clan has requested you sign by the hair of your chinny chin chin. And since none of y’all got hair on your chinny chin chin, a specimen must be procured from elsewhere on your shiny shaved pollywog skins. By offering a lock, you’ll unlock the secrets of the seas. And when cast upon the breeze, it shall be warmly received as a proclamation of your authentic presence here and now and eternal allegiance to living in right relations with the elemental forces of nature within and around you.”

Frank donates his hair offering.

Having plenty of hair upon my head, I offered a lock of hair. Amelia managed to secure a specimen from Frank’s head as well. Alas, Erik’s hair was deemed too short, so Amelia wrestled an offering from his armpit!

Amelia carefully cut away Erik’s offering.
Dropping our hair samples into the Pacific Ocean

Once harvested, our hair was cast upon the equatorial line along with libations of thanks for the initiation and requests for safe passages along our routes.

Popping the top of our offering for Neptune.

We toasted with Prosecco, shared our bubbles with Neptune, turned up the dance music and proceeded to celebrate and cavort on the back deck of TTR.

Tossing the empty to Neptune…. I wonder if the equator wears a belt make of bottles?

Post toast and dance, we flung the empty Prosecco bottle into the sea to remind Neptune’s Court of our exuberant celebration and create sea glass glitter in the depth of the equatorial sand.

Amelia slipped away and returned with our official Shellback Certificates which we now have prominently displayed in our room.

Our official Shellback certifications!

The final act of our celebrating our arrival at the equator was deploying the floating line behind TTR and all of us jumping into the water. Once again, we were swimming in the brilliant blue of the Pacific Ocean. This time at N 0° 00.000’!  Our location was further south and we were a ship full of honorable shellbacks; the dirty pollywogs were no more!

Frank and Mary Grace swimming at the equator.

This write up cannot capture the fun we had celebrating our first “Crossing the Line” and I am unable to truly share the elation and laughter on board. There was something joyous and elemental about reaching the equator that deserved recognition.  I am so glad we commemorated the accomplishment with a memorable celebration rather than simply sailing across the equator as if it were “just another day.”

Amelia created an event for our initiation into Shellbacks that was as memorable as it was fun! Thank you, Amelia. You are one very special person.

Amelia preparing to toss a bottle filled with special intentions brought from friends in Hawaii!

Thanks for reading our blog about Crossing the Line. I hope you enjoyed it and have a sense of the fun we shared. If you have questions, please let us know. If you want more information about this tradition, Wikipedia was a good resource and there are many blogs about both civilian and military ceremonies.

Pacific Crossing – Mexico to The Marquesas!

**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.

Four sailors sporting TTR hats and visors, ready to leave La Ventana.

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. 

Frank lounging in our new Fat Boy chairs, enjoying a sunset cocktail in front of San Benedicto.

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.

Amelia captured this photo of the shark swimming in our underwater lights!

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 decided to study the fish ID book with Amelia!

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.

Planetary alignment in a beautiful evening sky.

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.

Sunset in front of TTR’s starboard bow.

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. 

Our freed booby bird stayed on board for about 15 minutes. He is beautiful!

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!

Frank rocking the B. 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.

Unknown object Erik saw that lit up the sky for 20 seconds!

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.

While at sea, we all make a point of watching sunset.

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!!

Rainbow spectrum sunset!

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!

Equator swim!

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!

Part of our Shellback ceremony.

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!

Erik was thrilled with his birthday piñata.

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.

TTR sailing wing on wing with the “drifter” and genoa.

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 SPEEDTRUE WIND ANGLESAILS DEPLOYEDTOTAL 24 HOUR MILES
Day 113114Main R1, drifter106 (13 hours)
Day 214119Main R1, drifter212
Day 313170Drifter, genoa158
Day 410160Drifter at night, double headsails by day148
Day 511155Drifter only156
Day 613152Drifter only169
Day 74-1317-160Drifter 16 hours, 1 engine 8 hours145
Day 81665Main R2, genoa185
Day 918100Main R2, genoa231
Day 1014105Main R2, genoa 12 hours, Main R1 w Reacher – 12 hours195
Day 1112125Main R1 and reacher205
Day 1215100Main R2, genoa 12 hours, Main R2, reacher 12 hours243
Day 1318123Main R2 and reacher242
Day 1417130Main 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. 🙂

Let’s Talk Dinghies ~ Tender Thoughts!

No, we’re not talking about blondes; we are talking about that small vessel that most cruisers carry on their boat primarily to get them to and from shore. However, our dinghy, Day Tripper, serves many more functions than simply moving us to and from land.

For most cruisers who live on anchor and enjoy the water, the dinghy is a means for adventure, transportation, exploration, gatherings, rescue, towing, and the list goes on. In fact, the often neglected dinghy really is a “boat system” that needs research before the purchase as well as care and maintenance after the purchase. The dinghy is so important in my opinion, that its function and onboard management should be considered an integral system when purchasing one’s blue-water cruising boat. 

Exploring a cave in Day Tripper.

Mary Grace and I have a limited perspective when it comes to blue-water cruising boats and their dinghies; we have had 2 catamarans and 2 inflatable rigid bottom dinghies. Therefore, much of the content of this blog will reflect our viewpoint and experiences; we hope you will share your thoughts in the comment section at the end of this writing. 

Factors to consider:  Certainly, the choice of dinghy will come down to some mix of the following:

  1. Intended purpose – this list is almost endless and driven by individual plans.
  2. Who and how many people will use the dinghy – A family of 6 obviously needs a larger dinghy and more powerful engine than a cruising couple.
  3. How will the dinghy be stored or carried aboard the big boat – If possible, please consider adopting a “never tow” attitude toward your dinghy. Many dinghies have been damaged or lost while being towed and dinghy lines often become entangled in propellers when helmsmen forget to shorten lines before reversing the main boat. Davits on the transom are an excellent investment that keeps your dinghy safe while underway and discourages theft.
  4. Budget – Reliability, especially in your dinghy engine, is absolutely critical. Dinghy and engine are probably not the place to go cheap. Find somewhere else in the cruising kitty to save dollars.

In the early days after buying our FP Helia 44, as I stepped out of our 11’6” dinghy with its 15 hp outboard, I had a giant case of “dinghy envy.” Tied up to the very well maintained dinghy dock and right next to my skiff was a beautiful, center console RIB with a brand new 60 hp Yamaha engine and a ski tow bar! In our limited experience, we thought the BVI dock maintenance was what we would experience in most of our travel, and that exotic RIB looked enviable.

After leaving the BVI for other islands in the Leeward and Windward Caribbean Chain, I quickly realized the wisdom and functionality of our very simple, small and practical dinghy! In most Caribbean cruising anchorages, IF there is something called a dinghy dock it is poorly maintained with boards missing, nails or rebar protruding, no cleats or mooring mechanism, and often shallow or surge prone water. All of these features are waiting to destroy any dinghy much less those expensive dinghies seen in the BVIs.

Day Tripper nestled in an open cave, resting comfortable on its wheels.

In addition, when out adventuring in the dinghy, we found ourselves pulling our dinghy up on the beach or over a rocky bottom onto the shore. That lovely center console dinghy would be too heavy for us to pull up on the beach and we would have to anchor it a bit off the shore out of the waves.

When the time came for us to buy a dinghy for Ticket to Ride, we already had 5 years of cruising experience to help us decide which dinghy would work best for our needs.

Hunter and Clayton using Day Tripper to practice foiling.

TTR Dingy and Engine:

  1. Boat: We purchased a new Hypalon Highfield 380 CL from Trade Wind Inflatables in Southern California. TTR’s tender is 12’ 6” short shaft transom weighing 183 lbs. and rated for up to a 30 HP engine. We liked the painted aluminum hull, factory installed hard rubber keel guard, forward locker for a 6 gallon gas can, flat double bottom floor, and oars with oarlocks. This Highfield 380 is the largest length dinghy we thought we could reasonably carry on Ticket to Ride
  2. Engine: We purchased a new Yamaha Enduro 2 stroke 15 HP in Caracao and its first use was  on TTR’s Highfield RIB. This is the same engine we had on Let It Be’s dinghy and we were incredibly pleased with the reliability and simplicity of this motor. Fuel economy and the amount of noise are not as good as a 4 stroke engine. Our second choice would have been a 20 HP 4 stroke Honda.

There are not many accessories or options available for a small, simple dinghy with tiller steering and pull start; however, there are a few additions we find important:

Frank deploying wheels and pulling dinghy ashore. Engine in neutral and propeller is visible.

Dinghy Extras/Options:

  1. Fuel filter: We installed an inline fuel filter which is bolted to the transom and designed for gasoline engines. Fuel problems are the primary reason for small engine problems; I do highly recommend a robust filter.
  2. Dinghy wheels: Our dependance on dinghy wheels in the Caribbean prompted us to insure TTR’s dinghy would allow installation of the same. We love our DaNard Marine Dinghy wheels for many, many reasons. Whether going up a boat ramp, beach or in shallow unknown water, our DaNard wheels have been invaluable. When deployed, they project 4 inches below the engine skeg tip; therefore, no need to tilt the motor when approaching the beach. The customer service from DaNard has been second to none.
  3. Anchor and anchor rode: Without getting into the never ending anchor discussions, the anchor we chose is a Box Anchor made by Slide Anchor. Folds easily, minimal or no need for chain, and holds our dinghy in almost any bottom surface. Would not be my choice for the big boat; excellent for the dinghy. We have 40 feet of 5/16 three strand nylon for anchor rode.
  4. Painter (line): The absolutely terrible condition of some cruiser’s painters is amazing to me. Knots in the middle, too short, totally frayed bitter end, and poorly secured to the dinghy itself. We would suggest a painter line such as 3 strand nylon, spliced to the bow eye (bowline knots come untied when not under pressure), long enough for towing if necessary, and easily tied to a dock, a cleat or your neighbor’s boat.
  5. Spare 1 gallon fuel tank: We have not YET (Not yet!) run out of fuel in the primary 6 gallon can but this spare is our ace in the hole.
  6. Cable and lock: Last but certainly not least, a cable and padlock are essential. I would suggest a cable that is at least 10 feet long and thick enough to be secure but not so thick to prevent it from passing through the base of a dock cleat or between two dock boards. The PVC covered lifeline SS cable with crimped looped ends makes up our dinghy cable. The lock: combination or key? We have gone from key to combination and now back to key.
Setting up the box anchor.

Now that we have discussed the dinghy, the engine and some simple add-ons, let’s talk dinghy best practices. I do not profess to be a US Sailing teacher or know everything on this topic; however, our experience will help in starting this list. 

Basic Dinghy Best Practices/Courtesy:

  1. Boarding and de-boarding: Huge topic here with many variables due to the variety of boat configurations and dinghies. This is one of the many places I will tip my hat to the inflatable dinghies. The stability afforded by the inflatable tubes of a RIB provide an excellent step for boarding. Most experienced cruisers know how to get in and out of their dinghy; however, we have all had guests aboard who are far less comfortable. In general, a well positioned hand hold at or above waist level is incredibly helpful for balancing during boarding. Secondly, an uncluttered dinghy floor reduces the chance of twisting an ankle or falling. Lastly, this is no time to be modest; sometimes the best method is crawling between the dinghy and big boat. 
  2. Be prepared: If Mary Grace and I are going anywhere other than a short trip to shore in daylight both ways, the items taken along are quite different. VHF Radio: anytime we go adventuring or into “open” water. Life jackets: anytime we go away from flat calm water. Lights: going to or from shore in dark we always have a light. We have the official Red/Green/White light attached magnetically to our engine cover; however, a bright dive light held over the side and panned back and forth is more effective. PLB: snatched from our ditch bag when we are really going adventuring. Fuel: check frequently
  3. Kill switch lanyard: stating the obvious – always wear the kill switch lanyard in case you are thrown from the boat.
  4. Be courteous: Speeding on a plane through a crowded anchorage is dangerous and lacks courtesy. Slow down and say hello to your neighbors. Don’t be “that guy.”
  5. Lift it or lose it: Lift your dinghy EVERY night. If you leave your dinghy in the water at night; assume that it will one day go adrift or be stolen. 
  6. Mooring to a dock: Docks used for mooring a dinghy come in all shapes, sizes, and states of repair. Let’s assume a purpose built dinghy dock that is wood, low to the water, and possessing some mooring attachment. Accepted practice is to tie your dinghy painter long and leave the engine in the down position. Lock the dinghy without locking someone else’s to the dock and take your kill switch key. Purpose built well maintained dinghy docks are not the norm; so, a few tips. Absolutely do not take any chances on allowing your dinghy to get below a dock and become pinned – and take tidal changes into consideration. Use a stern anchor in this situation or if the water surges or the dock presents damage possibilities of any sort.
  7. Landing on a beach: My word of caution: landing a dinghy on a beach and getting off a beach can be VERY dangerous for people and property if there is ANY surf break. Mary Grace and I have done it, don’t like to do it, and half the time it does not go well. Patience, preparedness, and acceptance that you are going to get wet are my best words of wisdom. Using the kill lanyard is critical. With multiple people or less than agile people we skip beach landings. 
  8. Getting in and out from the water: Mary Grace and I don’t teach or test all of our guest about getting back into our dinghy; however, we both are capable of reboarding from the water even when tired. Having a dinghy boarding ladder available for guests is helpful and we often add it to the dinghy when we have guests. We both know the backflip technique for reboarding, which is helpful when tired or without fins. 
  9. Know the limits: Again, last but not least, know your personal limits and the limits of your dinghy. Stay on the main boat when boarding is hazardous, the open ocean is not a place for most dinghies, be very careful at night and when around surf. Use common sense and err on the side of caution. 

Buying/replacing a dinghy in most typical cruising grounds such as the Bahamas, Windward Caribbean or the South Pacific is very close to impossible. The answer is to buy a good product up front and maintain it carefully. Let’s talk care and maintenance in particular for an inflatable RIB:

Long Live the Dinghy:

  1. Rid the sand: Sand is one of the primary killers of inflatables. Keep sand out of your dinghy! Wash feet, flip flops, and gear before loading into your dink. Don’t leave your dinghy half up the beach with waves and sand washing over the transom; another good reason for good wheels which raise the transom above water level. Finally wash your dinghy out often even if washing with salt water. Periodically, pull the boat out of the water, partially deflate the tubes, and thoroughly wash out the area between the tubes and the rigid bottom. Sand gets into this area and grinds away on both surfaces. 
  2. Clean and protect: UV is the other big killers of inflatables. Some cruisers love their “chaps”; we have chosen against chaps for cost and simplicity. We clean our dinghy regularly with a degreasing solution and then treat the Hypalon tubes liberally with 303 Aerospace Protectant. 
  3. Handy repair kit: Patching holes in a Hypalon tube in the field is challenging and often leads to a poor result; however, it will probably be a necessity for most people at some time. A complete dinghy repair kit is essential; we have found Inflatableboatparts.com to be very knowledgable and helpful, plus they carry great products.
  4. Engine maintenance: Do it like your life depends on that motor; some day it actually might. Sea water impellers, oil changes, lower unit lube, spark plugs, fuel filters, clean and inspect. Always keep a spare prop on board. 
A narrow river we explored aboard Day Tripper.

Your dinghy is the lifeline between your wonderful life on the big boat and the opportunities and necessities of shore. Purchase the correct product, don’t tow the dink long distances, take good care of the dinghy and this little boat will take good care of you. 

We sincerely hope that our readers will contribute their tips and tricks to this post. Sharing information is what the cruising community is all about. Thank you for your read. 

As always, thank you for reading our blog. If you are new to dinghies, we hope this gives you some good tips. Those with a lot of dinghy experience, we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. If you would like to hear from us more often, please see us on Facebook or Instagram.

Kaneohe Yacht Club ~ The Embodiment of the Aloha Spirit.

No doubt cruisers around the world have faced challenges throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic.  While we consider ourselves fortunate to be in the immensely beautiful group of Hawaiian Islands, we too have faced some challenges during this last year. However, since our first introduction to the Kaneohe Yacht Club in June of 2020, this gem of a yacht club, its members and staff have been a haven of welcome and safety for us.

KYC is beautiful and serene at night.

Way back in June we happened to meet Tommy Henshaw, a junior member at KYC, while we were anchored in the Bay. Upon learning that we needed to have some sail work done, Tommy introduced us to the KYC dock master who allowed us to spent a few nights on the KYC end dock so we could off load our sails. This was a huge relief as it allowed Jake, the North Sails rep, to come to TTR, help us remove sails and use a dock cart to get the sails to Jake’s truck. Much easier than trying to transport our sails via dinghy!

A week or two later, KYC kindly allowed us to once again tie to their dock when the repaired sails were returned to TTR. How awesome is that?

During our early visits, KYC was pretty deserted due to COVID.

Fast forward a month or so…. we were doing some rudder work on Ticket to Ride and once again KYC allowed us to hang out at the end dock. This time we were able to stay for a two week period and we had the opportunity to meet the club members who would stroll down the dock to say hello. We also had many interactions with the KYC staff and every single person was a pleasure to work with!

Rarely have I met such a welcoming group of people! 

Our two week visit was during high COVID time and the KYC was mostly closed due to state restrictions. None the less, those who were around the club would stop by for a chat, inquire about our plans and share stories about KYC and how much fun it is in “normal” times. Members shared information about favorite places to sail, things to do around Oahu and hikes that shouldn’t be missed.

One of the walks we took with Lori and Tony – both KYC members.

Kaneohe Bay rests behind the only barrier reef in Hawaii and is a lovely place to anchor. So we spent several weeks in the Bay and watched the comings and goings of the Yacht Club from our anchor. 

Fast forward to December 2020. After spending several weeks in Kauai, then running from Hurricane Douglas, hanging out in the roadstead anchorages of Maui, and spending weeks in Keehi Marine Center for boat work, we once again sought out the calm, protected waters of Kaneohe Bay.

When we returned to the Bay, we were again allowed to seek refuge for a week or two at KYC. This time the club was a bit more open and we were able to get a better sense of what KYC is like when completely operational. 

Players waiting for the next set to start.

During our December visit, I met a few KYC tennis players who invited me to join their round robin gatherings on the weekends.  Because the days were short, the Friday night tennis was played under black lights! What’s not to love about such a free spirited type of tennis?

Members told us that New Year’s Eve in Kaneohe Bay was not to be missed as Hawaiian families go all out on fireworks and the bay would be lit up.  Well, they were quite correct! At midnight the fireworks began all along the bay and must have lasted 30 minutes! I honestly believe this is the longest display of fireworks I have ever seen.

In January, Frank and I left Kaneohe Bay and sailed to Maui to seek out the annual humpback whale migration. We spent about seven weeks moving from spot to spot on Maui, watching whales and connecting with friends from our college days. The time in Maui was magical because of the marine life and the time with our friends. However, the rules in Hawaii require us to move locations often and the winds were tearing through the anchorages with gusts often in the 40 knot range.  

After weeks of bumpy roadstead anchorages and changing locations every few days, we were ready for some calm water and we were looking for a refuge where we could recharge in a peaceful space.  

With that in mind, we contacted KYC and made a proposal with these things in mind:

~KYC had less traffic and fewer visiting yachts than usual because of COVID 

~the KYC end dock was not in use 

~we were in need of a respite from constantly seeking new places to anchor

~we guessed that KYC revenue was down due to COVID 

SO….

We proposed to the KYC Board that TTR be allowed to stay at the end tie for a month and in return, we would make a larger than usual guest fee.  In addition, if any club member needed the end dock, we would leave the dock and anchor to allow the member to have first use of the dock.

Ticket to Ride comfortably tied to the end of the dock at KYC.

Our hope was that this would be a positive arrangement for KYC because we knew it would be a great relief and fun rest for us. Happily, the board at KYC accepted our proposal. 

We are SO thankful that the Board was able to think outside of the box during these crazy times and allow us an extended visit. We sailed back to Kaneohe as soon as a weather window allowed!

Sunset beams highlighting the Thursday night beer can race.

I did not realize how much I “needed” one place to call home for a few weeks until we tied up to KYC.  The sense of relief at being on a safe dock, the knowledge that we didn’t have to move for a few weeks and the immediate welcome back from the members and staff nearly brought me to tears! 

I do not think the KYC Board, members or staff have any idea how truly grateful we are for the time we had at their amazing club! 

KYC boats sporting their spinnakers.

During our last visit to KYC, Oahu had raised the COVID level to Tier 3 and as a result KYC was beginning to come alive! Of course there were still restrictions and limitations, but wow, it was so fun to see the members enjoying their club again!

The minute we retied at KYC, we were welcomed with extreme generosity! Some members offered us the use of their cars for errands, others invited us out to dinner, we were invited into peoples homes, I was welcomed on the tennis court, we cheered on sailors sailing in the Beer Can Races, folks strolled down the dock to say hello, and as boats entered and left the dock, we called hello to folks by name and they knew our names in return.   How incredible is that?!

A few juniors rigging their WASZPs before zinging away from the dock.

KYC has a very active junior sailing program led by Jesse Andrews.  Jesse and his crew teach dinghy sailing in a variety of boats like Optis and BICs.  But in addition to these traditional junior dinghies, the KYC has a very active group of WASZP, 420 and 429 sailors. We loved watching the small dinghies tack in and out of the fairway and we were amazed watching the WASZPs zip down the lane – usually up on foils and moving silently through the water.

It is absolutely impossible to explain how much of a refuge KYC has been for us during the Pandemic.  Cruising in Hawaii can be challenging because of wind, waves, storms and the ever present 3 day anchoring rules. 

It is equally difficult to portray the warmth and fun of the yacht club members. There isn’t really a cruising community in Hawaii and I dare say the KYC members and staff became our cruising family.

If we were living on Oahu, we would definitely apply to join Kaneohe Yacht Club. In fact, we tried to join as “out of town” members, but that isn’t allowed unless one has already been a club member for two years. Although we cannot join KYC, this club will forever have a very special place in our hearts and in our memories. 

KYC stands out as one of the most wonderful aspects of our year in Hawaii. Every person we met there absolutely exemplified the aloha spirit and we were blessed to have been recipients.

Thank you for stopping by to read our blog. We hope this story of the wonderful people of KYC brightens your day and fortifies your belief in the goodness of people. If you would like to hear from us more often, please see our Facebook page or Instagram.

Servicing a Clutch or Two or How About Twenty-one?

Every so often the clutches on TTR need to be cleaned and lubricated. Although it isn’t an exciting job, it is a very important one.

For the unfamiliar, lines connected to our sails run through a clutch which helps control the movement of the lines and therefore the shape of our sails. If the clutch is locked down, the line will not move in or out of the clutch, thus keeping a line immobile so the sail will hold a certain shape. Pretty sensible.

On the other hand, an open clutch will allow a line to move easily in either direction so we can trim a line (shorten) or ease a line (lengthen). Suppose we were sailing and suddenly a big breeze came up and we needed to release a sail because there was more power than we wanted. The line would run through an opened clutch to the release pressure on the sail.

Clearly the ability to power or de-power a sail is an important function and clutches are vital component of sail trim on TTR.

Ticket to Ride has 21 clutches and we spent a looong day servicing them. The pictures below will give you an idea of our process:

Remove the machine screw holding the interior mechanism.
Remove the internal mechanism.
Eww, that is a lot of dust and fiber from the lines!
A bottle brush with some boat soap to clean the inside.
Fresh water rinse to make sure all the dirt and soap are cleared.
Air from the dive tank to remove any water remaining after hand drying.
Giving the interior part a soapy scrub then rinse.
Taping the rope surface before lubricating the “guts.”
A little dry Teflon lubricant works wonders.
Ditto on the dry Teflon spray for the interior.
Reinstall the internal parts.
Clutches reassembled with lines run.

Voila! That is the process we use to take care of our clutches on Ticket to Ride.

I am sure there is someone out there who has a different way of maintaining clutches. We are always open to suggestions, so let us know your clutch secrets! Or secrets in a clutch. 😜

Recently we have been spending time on “boat love” like the servicing clutches. We have been tackling exciting jobs like polishing the brightwork, cleaning the bilges, oil changes, servicing the Pontos winch, cleaning the hulls under the water, “lifting” the mast for proper rig tension, testing lights and equipment on the mast, etc.

Frank and Tommy adjusting the mast lift pressure.

We definitely appreciate Tommy’s continued dedication to TTR. He is always ready to sail or lend a hand on projects, as well as introduce us to new people and avid sailors.

Frank checking the mast equipment as the moon supervises.

We do our best to keep TTR in great shape and ready to take on our next adventure at a moments notice. We are looking forward to seeing borders open again so we can resume our travels. In the mean time, we have begun researching alternate opportunities since French Polynesia remains restricted. Who knows, maybe these two warm weather sailors will decide this is the perfect time to explore Alaska!

We will let you know as our plans develop.

As always, thank you for visiting our blog. We hope you will share any of your favorite maintenance secrets. It is always good to find effective, time saving secrets. If you want to hear from us more often, please look for us on Facebook or Instagram. Stay well y’all!

Megaptera Novaeangliae ~ Humpback Whales ~ Even When We Can’t See Them, We Hear Them

Disclaimer: I am NOT video savvy and I can only hope the quality of these videos is half as beautiful and inspiring as the real life sightings were. Also, I have lost audio on my Sony A6500 (user error) which really stinks because the sounds emitted by the whales are so fun to hear. Anyway, I hope you enjoy these videos despite my amateur status.

Aboard Ticket to Ride, we were aware that in January humpback whales begin arriving in quantities following their annual migration route to Hawaii. We wanted to see these giants and all indications were that hanging out on Maui was the best place to insure plenty of sightings. So in mid January we left Oahu and sailed to Maui. We have been anchoring around Maui for over six weeks now and the thrill of seeing and hearing the humpback whales has not diminished!

Upon arrival in Maui, Ticket to Ride was greeted by whales and rainbows.

Humpback whales are a subspecies of the baleen whale and one of the larger whales that has a streamlined body with pleated skin (scientific name for this body type is rorqual).  The females grow larger than the males and can be 40 to 45 feet in length and weigh 25-35 tons!

Perhaps the most striking or recognizable feature of the humpback whale is their flippers which can be 15 feet long and are often stark white (or partially white) in contrast to their gray/black bodies. When the whales are close to us, it is easy to see the bright white of their pectoral fins under the clear Hawaiian water. 

Did you see the white pectoral fin that we saw from TTR?

One day we spotted a few whales to starboard, with one breaching, and we were surprised by another whale that approached from our port side! TTR was drifting without engines and the big guy in the video above was so close we could easily see his white fin and the bubbles he left in his wake right in front of our bow! The protrusive bumps on the heads of humpback whales are also very recognizable. You can barely see them in this video.

Similar to a snowflake or a fingerprint, the tails of the humpbacks have unique markings which can be used to identify them individually! The photo below shows a few tales with unique fluke markings.

A page from a humpback whale fluke matching catalog.
(Photos by Jan Straley, NOAA Fisheries permit #14122)

I didn’t know much about whales when we left Oahu to search them out near Maui, but I have read a bit now and the more I learn, the more interesting these mammals become.

Humpbacks are found near all continents and seem to migrate to specific locations every year, although occasionally a whale or two will migrate to a different area some years.  In general:

-humpbacks that feed from Northern California to Vancouver Island in the summer will find breeding grounds in Mexican and Central American waters.

-those that feed from Vancouver Island to Alaska in summer are found in Hawaii in the winter, though some will migrate to Mexico.

-humpbacks that feed in the Bering Sea, along the western Aleutian Islands and along the Russian coast are likely to be found in the Asian breeding areas.

The whales in Maui travel about 2,700 miles from Alaska each way. That sounds like quite the distance but some whales travel as much as 5,000 miles to a breeding ground. 

The females travel to Hawaii to give birth to their calves and the males follow the females in search of breeding. Humpbacks feast on krill and small fish in the summer but once they begin the migration, they do not eat again until they return to the north.

The female humpback whale has a gestation period of 11.5 months and they have live births. Once the calf is born, it nurses until they return to Alaska and it begins eating small fish and krill. This means that a female humpback stops eating when she begins the migration, she births her calf, nurses the calf until they return to the north and she does not eat during that whole period!

Slow moving female with nursing baby in the anchorage.

Only male humpback whales sing! The purpose of singing is not known but theories abound. Some say the whales sing to help with location/sonar. Others say the singing is a way of attracting females. But whatever the reason, whales from one area all sing the same song which lasts 10 to 20 minutes.  

Watch these cute turtles and listen for the whale noise heard between my breaths.

But guess what?! The song changes every season. So for all you whale listeners out there, the tune will change from one year to the next. We can even hear the whales while on board TTR. Every night when I prepare for bed, I can hear the whales through the hull of our boat!

Humpback whales are seen in many parts of Hawaii, but the channels between Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe have the largest number of whales. 

Such a sweet drone picture of a a cow and calf near TTR.

Although humpbacks were hunted nearly to the point of extinction, their numbers have revived since the moratorium on whaling was put into effect. Rough estimates are that when whaling began in the early 1900’s, there were approximately 15,000 whales worldwide and by the time whaling stopped in the mid-1960s, only around 1,200 humpbacks still existed! 

Two things happened to save these giant, graceful mammals. First, the whales became so difficult to find that the whalers turned to other species. Secondly, in 1966, after approximately 90% of the whale population had been eradicated, a moratorium was placed on whale hunting.

The IWC (International Whaling Commission) was created in1966 to educate people and raise awareness of whale endangerment. The IWC currently has 88 member countries around the world, though it does not have any enforcement power.

In the early 1970’s crude methods of estimating the number of humpbacks visiting Hawaii put their number at only a few hundred. A friend told us that at that time, during an eight hour whale watching tour, you were lucky to spot one or two whales.

This whale swam her calf right next to this anchored boat.

In 2004-2006, a world wide survey estimated the humpback population at 20,000 with nearly half of those visiting the Hawaiian Islands during the breeding season. This is an encouraging recovery that gives hope for other endangered species!

I was surprised to learn that each whale only stays four to six weeks in Hawaii. So the whales I saw in mid-January will not be the same ones I see in March. The whales are continually changing as they cycle through the islands, then migrate back to their home feeding grounds.

The number of whales today must be huge because we can see them in the channel from our anchorage at all times of the day. In fact, sometimes they are very close, moving slowly through the anchorage!

Whales within the anchorage are usually a mom and young calf. The females appear to seek out shallow water where they can rest with their calves and perhaps find protection from predators or persistent males who want to breed. Just the other day we heard an exhale and saw a puff of breath from a twosome between us and another boat anchored near us! 

Young calves need to surface more often than the mothers who can stay beneath the water for 10 to 20 minutes. As seen in the video below, a calf will surface, swim in circles and take three or four breaths before returning to the mother.

Calf circles and breathes while the mom watches from below.

Females usually give birth every other year, thus having a rest year, though some will reproduce every year.

My research tells me that females do not mingle with other females while in Hawaii and they keep their young separated. However, the females do interact when in their feeding grounds.

Humpback whales who travel to Hawaii have very different agendas. The females are focusing on giving birth or reproduction. However, the females seem to be interested in quality and will seek the whales they deem the strongest and most healthy.

Male humpback whales, have traveled thousands of miles to the breeding ground and have only reproduction on their brain. Researchers believe the males are all about quantity and will breed any available females.

Although the whole population of humpbacks is about 50/50 male to female, in breeding areas like Hawaii, there is a 2.5 or 3 to one ratio of males to females.  This is true because not all females migrate every year.

A humpback heat pack spotted from the bow of Ticket to Ride.

Often several males are seen together following or searching for a female. A group of males chasing a female is called a ‘heat run.’ The males in a heat run are often very active on the surface of the water and can be seen vying for the attention of the female.

We happened to come across a heat run and caught it on videos. The video above shows what the heat run looked like from the bows of TTR.

Fortunately, Frank was able to launch the drone and he caught this amazing footage of a pod of 20+ whales.  The largest one, toward the front is a female. Here is a video of the same group of whales taken from above.

Heat Run video Frank shot from a drone: males pursuing a female.

Heat runs can last for hours as the males chase the female. The males inflate their bodies to appear larger, expel streams of bubbles and push each other around in an effort to secure the female’s interest.

The recovery of whales is truly encouraging and witnesses that with effort, endangered species can recover. Through education and conscious decision making, we can be better stewards of this Earth and the animals that inhabit it.

This post is full of videos, which I try to avoid because they require so much internet! But, the beauty of these whales is unique  and hard to capture so I wanted to share some videos in an effort to more accurately reflect our experiences.  Hopefully you have much better access to wifi than I do and this doesn’t take too long to load.

Thanks for stopping by to read our blog post. We hope you enjoyed this glimpse of the humpback whales in Hawaii. We are so fortunate to see them! Please turn to our Instagram or Facebook pages to hear from us more often.

A Circuitous Route To Maui In Search Of Humpback Whales

Like most people, our travels and interactions have been severely limited by COVID, and often we are just hanging out and doing routine activities like working out, maintaining Ticket to Ride and eating at home. But Frank and I wanted to make a trip from Oahu to Maui to see the whales that migrate there every year.

We have some college friends who live in Hawaii and they expressed a definite desire to sail with us, so we invited them to join us on our little jaunt. 

Inter-island travel in Hawaii requires COVID-19 testing, so we found an accepted location and scheduled our first ever Coronavirus test to coincide with completion of provisioning and a good weather window. Happily the test wasn’t terrible and the results were negative!

Our route from Oahu to Maui.

Gloria, Dave, Frank and I set out to make a leisurely trip to Maui with a few stops along the way, assuming the weather predictions were accurate. The tentative plan was to stop first on the southwest side of Molokai in Lono Harbor for a night or two, next visit Needles or Shark Fin on Lanai depending on swell and wind. After Lanai we would explore a few spots on Maui and if the weather presented, we would take a day trip to Molokini.

Leaving the calm, protected waters of Kaneohe Bay.

We set off from Kaneohe Bay with one reef in the main sail plus the genoa. The wind was mild even though the channel between Oahu and Molokai (Ka’iwi Channel) can be quite sporty. It was a casual sail of 51nm and we arrived at Lono Harbor in late afternoon.

A glimpse of the calm trip to Molokai.

Lono is a man made harbor with a narrow opening that can close out if the waves build, so we were careful to choose a weather window that promised small swells for an easy entrance and exit. In the picture below, notice how flat the water is in the harbor and the entrance.

This gorgeous sunset also shows the narrow and very calm harbor entrance.

Although Molokai is referred to as The Friendly Island, we have heard that, especially during COVID, the locals want nothing to do with visitors to their island. We saw several individuals and a family fishing from the shore at Lono Harbor and we cheered for them from the boat whenever they landed a fish. There was plenty of waving and smiles and no feelings of ill will. 

We were quite surprised to see this fellow swim from shore to the rocky pier at dusk. We aren’t sure what caused his flight but we heard a dog barking and thought perhaps the dog chased the deer into the water.

Oh deer – you need to get our of the water!

Sunset was an array of vivid colors that we enjoyed while sipping cocktails. We relished the quiet of nature that wreathed this harbor.

Dave and Gloria toasting a beautiful sunset in Lono Harbor.

During the night Frank and I awakened to much greater motion on the boat, but attributed it to increased wind.  However, in the morning, the harbor entrance had a little surprise for us….. the swell forecast must have been wrong or incorrectly timed because we had waves that were 8 to 10 feet instead of the 2-3 predicted. The entrance was by no means closed out, but we needed to time our exit carefully and we wanted to leave sooner than later before the anchorage became uncomfortable.

These waves were not predicted!

After studying the waves for quite a while, preparing TTR as if she were a monohull, and putting on lifejackets, we upped anchor and waited for a break in the waves to motor quickly out of the harbor.

Thankfully our timing worked well and our exit was uneventful.  Frank and I were a bit too busy to get any pictures, but Dave caught some of the excitement on film. Though, as usual, film doesn’t capture the complete feeling.

Leaving Lono Harbor

Sailing from Lono to Lanai was easy enough and included a variety of wind but the sea state was mild. I think the shallow entrance at Lono significantly increased the swell at the entrance because the swell away from the shallows was insignificant.

Winter in Hawaii means the winds can come from any direction and as we moved toward Lanai, we were doubtful that either Needles or Shark Fin would be tenable for an overnight stay.

Approaching Needles.

As we neared Needles, we knew conditions would prevent us from staying overnight, but we enjoyed seeing the unique rock formations. From a distance, the Needles blend with the black rock of the shore behind them, but up close the rock formations define themselves. Originally there were five spires, but today only three remain.  Two are stubby protrusions of black rock but one looks like a large, tall tree stump with dormant grass on top.

Even the texture of this formation resembles tree bark.

Although it was a long shot, we sailed over to Shark Fin to see if somehow we could grab a mooring ball there to stay overnight. Once again the swell and wind were not in our favor so we pointed our bows toward Olowalu on Maui.

Olowalu has bunches of coral heads that are fun to snorkel. We don’t ever want to damage coral, so we hooked up to a mooring ball and enjoyed the steady breezes that flow between the mountains into the anchorage. 

Frank and Dave enjoying a breakfast burrito while watching for whales.

The next morning we awakened early, prepared coffee and breakfast burritos.  Then we launched our dinghy, Day Tripper, and motored into the channel for breakfast in the dinghy while searching for whales. We saw many whales and had one incredible encounter. We turned off the engine and were floating near two or three kayaks when we spotted a whale and baby heading our way. Turns out it was four whales and soon they swam inside the loose circle we created with the kayaks. The whales came much closer than expected but we never felt threatened. Up close it is amazing how gently and gracefully these whales moved through us. Though we have seen some breaching that I wouldn’t want to be near!

Whales from our dinghy.

We spent the remainder of the day in and out of the water, spying on the fish and looking at the coral.

Next we decided to find a mooring ball in a little spot called Coral Guardens. We had never been there, but we knew there were mooring balls and we wanted to explore the coral there. Since Coral Gardens is so close to Olowalu, we motored over and hooked up in less than an hour. After scouting the swing room from the mooring ball, we decided TTR would be safe there overnight and once again we spent the day relaxing and getting in and out of the water to look at the marine life. It was great to be back on Maui where the water was clear and warm enough for us to swim!

Fortuitously we had an excellent weather window to sail to Molokini, a small crescent shaped island about 10 miles southeast of Olowalu.  Molokini is a favorite stop for day cruise boats but it is often too windy to stay there in the afternoons when the winds kick up.  We had a pleasant sail to Molokini then spent most of a day tied to a mooring ball. 

We snorkeled along the interior of the crescent and saw a nice variety of fish. Then we enjoyed lunch on the front of TTR and watched others snorkel the path we had already taken.  It was a really nice change to see day cruises in operation and visitors enjoying the delights of Hawaii. Though the day charter boats are not carrying full capacity, they are making a go of things and showing a few visitors the beauty of Hawaii.

Clear weather allowed us to see the details of Maui’s mountains from far away.

About 3 pm we released the mooring ball and had a truly delightful sail to Mala Wharf on Maui. Of these five days of sailing, this one was the best one.  The winds were consistently 12-15 knots at a 120 degree true wind angle. We enjoyed champagne sailing at 8-10 knots as we moved along and searched for whales. We spotted many whale spouts as we sailed but we didn’t get close to any of them. 

It was fun just to see the whales surface and watch the clouds created by their exhales.

Bouncy weather was predicted so we dropped anchor near Mala Wharf and enjoyed a final dinner with Dave and Gloria aboard TTR.

The forecast showed we were in for a day of rain and wind, so we dropped our friends off early, spent a quiet, rainy day on Ticket to Ride and planned our next move to Honolua Bay, just a few miles up the Maui coast.

****Special thanks to Dave and Gloria for allowing me to use some of their photos!

Thanks so much for stopping by to visit our blog. We hope you are staying well and sane as this pandemic continues to test all of us. If you would like to hear from us more often, please visit us on Facebook or Instagram.

FIRE on the beach – Christmas Tree Burning

**UPDATE: I have received a message from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources explaining that fires of any type on the sandbar are illegal. In addition, the message states that most of the trees are shipped in from the mainland and they have pesticides and chemicals that are harmful to the environment. Please look at the full response from DLNR in the comments on this blog to understand the extent of law concerning this event.**

Once a year, in January, on an evening when the tide gets particularly low, an unofficial event takes place at The Sandbar in Kaneoha Bay. Quite by accident we were able to witness this event because we had decided to anchor at the sandbar and enjoy a quiet evening or two on the hook.

Saturdays are often crowded at this local hangout, but this time there were quite a few boats and people making the trek to the edges of the shallows.

Walking to the burn site as the tide continues to fall.

Well, it turns out that every year, after Christmas, an underground communication takes place and discarded Christmas trees are gathered for a huge bonfire. I don’t know how many years this has taken place, but the news travels quickly and quietly. Friends, families neighbors and pets gather early in the day and play in the water until dusk begins to settle and the tide has rolled most of the water off of the sand.

Tommy and Frank stake claim to their “islands.” Apparently Frank needs more land than Tommy.

It is in the twilight, just before dusk truly begins that one or two pontoon boats, piled high with discarded Christmas trees, arrives at the sandbar. With jovial hellos, folks grab the trees and one by one carry them to a dry spot on the sandbar. Volunteers toss the trees haphazardly in a pile, as others form a loose circle around the trees.

Circling the trees before the lighting.

As we approached the the pile and saw groups of people were gathering in the circle, Dr. Seuss’ song, “Welcome Christmas” which the Who people sing on Christmas morning, was playing in my head as I watched the smiling people. (The lyrics are quite nice if you take a listen.)

Can you see TTR way in the background far from any possible ashes?

One minute before the lighting of the tree, a single Roman Candle firecracker was shot into the air.

Sending up the one minute warning firecracker.

One quick flame to the tree pile sparked a huge bonfire. It literally took only moments for the trees to become a heatwave of fire. The speed of the combustion made me realize how Christmas tree fires cause such destruction in homes!

The trees have been lit!
Just minutes after the trees were set on fire.

In this contained and safe environment, the fire was beautiful and enchanting as it danced and devoured the branches. Though we were standing in only ankle deep water, the night air was chilly and the blaze dispersed warmth and light that were welcome.

The fire was itself was pretty and created beautiful reflections on the water.

I was truly amazed by how quickly the fire burned through the trees! I would estimate that an hour after the fire started, the majority of the trees were gone. The remaining debris was washed away as the tide rose and today there is no evidence that the secret burning ever occurred.

Flames created controversy.

In the days after the tree burning, there were complaints on-line about the event as some believe the fire creates mess and debris in the water. For myself, I thought the event was very safe and I saw no mess created. We walked the sandbar the next day and found no trace of the trees. Plus, if any branches do drift off, they are natural and can decompose in the water.

What does surprise me is that people were complaining about the mess of the Christmas Tree burning while not complaining about the mess created by the fireworks set off on New Year’s Eve. I posted a video of midnight fireworks in Kaneohe Bay which were beautiful and more abundant than I have ever seen! I absolutely cannot imagine all the bits of trash left on the streets from that event!

But everyone has his own “hot” button. (See what I did there? hehe) I’m a visitor in Hawaii and we are simply fortunate to see both the New Year’s celebratory fireworks and the Christmas Tree burn.

FYI, those of us on TTR tried to keep a 6′ distance from the others on the sandbar. Even though we were outside and standing upwind most of the time, we did our best to keep distances. We also had our face masks with us if needed.

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