After sailing 25,000+ nautical miles on Ticket to Ride, plus the 20,000+ miles sailed on Let It Be, one might consider Frank and me pretty accomplished sailors. But the fascinating thing about the sailing and cruising life is that, regardless of how long you live it, you continue to learn and improve your skill set.
Learning to navigate the islands of French Polynesia, especially the atolls of the Tuamotos, is a perfect example of how our knowledge and ability for sailing and living on a sailboat continue to grow…
Anyone who researches sailing in the Tuamotos quickly reads about three influential factors: 1. ‘Passes’ which are entrances and exits to the atolls, 2. Traversing atolls, which are littered with coral and rock bommies, and 3. Floating your anchor chain.
Initially each of these can sound very intimidating and could discourage sailors from exploring the Tuamotos, but we like to look at challenges as opportunities to learn and improve our proficiency. Also, after seeing the pictures below of an atoll, who wouldn’t want to find a way to visit some, especially in the comfort of your own floating home?
Very few sailing books about the Tuamotos are available, but the cruising community has some extremely organized and helpful folks who have written and compiled a good amount of information about their personal experiences here in French Polynesia. These compendiums are often regularly updated and they are invaluable resources when preparing to sail in French Polynesia. These are a few excellent compendiums if you are interested: Jacaranda Journey, Soggy Paws and Pitufa
PASSES: When perusing the compendiums, passes garner a lot of typeface! Passes into each atoll vary greatly. Some are wide and straight while others are angled or have dog-leg turns. Some are pretty short but others are much longer. My estimate is that the passes range from less than .2 miles to over .75 miles (321 – 2,308 meters). Not all passes are actually navigable, so sailors cannot assume that any opening into an atoll is an entrance.
Once a navigable pass is found, the state of tide within the pass must be considered before attempting to enter. Diurnal tides empty or fill an atoll every six hours. To add a bit of perspective about tides within a pass, consider that the lagoon of an atoll can be miles in length and width.
Let’s imagine a perfectly round atoll that has a diameter of 10 miles. A two foot tide change would displace 585,366,279 gallons of water; but it is hard to relate to that number. Instead consider that an olympic sized pool holds 660,000 gallons of water. That means that four times a day, at each tide change of two feet, our imaginary atoll moves the same volume of water as 887 olympic sized pools through a pass(es). That is a LOT of water.
When the tide in the pass is outgoing, or exiting a pass, there are usually choppy, abrupt areas of water near the outward end of the pass. When the tide is strong and collides with incoming ocean swell, one can encounter short, sharp waves as well as eddies that bounce a boat one way or another. If the current is incoming, often the inside portion of the pass has the short, steep waves where the incoming tide is meeting the waters of the atoll.
There are tide charts and applications for predicting when tide will be ebbing or flowing in specific places. One such tool is called “The Guestimator” – the name doesn’t inspire great confidence! We have read many accounts of the inaccuracy of all of the tide estimation tools. In our opinion, the best way to determine the state of a pass is to check the nearest tide chart and wave report, then approach the pass and observe the state of the sea at the entrance and inside the pass. Your own eyes and a decent set of binoculars will definitely help you determine a good time to enter or exit an atoll.
Remember, atoll passes can have a lot of current, the highest current we have encountered so far is about 5 knots, though I have read of currents up to 8 knots.
If possible, the best time to enter or exit an atoll is at slack tide; when the tide is in transition and doesn’t create a noticeable current in either direction.
Passes funnel water into a narrowing and shallowing area, so in addition to tides, we pay close attention to ocean swell direction. Extra caution is necessary when swells are rolling directly into a pass. Whether we are leaving or entering a pass, we do not want to be surprised by incoming ocean waves.
We have spent a few hours fishing the outside of an atoll while we wait for the conditions of a pass to become favorable. It is better to wait outside a pass for proper waves and tides rather than force your way in and create a dangerous situation.
Fortunately, Ticket to Ride has two 57hp engines that are in excellent condition, and therefore have been very reliable. Those who sail on boats with less powerful engines or less reliable engines will need to sail through the passes or wait for slack tide when they will have easier water to navigate.
Side note; although the passes can be challenging and require good timing and attention, they are also filled with sea life and are excellent places to snorkel or scuba dive during slack tide or an incoming tide. We have seen tons of beautiful fish, coral, sharks and manta rays when diving or snorkeling the passes.
TRAVERSING ATOLLS: All atolls are not made equally. Some are very large and others are very small. Some have towns with regular supply ships arriving weekly and others have no residents, no town and no supplies. But all of them have coral or rock areas that can cause damage to rudders, keels, dagger boards or any other part of the boat they encounter.
The water in the Tuamotos is beautiful, but it isn’t always possible to see the floor of an atoll. Visibility may be poor because the sun is causing glare on the water instead of shining into the depths or wind and waves have stirred up sand under the water. The atoll could be 100+ feet deep and a bommie can suddenly tower up to just a few feet below the water surface. Or perhaps the wind and waves are high and you cannot clearly read the water on the day you are traveling.
Our solution is to use satellite imaging overlays that show where our boat is and what is hiding under the water surface. We owe huge thanks to Bruce Balan of s/v Migration for his countless hours of work putting together charts for just this purpose. Bruce stitched together images for thousands and thousands of miles of sailing grounds with three different satellite photo sources overlaying the charts. ALL of this amazing information is available for free or with a donation at The Chart Locker.
Anyone can access and download these charts. We have downloaded all of The Chart Locker charts for French Polynesia and we literally navigate within the atolls using these satellite photograph overlays.
On Ticket to Ride, when traversing an atoll, we have one person on deck watching the water and one person at the indoor helm station studying the satellite images. We have TTR on autopilot so the person on deck or the person inside is able to adjust the course of TTR based on the chart or on our vision. Usually the person with the chart has a much better idea of any impediments from below. The person on deck can identify surface objects like other boats, debris, pearl floats or fishing buoys.
Traversing the atolls can be extremely stressful, but these charts make them more manageable, much less stressful and safer. Using these satellite overlays gives us “sight” where without them we were moving blindly through the water.
By the way, we also use these satellite images to assess every pass before we enter or exit it. The satellite images cannot tell us the current state of the water flow, but they can tell us the shape of the pass and where the deep, clean water lies.
Another added bonus is using these charts to scope out anchorage spots long before we decide where to drop the hook. Having the ability to look at the ocean floor for potential anchor spots opens up many more places to anchor safely and without damaging coral.
FLOATING ANCHOR CHAIN? Who ever heard of floating anchor chain?! Isn’t that an oxymoron? Nope. We are not talking about chain that floats, we are talking about adding buoys to our chain to suspend the chain in the water off of the ocean floor.
The purpose of floating your chain is twofold: 1. Floating the chain prevents it from hitting and damaging coral heads that are growing in an anchorage. 2. On light wind days, a boat can swing and twist in different directions and the anchor chain can become wrapped around rock or coral. When the chain is floated, the air filled buoys suspend the chain in the water high enough to prevent the chain from becoming entangled in the rocks or coral.
Chains that are wrapped around bommies harm the bommies and create a big challenge for the boater. It is difficult to maneuver a boat around rocks to untangle it, especially in high winds or if you must avoid other anchored boats or additional hazards. It is also difficult for a swimmer to dive to the chain then lift the chain to untangle it from the rock or coral. A scuba tank may be needed if the wrapped rock is deep or the chain is hard to disentangle.
It is much better to deploy floats, preserve the coral and avoid chain entanglements.
Deploying the floats requires a person to attach the buoys as the anchor chain is being released. This is a pretty simple action on most monohulls and many catamarans where one can easily reach forward on the bow and attach the float to the chain as it pays out over the anchor roller.
On Ticket to Ride, the anchor chain is encased in the longeron and drops into the water from under the crossbeam and trampoline. While we like this feature for esthetics and cleanliness, it does make deploying the buoys a challenge. We have created a manageable system that works for us.
Regardless of how the buoys are attached, we find that adding the first floats at one to two times the water depth is a good distance from the anchor to allow the hook to bite but the chain to be suspended. The next two sets of buoys are added at intervals of about 25 feet. Then we add the anchor bridle as usual.
This method of anchoring is a little challenging and it definitely took us a few iterations to refine the process, but now it is working well. Even though deploying the floats adds time and difficulty, it is worthwhile. Our hope is to leave the places we visit in better condition than we found them or at least to cause no harm. Floating our anchor chain preserves the beauty of the area, demonstrates respect to local residents and leaves the anchorage in good condition for the next person who visits.
Of course French Polynesia is unique and has many additional differences from other places we have sailed. We are learning about things such as weather in the southern hemisphere, traditions of local residents, species of aquatic life we haven’t seen before and more. All of these are adding knowledge to our cruising tool quiver, however, the three points covered here are unique and will immediately affect anyone who wants to sail in the atolls of the Tuamotos.
Thanks for stopping by to read our blog. I hope you found this information interesting and helpful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and we will do our best to answer them. Wishing you good health and fun adventures.
Staring out at the turquoise water surrounding Ticket to Ride here in the Tuamotos, it is nearly impossible to believe the contrast of landscapes we have experienced in the last year alone as we travel on our sailboat.
Scanning the horizon of these atolls which have a maximum elevation of about 10 feet, I recall anchorages of Alaska with their tree covered, mountainous heights. Neither scene is more beautiful than the other; they both have unique qualities that call to different activities and personalities.
Rather than allow our travels in Alaska to fall away without being journaled, I plan on adding occasional, out of order posts about our experiences there. Because we covered so many miles in a short time, I will “cherry pick” the areas I cover. This blog is about a couple of our stops in the Misty Fiords National Monument Wilderness….
We upped anchor at 5:30 am on August 20, 2021 to allow for a leisurely 6 hours, 55 nm motor to arrive in an area called Punchbowl. We had hoped to snag the one mooring ball available in the cove but the only other boat in the anchorage beat us to the “punch.” (Hehehe)
Instead we spent some time traversing the steep banks and looking for a reasonable place to drop the hook. In this case, we found an adequate spot in the southeast corner of the head of the bay. We dropped anchor in 100 feet of water!
Punchbowl is surrounded by tall sides that alternated between forested greens and towering granite. We introduced ourselves to the one other sailboat in the anchorage; a lone man with a broken arm was on board. We learned that he was watching the boat while his friends were scaling one of the granite faces. Needless to say, he was extremely disappointed that his injury prevented him from ascending the mountain with his friends. Try as we might, the cliffs were so large that even with excellent binoculars, we could not find the small specks that were the men climbing up the granite face!
We also met two really nice adventurers from Bend, OR who were on a two week kayaking trip. Mitch and Steve were self supporting their trip and alternated between staying in their tents or in the National Forest cabins available in Alaska. We offered them some ice water and a cold beer or two before they paddled to shore…. I think those beers were the equivalent of striking gold for Mitch and Steve!
We spent the first afternoon exploring the cove, then hiking a trail through the woods and upward in elevation. We had heard there was a National Forest cabin at the top of the trail and Mitch and Steve confirmed that they hoped to stay in that cabin the following night.
The next morning we packed a picnic lunch and planned on making a full day of hiking the trail to the upper lake. We had heard there were canoes available to anyone who wanted to use them at the lake and we hoped they would be seaworthy enough for us to use.
The trail was intensely green and had a hallowed peacefulness. The sounds we heard were the twittering of birds, the crashing of water tumbling from high in the mountain, our own steps across carpeted greens and fallen branches….. oh, yeah, and the old time rhythms of Motown!
While hiking, we had seen plenty of “calling cards” left by bears and Frank and I had long since grown tired of our own singing to alert all bears of our presence. We began carrying a small speaker on our backpack and playing music during our hikes through bear country.
We definitely did turn off the music and absorb the quiet and beauty of our hike now and then. We both prefer the hush of the forest, but we didn’t want to surprise or be surprised by a bear, especially one with a cub or two.
The hike to the upper lake took about two hours. It wasn’t an easy hike but it wasn’t arduous either, except where a small tree slide covered the trail. Climbing around, under and through the tree trunks and branches was a little challenging. With my vivid imagination of having to ride a tree continuing its slide down the mountain, I was motivated to hurry across that area!
The path wove through a variety of picturesque terrain, but when we reached the lake and found the canoes and paddles seaworthy and free for anyone to use, the already gorgeous day became even better. The lake was stunningly beautiful!
Frank was transported back to his youthful days of canoeing in Scouts and immediately took control of the paddling. I was happy to sit in front, soak up the intense beauty and take photos.
A few rain clouds with showers moved in, so we found a little outcropping of rock with tree covering where we could sit out the rain. Protected by low lying branches, we shared a picnic lunch and watched the rain dance across the lake.
The rain only lasted a short while and left a funny, flat rainbow in its wake.
After the rain, we packed up our picnic and explored the lake a little longer. Mid afternoon, we returned the canoe and meandered back down the trail and home to TTR.
After two nights in Punchbowl, we moved to Walker Cove, another area of Misty Fiords. We didn’t think it was possible, but the surroundings of Walker Cove anchorage were even more dramatic than Punchbowl!
Behind Ticket to Ride, a river appeared to wind through the trees and Frank and I knew we had to find a way to explore it. We weren’t sure how far or deep the water would be.
This time we pulled out our paddle boards to explore. We paddled up a stream that soon became very shallow and was filled with salmon!
Frank and I stopped the boards in about six inched of water and sat on the SUPS with our feet rooted in the rocky river bed. We stayed for over an hour, watching nature’s show of the salmon swimming upstream to reach their spawning grounds.
We had seen many streams of various intensity with salmon swimming and jumping up the waters to achieve their destination. This was the first time we were in the middle of the stream and could actually have reached out to touch the salmon. We observed that the fish were not in the best of health. Clearly the effort required to find their particular river and swim against the stream had taken a toll. Many of the salmon had patches of discoloration where they had lost scales and several seemed to be at the end of their energy. We actually saw a few expire as we watched. Their movements ranged from energetically swimming up stream around and over rocks to those that apparently had already spawned, then gave up swimming and slowly ebbed down stream with subtle tail swishes that eventually stopped completely.
I found it a bit sad to watch, but also interesting to see the cycles of life we all learned about in elementary school unfold before our eyes.
Frank and I fully expected to see a bear or two come to the stream and harvest dinner while we were balanced on our boards. So many lethargic salmon would make for an easy bear feast. But no bears arrived during the hour we watched the salmon.
Later that afternoon we took Day Tripper out to explore our surroundings in Walker. There were many waterfalls high on the mountains, creating valleys between trees or sliding down slippery granite walls and splashing into the water.
The sheer magnitude of the fiord was mesmerizing. We spent well hours skimming along the shoreline, staring at the contrast and beauty of the smooth rocks and forested slopes. Occasionally, Frank would expertly maneuver Day Tripper up to some of the waterfalls that had leveled off and gently cascaded into the water.
The whole area was like a feast for our senses where our eyes ingested the immense beauty and our souls absorbed the serenity and power of our surroundings.
SMALL WORLD COMMENT:
A week after leaving Punchbowl, Frank and I were in Ketchikan where we had spent the day in the library, catching up on internet communication, hiding from the rain. On our way back to TTR, we stopped at the Bar Harbor Ale House and ordered wine before dinner. When our waitress delivered our drinks, she informed us that our drinks were compliments of the folks at another table. We turned to thank our mystery benefactors who turned out to be Mitch and Steve – our kayaking friends from Punchbowl! Of course we asked them to join us and we exchanged stories of our adventures over a delicious meal. We were so happy to hear all about Steve and Mitch’s trip and the adventures they had.
How fun it is to know that this giant world is also quite small.
Thanks so much for reminiscing with us about our travels in Alaska. It is truly a magical and magnificent place. Even though it is a bit confusing to bring up blogs out of sequence, Alaska deserves to be recorded and recalled… Wishing you good health and fun adventures.
As Ticket to Ride takes us jaunting to different parts of the world, we find unique aspects about each place we visit. However, regardless of where we are, we consistently celebrate the sunset each evening. When living on land we rarely saw the sunset; often we were busy with tasks and didn’t even realize the sun had faded until we needed to turn on lights inside the house.
Living on TTR, we have a 360° view of our horizon and it is hard to miss the daily sky painting as the sun disappears. Moreover, we salute as many sunsets as we can and intentionally pause to appreciate their beauty and offer thanks for what the day has brought. Often this means sitting on the front deck or pausing dinner preparations to sit on the back steps to observe the process.
Having spent most of my life north of the equator, I assumed that sunsets around the world would be the same. While the setting of the sun is the same process, the colors I perceive here in the South Pacific have been different from those I was accustomed to seeing.
I love the vibrant oranges and pinks typical of the sunsets I saw north of the equator. Watching the colors develop and become more florescent as they twine into a collage feels new every evening
Here in the south pacific, I am surprised by how different the colors of sunset appear. If I had to use one word to describe the sunsets here in French Polynesia, I would use “pearlescent.”
Instead of brilliant pinks and oranges, the colors of the sky seem to have a pearly base to them. We see more whites and creams that become softer hues like lilac or cotton candy pink.
Eventually the colors arrange themselves into horizontal lines of color. Later in the painting process, rows of color similar to those of a rainbow develop. Here it seems like the colors stay more in delineated rows rather than intermingling.
For me the greatest difference in the northern verses southern sunsets occurs at the beginning when the opalescent quality of the south is most obvious and the colors are much softer.
The vivacity of the northern sunsets with intertwined, jewel tone colors is gorgeous and often feels like they are bursting with energy. Here in French Polynesia, the sunsets feel more calming with their gentle colors and organized lines.
In reading about the coral reefs here, we have learned that carbon dioxide emissions may be a factor in the different appearance of the sunsets here in the southern hemisphere. Having less carbon dioxide in the air here might be influencing the appearance of these sunsets.
Not everyone will agree with these differences between the northern verses southern sunsets, but to my eyes, the differentiation is obvious and beautiful to recognize. I only wish I could capture the difference between them more accurately in my photographs.
Can you see any distinction based on these photos or have you observed the same variances when you visited the two hemispheres? We would love to hear your opinion in the comments.
Thanks so much for reading our blog. We hope these sunset photos bring a smile to your face. Wishing you good health and fun adventures.
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.
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!
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!!
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 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
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
**This is a REALLY long post! If you are only interested the sailing bits, please read the 4th paragraph, then skip to the table at the bottom of the blog.
Similar to the old joke that you eat an elephant one bite at a time, our trip from Mexico to The Marquesas in French Polynesia was accomplished one nautical mile at a time until Ticket To Ride had consumed 2,859 nautical miles.
However, we broke up our consumption by making a stop at the Revillegedo Island of San Benedicto after leaving from La Ventana, MX. With provisions topped off in La Paz, we took a few minutes to festoon TTR with roses at the stern steps and bow. This Hawaiian tradition for a safe journey calls for Ti leaves, but since those weren’t available, we used the powerful rose instead.
On April 21st, we sailed to La Ventana where we dropped anchor and enjoyed a day on the hook to decompress from the city and the stress of provisioning and preparing. We spent the day relaxing, enjoying the water and settling in as a traveling group of four. Since Amelia and Erik passaged with us from Hawaii to Alaska, the process of settling in was really the fun of reuniting with friends who are excellent travel companions.
La Ventana to San Benedicto was an easy 329 nautical miles.We departed La Ventana after the southern winds died and we hoped for some north winds. A leisurely departure around 9:30 am with only 6.5 k of wind speed, we motored a bit until the wind angle improved then we put up the mainsail, genoa and spinnaker staysail. Day one we only covered 88nm between 9 am and midnight. The second day we had better winds and covered 188nm which set us up for a lovely 7:40 am arrival on April 25th. Our trip to San Benedicto took a little over 46 hours with an average speed of 7.1k and a maximum speed of 14.8k. This was a great warm up for the crossing to the Marquesas.
The Revillegedo Islands are sometimes called the Galapagos of Mexico because they are remote, rarely visited and have plenty of sea life. We chose to stop here to scuba dive again (our third visit) and enjoy watching the giant manta rays and other wonders below.
Above water, San Benedicto is desolate, without growth and covered in a loose ash that can infuse the air and dirty the decks on windy days. Under the water, San Benedicto is filled with colorful fish, huge rock pinnacles, deep canyons, giant manta rays, schools of fish and plenty of sharks.
In the evening we turned on our underwater boat lights and watched the small fish gather. But soon larger fish and sharks arrived for some easy hunting. Then we were surprised that dolphins moved in and usurped the territory forcing the sharks to share the hunting ground….. We didn’t leave the lights on very long as we don’t want to alter the natural tendencies of the ocean dwellers. We did enjoy the show while the lights were shining though.
The ocean is a marvel of life and we seem to observe new behaviors or new things regardless of how much time we live on the water.
While we enjoyed San Benedicto, there was a little looming reminder that we had a long passage before us and we were all excited to begin. Our weather window arrived quickly and we departed on Thursday, April 28th at 11:20 am. The first day of we had steady winds between 8 and 16 knots and very calm seas. We managed a bit over 106 nm with an average speed of 8.9k. I remember thinking this trip would be a cakewalk if we kept those conditions.
Our first surprise arrived in the form of a land bird who joined us as we were leaving San Benedicto. We tried hard to shoo him back to San Benedicto and off to Socorro when we were passing that island. Alas, “Lenny” had other plans and he chose to turn in his Ticket To Ride with us.
Initially, Lenny was very brave, perhaps in shock, and would land on us or near us. Once I was lying down in my room and felt something near my face….. it was Lenny sitting next to me on Frank’s pillow! Cute as that sounds, Lenny was not house trained so we shooed him outside.
As animal lovers, we couldn’t bear to leave Lenny in need, so we began feeding and watering him regularly. Ironically, this made Lenny less willing to come near us. Soon we had a knowledge of his food preferences (he loved corn chips and cashew clusters) and we had taught him not to enter the salon but to stick to the outer parts of TTR!
Training Lenny not to come inside TTR was very quick but also a little sad. The first evening, in an effort to train him, we closed the sliding doors while we ate dinner. Lenny kept flying up to the door to try to join us! Then he would walk along the sliding door peering in and making little flying hops to try to find an entrance. It was both comical and sad, but effective. Lenny rarely entered the salon after that evening even though we left the sliding doors open the remainder of the passage!
Lenny was not a fan of winches and would fly to the front of the boat or hide in the dinghy and sometimes fly off the boat whenever major sail changes occurred. When the noises of sail change ramped up, Lenny would fly away, then return shortly later. One the night of day six from San Benedicto, we had several sail changes and there was a bit of rain and wind. Apparently Lenny was pretty unsettled by all the noise and flew a little further than usual from TTR. But since he had disappeared and reappeared many times over the last days, we weren’t too worried.…
Until we didn’t hear any chirps all morning. On day seven, Lenny did not return. We were hoping he was just extra tired after a busy night of sail changes, but alas, Lenny never returned. We kept Lenny’s spot stocked with his favorite food for a day or two, just hoping he would surprise us and reappear. We really hope Lenny found a different boat where he is happily ensconced and being well fed. I don’t like to think of our little feathered friend fatigued and lost at sea.
Days and nights on passage are a collidescope of skies, ocean, sunsets, sunrises, naps, food, podcasts, music, stars, stars and more stars! After a few days, a loose routine sets in where we rotate night watches of three hours each, unless there is a weather concern, then we have two people on deck for six hours and they take turns up and sleeping. During the daylight hours, with four souls on board, it is easy to grab naps as needed because somehow all of us end up wanting to sleep at different times. This trip we changed watch hours so that we could have a variety of views; one person didn’t always have the sunrise or the deep dark hours around 2 am.
One interesting and slightly disconcerting aspect of this passage was time and time zones. As we traveled south and west, our location changed the timing of sunrise and sunset. Not very far into the passage, sunset was occurring around 8:45 instead of 7:15ish. And sunrise had become 5 am. This alteration of the sun in comparison to the Mexico time zone on our clocks made it necessary to alter our shifts so we were actually covering the hours of darkness. We had to determine the correct time in Nuku Hiva so we could adjust our internal rhythms as well as our clocks and shift schedule. This passage, the change in time zone felt more drastic than when we sailed from Hawaii to Alaska.
Turns out, Nuku Hiva time is actually 3.5 hours behind Mexico time. I didn’t even know there were places that altered their clocks by 30 minutes; I thought it was always by the hour. Though upon reflection, the need to adjust incrementally makes complete sense.
The one consistent event on TTR is dinner. We always make dinner a satisfying meal that all of us eat together at the table. The autopilot is on but we remain aware of conditions as we enjoy a meal together. This is a great time to discuss concerns, recap the day and strategize based on weather information. This is also a time for us to adjust sails in preparation for night watches before dark sets in. It is MUCH easier to adjust sails in the light and perhaps even be a bit conservative on our sail plan, rather than throw the dice and have to make major adjustments in the dark when conditions have become a little spicy.
As mentioned in the Hawaii to Alaska blog, we eat really well on Ticket To Ride! If you are interested, at the end of this post I have listed our dinners during this passage.
Fishing, or as I call it “dragging,” is definitely hit or miss on TTR. Often we are sailing so quickly our lures get frayed or we are too fast to hook up fish (9+ knots). But we still try. The first day we had our lures out, we sailed near a group of birds obviously diving into a fish-boil. Moments later one rod offered the “zing” of a fish on, though the pull was light and sporadic. We hopped into action, furling the headsail, heading to wind to slow the boat, etc.
Imagine our dismay when we realized a Booby Bird had snagged our line! We brought the bird in as gently as we could and found he had tangled a wing in our line. Thankfully, he allowed Frank and Erik to carefully remove the line – he didn’t even become aggressive. Really quickly the line was free but the bird chose to ride along with us for about 15 minutes while he was catching his breath. Perhaps Lenny gave him confidence that we were safe.
We spoke gently to the Booby and encouraged him to be well and fly back to his friends, which he did, without issue. Phew! Enough fishing for that day!!
Sunday as the sun was descending into the horizon, the starboard side fishing rod zinged to life. Amelia and I handled sail furling while Frank and Erik pretended to be participants in The Deadliest Catch! Actually, they didn’t pretend anything, but they did land a beautiful Mahi! Yum!
Calm passages are a good time to catch up on some “Boat Love,” as we refer to many boat jobs. The skies were clear, the seas were calm and we took a moment for some TTR maintenance. I polished a little bright work while Frank waxed some painted surfaces. Not wanting his shoulders overexposed to the sun which was growing more powerful as our trajectory moved us closer to the equator, Frank donned a shirt for protection. However, the combination of sun and effort soon had our captain’s temperature rising; so in the best way possible, Frank made a costume adjustment and rocked his Britney Spears look!
Erik received the award for strangest event during this passage. One night while on watch, he saw a huge object fly across the sky. He still can’t figure out if it was a meteor, a UFO, a comet or something else. Of course we couldn’t access the news to see if anything was reported but Erik did manage to snap this photo which he says doesn’t begin to do the event justice.
I find it truly amazing how vast and small the ocean can be. Days on end we will see no one, hear no chatter on the VHF and wonder if the world has disappeared while we were in no mans land. But sometimes it is crazy to actually see another boat come very close to you when there is so much space in the ocean that you could easily pass someone nearby but not within eyesight.
Our friends on s/v Migration, Bruce and Alene, had left a different Revelligedo Island than we did and upped anchor only 45 minutes before us. Bruce and Alene were about 200 nm further along than we were but we hoped to somehow meet in the middle of the Pacific and say hello.
We kept in touch via satellite messages and hoped we would catch them. Late one evening, the VHF sounded a familiar call, “Ticket to Ride, Ticket to Ride, Migration here.” We jumped for the radio, galvanized by the voice of our friends, only to realize that our VHF was not transmitting well, or maybe not at all! It was very frustrating to hear Migration call and not be able to respond.
We were not within eyesight, but we could have been within earshot!
Frank and Erik addressed the VHF issue and learned that an essential component had failed. Luckily Frank attached our back up, handheld VHF directly to the mast antenna making it possible to use the radio. Our next visitor will get to bring us the part necessary to make our boat VHF operational.
Just a few days later we spotted a light on the horizon during the early morning darkness. As the run rose, we caught up to s/v Pablo, a monohull heading to Nuku Hiva with five souls on board. Amelia grabbed the camera and took some lovely pictures which she shared with that family once we were all in Taiohae Bay.
I am not one for “Bucket Lists” but I really wanted to swim in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and I really, really wanted to swim at the equator. There is an area known as the ITCZ, Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, where the weather can be dicy or dead calm; stormy and squally or smooth as glass without a ripple of wind. The ITCZ is a moving area that expands and contracts based on weather, so it is a moving target that sailors try to move through at its most narrow point.
We were blessed with a calm passage through a narrow ITCZ which allowed us to SWIM on Wednesday, May 4th. First we floated a long line off the stern of TTR as a grab line in case of a current or boat movement. Next, Frank and Amelia chose to jump from the helm station roof, while Erik and I donned our mask and fins. On the count of three, the team jumped into the Pacific Ocean!!
Erik was immediately approached by a HUGE marlin – we estimate he was 8-10 feet without his bill! The marlin approached to within about 12 feet of Erik. When I spotted the marlin, he had his mouth open and it looked like he was determining if we were all tasty nuggets dropped from above. Thankfully he decided we weren’t chum and with one slight flick of his tale, the marlin disappeared into the depths.
I will never forget the beauty and power of the moment I saw that marlin. He was a shiny, sleek sliver-blue suspended in a perfectly clear, dark blue sea. The only thing I can reference to describe him would be a glass sphere, like one on a dest, that has a marlin suspended in translucent blue glass that reflects against his armor-like exterior.
What an experience!
I am beginning to think Bucket Lists might be as powerful as positive thinking since I was also gifted with the opportunity to swim at the Equator!! Now that was icing on my wishes since my true hope had been to swim at the equator; but often the weather isn’t cooperative or a boat crosses during darkness.
Not TTR! At 10:38 am on May 7th, the chart plotter showed 0 00.000’ We were ON THE EQUATOR!
We pointed our bows to span the equator and allowed Jude, the auto pilot, the direct our course while we celebrated and swam!
Tradition demands a celebration/initiation of sailors who cross the equator for the first time. Post ceremony, a sailor looses his status as a Pollywog and becomes a Shellback. At its essence, this means a person is no longer green or untried but rather has earned his stripes as a sailor. Celebrations and hazing are often hand in hand with the initiation and as the only shellback on board, Amelia had control of the initiation for Frank, Erik and me….
Fortunately Amelia is very playful but doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, so I knew fun would be had with just a smidge of hazing. Having said that, our playtime becoming Shellbacks was so fun that it deserves its own blog. Check back for our next piece with all the details and photos!
Many people told us they found a .5 to 2.0 knot favorable current beginning anywhere from 3 degrees N of the equator all the way to Taiohae Bay on Nuku Hiva. We knew Nuku Hiva was only a few days away yet we had only experienced unfavorable currents of up to 1.5 knots. If we could find that positive current, our travel time could be reduced by at least one full day.
Alas, no such luck! We only saw negative current or neutral current throughout our passage. Still, our arrival time was anticipated to be sometime on May 11th which would mean our total travel time since leaving La Ventana was only 16 days. Complaining is completely unwarranted.
May 10th arrived bright and sunny with just a few wispy clouds – perfect for celebrating Erik’s 40th birthday! Amelia had masterminded a fun celebration and while in La Paz we had procured “things” to make this birthday a memorable one.
Ironically, several times during the passage, Erik had bemoaned not buying a piñata before leaving Mexico. Unbeknownst to him, Amelia had squirreled one away and it was the first step in Erik’s birthday celebration and gift hunt!
We had a great time watching Erik unravel Amelia’s clues for where to find his gifts. New clues and fun surprises were dispersed in the freezer, the dinghy, the mast line bag and even the bilge. Erik was a good sport and wore the piñata as a hat for much of the day. That evening we celebrated with burgers, homemade buns, yummy veggies and blondies for dessert dessert which we topped it with ice cream we had hidden in the freezer for this special occasion.
Throughout the trip, I tried to have some little special things to help keep the crew happy and make sure spirits were lifted if needed. At the equator crossing, Frank, Erik and Amelia received t-shirts from La Paz. At the 1/2 way point we had a pretty fancy dinner of pork tenderloin in a brown sauce with green beans and rice followed by brownies. When we reached 500 nm remaining, I brought out dark chocolate covered cherries straight from Michigan.
None of those things are really important, but they do make life aboard a bit more fun.
The day after Erik’s birthday we could clearly see Nuku Hiva in the dawn light. A small group of dolphins acknowledged us by swimming past us as we approached Taiohae Bay. The water washing against and away from the mighty elevation of Nuku Hiva was sharp and tumultuous as we jetted in under main and reacher. By 10:20 am on May 11, 2022, 13 days and 23 hours after leaving San Benedicto, we had set our anchor in French Polynesia. We had completed our passage to French Polynesia and achieved a milestone! Without regard for the early hour, we broke out the bubbly to celebrate a successful and excellent trip across the Pacific Ocean.
It bears stating that our passage was truly a blessed one! We saw storms on the horizon that looked destined to inundate us with wind and rain, yet they all passed before or behind us or dissipated before we reached them. At times it felt like the Red Sea was parting before us! TTR felt like she was enclosed in a special space of protection as we encountered very few weather or sea surprises.
Our travel time was quick and our breakages nearly non-existent. The only problems we had were: 1. the VHF Box failed and needs to be replace, but Frank rigged up a temporary fix. 2. Our IridiumGo antenna was knocked by the leach of a sail when the wind flogged but while at the Rev’s, Frank went up the mast and installed a protective margarita mix bottle – hahaha, now our antenna is very happy. 3. When we arrived in Nuku Hiva, the anemometer at the top of the mast was loose and Erik took a ride to the top of the mast to tighten the loosened screws.
SAILING SYNOPSIS: This is a simplified table of our sailing, not a perfect representation of detailed sail changes and wind speeds or angles.
|Rev Islands to Nuku Hiva, FP on Ticket To Ride||TRUE WIND SPEED||TRUE WIND ANGLE||SAILS DEPLOYED||TOTAL 24 HOUR MILES|
|Day 1||13||114||Main R1, drifter||106 (13 hours)|
|Day 2||14||119||Main R1, drifter||212|
|Day 3||13||170||Drifter, genoa||158|
|Day 4||10||160||Drifter at night, double headsails by day||148|
|Day 5||11||155||Drifter only||156|
|Day 6||13||152||Drifter only||169|
|Day 7||4-13||17-160||Drifter 16 hours, 1 engine 8 hours||145|
|Day 8||16||65||Main R2, genoa||185|
|Day 9||18||100||Main R2, genoa||231|
|Day 10||14||105||Main R2, genoa 12 hours, Main R1 w Reacher – 12 hours||195|
|Day 11||12||125||Main R1 and reacher||205|
|Day 12||15||100||Main R2, genoa 12 hours, Main R2, reacher 12 hours||243|
|Day 13||18||123||Main R2 and reacher||242|
|Day 14||17||130||Main R2 and reacher|
Dinner on TTR is a “thang”
~Mykronos Aubergine Stew – veggies, including eggplant – yum.
~Grilled AK Halibut on a bed of mixed greens and avocado with sautéed poblano pepper, asperagus, onion, etc
~General Tsao’s Tofu with cilantro garnish
~Erik’s Chicken Noodle Soup for lunch on passage
~Chicken Tacos with homemade salsa: creamy cashew cilantro sauce
~Grilled Pork Chops, salad, rice
~Pasta Bolignaise and sauteed green beans with mushrooms
~Honor-da-veg Day: mixed veggies in Mexican seasoning in flour tortillas
~Pizza Night – homemade pizzas
~One-Pot Chicken pesto pasta (using homegrown basil!), E’s vegetable soup, roasted green beans with candies rosemary almonds
Caught the first fish – Mahi
~Cajun seared mahi, black coconut rice, salad
~Mahi mahi tostadas…. (Lenny’s last meal)
~Pork tenderloin, curried green beans, rice
~Cinco de Mayo! Chicken tostados
~Cold asian noodle salad with panko crusted tofu
~Equator Pasties (meat pies) and blueberry pie
~Mahi, salad, rice
~Breakfast for dinner – eggs and waffles
~Birthday burgers, buns and fried potatoes, blondies with ice cream as birthday dessert
Phew! This was a long blog. Thanks for reading ALL of that. I hope this gives you some insight into our passage and how our time is spent while at sea. Please send us a comment if you have questions, and keep an eye out for our really fun pollywog to shellback ceremony!
P.S. I didn’t have enough internet to preview this post, please forgive poor formatting or mistakes. 🙂
Two years ago we went through all of the hoops to obtain a Long Stay Visa for French Polynesia. Ticket to Ride was prepped and stocked. Son Clayton and friend Connor were on board as crew and our weather window had arrived. I walked to the proper authorities to obtain our zarpe (clearing out papers) and we would leave the next morning. BUT – my zarpe was denied!
French Polynesia was closed due to COVID. Like everyone else ~ our plans had to change.
Fast forward 25 months and the reset button is officially pressed!
This time we will leave from La Paz instead of Puerto Vallarta and our destination is Nuku Hiva, Marquesas. The actual departure date from Mexico is expected to be April 22nd, depending on the weather, as usual.
We are super excited to finally begin our passage to these storied islands and accomplish a goal that has been in our sights for years.
If you would like to follow us on our journey across the Pacific, please follow this link or tap the “Where is TTR?” box under the main photo of our blog.
Back for a second passage on TTR are Amelia and Erik who traveled with us from Hawaii to Alaska. It is quite an endorsement that a) we invited them back for another passage and b) they are willing to spend another few weeks out on the Pacific Ocean with us.
When this announcement actually posts, we may already be on our way. Please feel free to follow us as we travel 3,000 nm from the Sea of Cortez as we enter and explore the southern side of the equator! We will post messages as we go which you can see via the PredictWind link listed above.
See you on the southern side….
Thanks so much for reading our blog and spending some of your time with us. If you have a favorite place or suggestion for places we shouldn’t miss in French Polynesia, please share them with us in the comments. Stay well and stay positive; we need all kinds of good thoughts in the world right now.
These last few months with Ticket to Ride in Mexico have been pretty busy, but also productive and filled with family and friends. After leaving San Diego in December, we spent a couple of weeks moving down the western Baja Coast.
After clearing in at Ensenada, our first stop was Cedros Island which had a population of 1,350 in 2005 with the main industries of commercial fishing and salt production. Cedros is mountainous with the highest elevation reaching 3,953 feet. We chose to ride our bikes on the mostly flat parts of the island out to the airfield and salt loading facility. Traffic was sparse and the roads were very good.
Cedros Town is a rare stop for cruising boats and is not home to convenience stores or souvenir shops. Instead it is a working town with an authentic vibe, filled with people earning a living from the sea.
We made new friends along our route by inviting the boats anchored in Bahía Ascunsión to join us on TTR for a Christmas potluck dinner. We had a fun evening of good food and learning about our boat neighbors. Plus sharing Christmas dinner on TTR created the added benefit of making friends we see here and there as we travel in Mexico.
In addition to Cedros Island, we made four stops along the Baja Coast: Turtle Bay, Ascunsión, Santa Maria and Magdalena Bay. I have many great photos, but here is a sampling.
After making short hops along the coast we took a longer sail from Magdalena Bay to Muertos in the Sea of Cortez which was about 240nm.
All the way south and around the point where Cabo is, the sail was delightful. We saw plenty of whales breaking the surface, slapping fins and tails and even a few breaches!
However, once we rounded the corner of Cabo and headed north, whew, the seas became very different. Opposing current and wind made for steep waves and very choppy conditions. TTR handled it all like a champ but Frank and I were happy to reach Muertos and drop anchor out of the churned up waters.
From Muertos we directed our path to Coasta Baja Marina in La Paz. The time had arrived for us to fly to Mexico City and apply for our Long Stay Visas for French Polynesia. We completed this process two years earlier in the company of Randy and Shellie of s/v Moondance. This time we met up with friends Bruce and Alene of s/v Migration. We shared an apartment for the weekend as well as the cumbersome application process through the French Consulate in Mexico City.
Once back in La Paz, we spent a couple of weeks sailing in the Sea, dodging northerly blows and enjoying familiar anchorages. We celebrated Frank’s birthday while hiding behind Isla Coronado, which gave the birthday boy an opportunity to kiteboard. That was the first time Frank has kited in many, many months.
Next up was a visit from Jeff and Marcy. We had an awesome week together as we shared some favorite places close to La Paz and introduced these land dwellers to cruising life.
The weather cooperated perfectly! The day Jeff and Marcy arrived, the wind was light so we left the dock immediately and motored north to San Evaristo, about 55 nautical miles away. We explored the fishing village, walked to the salt fields and stopped at Abuela’s house to buy some fresh tortillas. In fact, Abuela made the tortillas while we waited on her porch.
We stopped at Isla San Francisco for a couple of nights where we hiked the ridge for another bird’s eye view of the anchorage.
Frank introduced Jeff and Marcy to scuba diving in the shallow waters of Isla San Francisco. It was an uneventful session since we stayed in the shallows and only introduced them to the basics. Diving is kind of a hassle when there is only sand to see and no exotic fish or interesting rock walls to explore.
Next we visited Ensenada Grande where paddleboarding and another hike were on the agenda. The water was still too cold to just hang out in it, but we managed to stay pretty busy doing other things.
Early one morning, the four of us took the dinghy to visit the sea lion colony on Los Islotes before the tour boats arrived. We hopped in the water and watched the sea lions play in the sea. Visibility wasn’t great but we enjoyed watching the young sea lions swim nearby to check us out. The pups are very curious and often come close to snorkelers.
Once back in the dinghy, we circled the island and several of pups followed us. They were like a group of teenagers daring each other, coming close to the dinghy, rising up from the water to look at us, then darting away as their bravery dissipated. Frank expertly slipped Day Tripper through the opening in the rocks for a mini Indiana Jones cave experience without any snakes, spiders or other creepy things.
A fairly strong westerly wind was expected so we chose to sail on the east side of Espiritu Santo and anchor in Bonanza at the southern side of the island in an attempt to find a calm anchorage. Marcy and Jeff ventured out in Day Tripper alone for a little sandy beach time while Frank and I chilled on the front deck of TTR.
The next day we sailed back to La Paz so our guests could enjoy a night and day in “the city” before heading back to Texas. We showed them some local flavor, like the Mercaldo where fresh fruit, veggies and meats can be bought. I’m pretty certain they were less than excited by the non-USDA health standards on display. So we headed back toward the Malecon for lunch in a slightly more touristy area.
Our week with Jeff and Marcy was great fun and we look forward to the next time they visit Ticket to Ride.
Next up was the delivery of our new North Sails mainsail. We have replaced all of the sails on TTR and are now flying a suite of five new North Sails: mainsail, genoa, self-tacker, reacher (TWA @70-130, medium weight sail) and what we call the Drifter; a design Frank, Gino Morrelli and Fuzz Foster worked out for downwind sailing for shorthanded cruisers. North is calling this sail the Code G, I think, and we already know of a couple of other boats that have ordered the sail. (TWA @ 90-170ish, light weight sail.)
Gio of ApexRigging, flew into La Paz to help us dial in our new main sail. Gio was on board for several days working with us to set up the mainsail. We sailed a few times to make sure the main and reef points were in order. Gio and Frank reviewed our rigging, lines, sheets and halyards to make sure everything on TTR is solid so that we are in great shape for our sail to French Polynesia.
In light of our upcoming departure for French Polynesia, Frank and I decided to take a quick trip back to the US to visit our kids; one in San Diego and one in North Carolina – nice of them to live so close together, right?
On our way back to La Paz, we met Frank’s mom, Jackie, at the DFW airport and she flew with us to TTR. We had a wonderful, relaxed visit with Jackie on board Ticket to Ride for a week. We are incredibly blessed that Jackie is willing to travel to our boat and spend time with us. She is an amazing woman and delights in the beauty of her surroundings. Jackie enjoys the 360 degree views on TTR where we are immersed in nature. She delights in the beauty that surrounds her and always finds something interesting or beautiful as we move from place to place or as we swing on anchor.
Once again we visited the sea lions, but this time we watched from on board TTR. The pups were accommodating and came up to the boat to take a close look at us. Jackie was delighted with their silly ways and we all enjoyed observing them in their own environment.
Jackie has returned to the States and now we are in full prep mode for our trip to French Polynesia. We have our long stay visas for French Polynesia in hand and it is finally time to prepare for this trip that has been SO LONG in coming.
Thanks so much for stopping by to wade through this really long post. We appreciate your time and hope you enjoyed a little glimpse into what has kept us busy lately. Stay well and stay positive! All the best from us to you.
After Shellie and Randy departed, Frank and I were alone on Ticket to Ride for the first time in nine weeks. Although a sailboat is a small space, TTR felt a bit cavernous and lonely after having friends on board for so long. At the same time, it was nice to have our floating home to ourselves again and to only consider our own schedules.
The forecasted weather in Petersburg for the next few days ranged from partly cloudy to rain, and we needed to spend time catching up with family, business matters and the news, so internet was required. Fortunately, we had already discovered that Alaska has a fantastic library system; there were libraries everywhere and most of them were equipped with free internet. PLUS, the libraries often had beautiful views, comfortable furniture, pretty decor and they were warm and dry.
Petersburg is definitely a fishing town. The official town slogan is “The town that fish built” because the main industry here is fishing and canning.
Petersburg was founded in the late 1800’s by Norwegian immigrant, Peter Buschman, who built a cannery, sawmill, docks and other early buildings. Three additional canneries were built in Petersburg and all four have operated continuously since opening.
By 1902, Petersburg was incorporated and had attracted so many Scandinavian immigrants that the town became known as “Little Norway.”
The Norwegian influence in Petersburg is easy to see in the buildings, the landscaping and the history; the Sons of Norway Hall, the Petersburg Museum which relates history of the town and early Scandinavian families, traditional dance exhibitions held for visitors, iconic designs on top of old poles, etc. Walking around Petersburg reminded me of traveling in parts of Europe.
The biggest fish producers in Petersburg are the 58-foot seiners that harvest salmon, halibut, black cod, king, tanner crab and herring. In 1980, Gordon Jensen resurrected the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association which works to ensure that all the seafood harvested by the Petersburg fleet is done in a sustainable manner which is consistent with the conservation principles of the Alaskan constitution.
Although I cannot speak to the rules of the Association, we did learn that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulates the fishing days for salmon. In 2021, the fishermen were allowed to fish two days on and two days off. Every fisherman had to fish and refrain from fishing on the same schedule to insure that the salmon had two solid days to run uninterrupted. Our understanding is that every year, the Department assesses the salmon population and adjusts the fishing rules according to the health of the salmon population.
While traversing Alaska, we saw all types of fishing vessels and in Petersburg there was a board that explained the types of boats. These signs were helpful as they graphically explained the various types of boats we encountered and how much space their gear covered when working.
Although our visit to Petersburg was only 4 nights, it left a strong mark on our memory. Perhaps it was the quaint buildings, or the cleanliness of the town. Perhaps it was how the town embraced its history but also felt current. Perhaps it was the grandeur of the surrounding mountains and the proximity of the mighty glacier. Or maybe it was because we returned to the Enge’s Deli where we ate the best cinnamon rolls we have ever had!
Alas, we had to keep TTR moving along because August had already arrived and we had many miles to cover and unlimited anchorages to visit before leaving Alaska and hopefully (COVID) entering Canada.
We were up early and the morning marine layer made for a spooky departure as we left Gut Bay. The day held two surprises…
The first was that we actually sailed for three hours! We were leaving Baranof Island and crossing the Chatham Straight toward Tebenkof Bay and were able to put up our reacher sail in 9-12 knots of wind at a true wind angle of 135.
The second surprise was encountering pods of whales while we were traveling through the Chatham Straight! I tried to get photos of the tails so I could compare these whales to the ones from Hawaii because I wondered if we had traveled with some of these huge animals across the Pacific Ocean. Reminder: whale tails are unique, like fingerprints, and whales are identified by their tail markings.
Shelter Cove was our destination in Tebenkof Bay. This anchorage had many sea otters so we didn’t bother putting out the crab pots. The otter population is quite large in Alaska and fisherman/lobstermen think they are out of control. Since we don’t make our living chasing the same food the otters eat, we found them pretty cute, especially when they would float on their backs with one otter holding another.
Our next stop was a mere eight miles away at Gingerbread Bay. This anchorage was very large and the water absolutely flat. We took a dinghy tour of the anchorage and looked for a trail that was supposed to lead to the Afleck Canal, but we were unable to locate the trail. Frank and I think the hardest part of most hikes is finding the beginning of the trail since many places we visit are not well used. We had our first dinghy mishap in Gingerbread Bay…. the engine clipped a submerged rock that was impossible to see with the sun in our eyes. Bit of damage to the skeg but the engine still runs just fine, thankfully.
The next day was another quick hop of only 9 miles to Exploration Basin. Although we read the SW corner was a good anchorage, we found it a bit tight, poorly charted and exposed to the north. So we anchored slightly north of that area and found an excellent, sandy spot in 40’ of water.
Exploration Basin was a super fun place to play. We took turns SUPing, then decided a picnic lunch was in order since the day was exceptionally sunny and warm. We packed some goodies and landed on a nearby island that had an outcropping of land that was connected to the bigger island by a gravel beach. We gathered wood and set up a campfire on the rocks, then sat and enjoyed lunch of wraps, chips and carrots. Of course lunch was ended with s’mores over the fire.
We spent some time splayed out like lizards on the sun heated rocks, enjoying the unusually warm day. While compiling wood for the fire, we noticed wild blueberries so we all picked deeply colored, plump blueberries and bagged plenty to use for baking treats.
I could have stayed in Exploration Basin several days, but the weather was shaping up for a perfect rounding of Cape Decision, so we had to prepare to leave again the next morning.
The trip from Exploration Basin to Warren Cove was six hours of motoring to cover 43 miles on a sunny day that brought us to a well protected spot and our first sand beach in Alaska! We anchored in 50’ of water, then went to shore to explore.
What a treat to walk barefoot on Alaskan sand, getting a natural pedicure while observing the “rubble” on the beach. Unlike Hawaii, this beach wasn’t scattered with seashells, but with huge logs and smooth boulders. We crossed fresh water rivulets escaping into the bay with starfish resting on the sandy floor.
Perhaps we have read too many detective novels, but guess what we saw! For those who might be concerned….we did not find anything attached to this “finger.”
Our consensus was that Warren Cove warranted an extra night so we hung out and did a bit of fishing, SUPing and more beach walking. Standing on the transom steps of TTR, we managed to catch enough halibut to top up the freezer. We kept two halibut that weighed between 8-10 pounds.Yum!
We also took turns in the dinghy fishing some deeper areas. Frank and I dropped our hooks and immediately caught rockfish which were apparently plentiful and hungry because they bit the minute our lures went deep in the water. However, not all rockfish were legal, and we weren’t sure which we could keep, so we released the two we hooked.
Interestingly, if you pull a rock fish from deep in the water, their bladder inflates and they are unable to release the air and descend again. Unaided, they will die on the surface. However, the fishing store in Sitka prepared us for this possibility. We had a special weighted hook that we quickly attached to the rockfish. Once the hook was attached, we dropped the fish and hook back into the water and the hook pulled the bloated fish to the bottom where he can expel the air. Once we could tell the weight had pulled the fish deep into the water, we reeled in the hook which is designed to flip and release the fish.
Happily, this method worked and we didn’t see a dead rockfish surface! But, that was the end of our fishing in those deep waters. There was no point in fishing and traumatizing the fish when we didn’t know which ones we could keep.
Warren Cove also delivered a fabulous whale experience! While out in the dinghy, we saw a whale near the shallow shoreline, so we went a little closer and were able to watch this whale feeding! It was very interesting to see the whale move in a circle, then a tighter circle. Next he sort of swept upward with his flipper, then up came his open mouth for a quick ton or two of food! It was truly fascinating to watch.
Our departure from Warren Cove was marked by a thick fog which remained during our 32 mile trip to La Bouchere Bay. Alaskan waters are frequently sprinkled with huge logs that must be avoided so we never traveled in the dark and someone was always on watch while we traveled. During this foggy trip, we had to pay close attention to the water as the floating debris could come up quickly and we didn’t want to damage Ticket to Ride.
We were happy to drop anchor in La Bouchere and relinquish our log watch. The guide book mentioned a hike along a rarely traveled road that is a graveyard of abandoned cars. Although usually walking on a road dotted with rusting cars isn’t high on our list of enticing activities, we were all very ready to get off the boat and unwind by taking a casual walk.
True to the description, there were many abandoned cars. We spent our time deciding which of the vehicles we would choose to restore…. does one of them call to you?
The following day we motored 40 miles to St John Harbour which was simply a place to stage our passage through the Wrangle Narrows which required us to time the currents to pass safely. We saw an interesting truck transport which looked like a homemade barge being guided across the water by two service boats.
Our final stop with Shellie and Randy was Petersburg where we arrived the following day, August 2nd. After two weeks of our own cooking, we chose to eat lunch out at Enge’s Deli which Shellie and Randy remembered from their visit to St. Petersburg. The food was great, so we understand why they remembered Enge’s Deli. Frank and I agree that the cinnamon rolls we bought one morning from Enge’s are the best we have ever eaten!
Shellie is definitely great at research and when all of us talked about how fun it would be to take a float plane tour of a glacier, Shellie kicked it into gear the moment we found cell service. Her first few calls netted nothing, but then Shellie received a return call while we were chowing down at Enge’s…. she had landed us a tour for that afternoon at 2 pm!
BIG KUDDOS to Shellie for setting up this tour. Our pilot, Scott, took us up in his 1953 DeHavailland Beaver for a one hour tour. The cost was $200 per person and worth the expense! Scott was an excellent pilot and he also is a hunting guide, so he could tell us a bit about the area we flew over.
Seeing the glaciers from above was nothing short of spectacular. At times the glacier looked like a giant Baked Alaskan dessert after it had been flamed. (I’m probably the only person who thinks that.) The undulating surface punctuated with spires and holes was stunning to see.
I could almost feel the movement of the water before it froze around this rock and although the environment is fierce, there is something compelling about it that made me wish I could walk on the glacier.
Flying over the glacier allowed a much better perspective of how much area these ice masses currently encompass. With all of the atmospheric changes occurring and glaciers melting more rapidly now, we are very glad we were able to see them.
For the record, taking off and landing from the float plane was as cool as we anticipated. I would love to take another float plane tour. And how amazing is it that the plane and engine were built in 1953? That is even older than we are!
This was our final day with Shellie and Randy as they had flights out the next morning. We ate dinner at a local pizza joint and talked about the glacier tour and the two weeks we had spent traveling together. It was really hard to believe that our trip together was ending when we could still remember the night we were sitting on s/v Moondance and Randy with Shellie in Hawaii and they first mentioned visiting us in Alaska!
One thing is for certain; we packed a LOT into these two weeks and we were really happy that we had this time to spend with Moondance!
Polar Plunge Report:
Hawk Inlet: 57°
Pavlov Harbor: 54°
Pavlov Harbor: 54°
Takatz Bay: 51°
Gut Bay: 56°
Shelter Cove: 57°
Gingerbread Bay: 56°
Exploration Basin: 57°
Warren Cove: 57° and 60°
La Bouchere Bay 51°
Thank you for spending time reading our blog. Alaska was filled with so much beauty and constant movement that it is hard to whittle down the number of pictures and information in each journal. Looking through pictures, Alaska is even prettier than I sometimes remember. But the feeling of utter serenity I felt when walking through ancient forests: that memory I can recall clearly. If you would like to hear from us more often, please check our Facebook page or Instagram.
Our last Alaskan journal ended on the afternoon that Randy and Shellie of s/v Moondance arrived and Erik and Amelia moved onto s/v Kaléwa with Katie and Kevin. We had a big crab boil dinner on TTR with Katie, Kevin, Shellie, Randy, Erik and Amelia and generally enjoyed catching up and sharing time before we would wave goodbye in the morning.
Our plan was to make a short hop just to get away from the dock and back on the hook where Shellie, Randy, Frank and I would plan our route. Shellie and Randy had cruised in Alaska two years prior on their own boat and it was fun to compare experiences and plan to visit places they had seen and some they had not.
We had heard from some local fishermen that the salmon were really hitting at Point Retreat, not far from Auke Bay, so although the guys were skeptical about a fisherman sharing good fishing locations, we chose to steer TTR past that point on our way to No Name Cove at Hawk Inlet.
Much to our delight, we were very successful with our salmon fishing at Point Retreat. Within 30 minutes we caught three king salmon! However, we released all three because we weren’t licensed to harvest Kings. The Alaskan fishing permit requires you to buy a special license to catch king salmon. We hadn’t bought those so we released the fish – we aren’t into illegal fishing and we surely don’t want bad karma from cheating the system!
After a better than expected night at No Name Cove, we upped anchor and headed into the Chatham Strait but we encountered the worst motoring conditions we had seen since arriving in Alaska. We had SE winds with opposing currents that created chop and waves and generally miserable conditions.
We all agreed to cut the day short rather than endure the conditions and Shellie and Randy found a good spot named Pavlov Harbor to drop anchor. This unexpected stop turned out to be a great anchorage and a wonderful surprise!
There was a river with a rocky drop-off with a salmon ladder on one side. Of course we took Day Tripper to the river to explore the water fall and hike a state park trail that started near the river. We brought bear spray on the walk and happily didn’t encounter any bears. You can see the beauty of the area the trail wound through by looking at the photos.
Since we arrived early, we also had time to do a little fishing from Day Tripper and once again we were very successful; this time with silver salmon! The one we kept was a good size and provided four meals for four people!
Seeing as how lucky our harvesting had been, we decided to put out the crab pots near where some commercial pots were dropped.
The weather dictated another night in Pavlov but we were all happy to stay and enjoy the unexpected beauty…. we saw a brown bear and her cubs two or three times. The picture shows them near the stream we hiked the first day.
Frank and Randy went to shore to find firewood as we wanted to try smoking some of the salmon and when they were returning to the dinghy they spotted the momma bear and cubs by the waterfall. From the dinghy, they guys actually watched the momma bear grab a salmon at the base of the waterfall, then run into the woods with her cubs following…… I guess everyone was having salmon for dinner!
Shellie made salmon chowder for all of us for dinner. Yum. How lucky are we to have guests who help with the planning and cook too?!
Our next destination was Takatz Bay which is another gorgeous anchorage. We anchored in about 50’ of water and from our anchor spot could see two separate waterfalls tumbling from high on the hillside. While on TTR, the sound of the rushing waterfalls provided delightful background music during dinner and while we slept!
In the back part of Takatz, there is a tidal flat that is too shallow to dinghy through at low tide, but during high tide it is deep enough to dinghy across the tidal flats. With Randy at the throttle, we puttered right up to the river that cascades energetically through large boulders and into the bay. We were so close to the rushing water that the spray misted into our faces and the sound of the water was very loud. Another demonstration of mother nature’s power and beauty.
While exploring Takatz Bay, we spotted some raspberries and Frank tried to pick a few from the bow of the dinghy.
In Takatz, we saw a cruise company called “The Un-Cruise” which has smaller ships and had people out in kayaks or on shore hiking with a guide. I think the idea of a smaller cruise like this one that can go into more unique anchorages is more appealing than larger cruise lines.
We all would have liked to stay longer in Takatz but Gut Bay was quietly calling to us.
We had the anchor up by 5 am. As we left Takatz Bay, the early morning, low lying clouds created a completely different look in the bay and created interesting photos. Our usual early morning departures in Alaska are made easier by the changed appearance of our locations in the morning light.
Despite the less than fetching name, Gut Bay was another pretty stop. The entry to Gut Bay was easier than we anticipated, however when we plotted the recommended anchor locations on our chart, they both showed us dropping anchor on land – a good reason one cannot rely solely on electronics!
We took Day Tripper out to explore a nearby river and found a raised platform that appeared ready to use as a base for pitching a tent. We tied up there and set out to try and ford a trail to a secondary basin of water which was only accessible on foot. We carefully picked our spots through the various streams and truly tested how waterproof our boots were. Shellie lost that test as her boots definitely had water ingress. Plus I think her’s were the shortest so she had to be very careful when choosing her path!
Even with bear spray in hand, we were less than comfortable as we moved across the water. This looked like prime bear territory. Frank forded ahead and was soon across the water and working his way into some dense, head-high brush. After three scat sightings in a very short time, even Frank agreed it was time to turn back.
The areal shot makes the trek through the stream and to the other water look very short, but we just didn’t think it was wise to try our luck. Mostly I was concerned about accidentally coming between a bear and her cubs.
We ended up backtracking and exploring the woods we had passed before fording the streams. We felt more comfortable here because we could see further and saw fewer bear calling cards.
Although we weren’t successful in reaching the other pool of water, once again Alaska offered up gifts from the depth. We landed three more Dungeness crabs and two silver salmon. We released the salmon and kept the two qualifying crabs. Yum.
Once again we were up early and the morning marine layer made for a spooky departure as we left Gut Bay. This day held two surprises for us…
Thank you for spending time reading our blog. Alaska was filled with so much beauty and constant movement that it is hard to whittle down the number of pictures and information in each journal. Next week I’ll finish the time we spent exploring with s/v Moondance. If you would like to hear from us more often, please check our Facebook page or Instagram.