Suppose you were going to take a three week trip and while you were on that trip, you were going to be completely self sufficient. You wouldn’t stop for any reason: not for any supplies or for directions, regardless of the weather or how tired you were or even if you were sick. On this trip you do not expect to see any people other than those with you and your path is unmarked and without signage. Oh, and if you have any problems, you must fix them yourself using only the supplies you have on hand.
Welcome to sailing across the Pacific Ocean!
This description sounds really dramatic but it is actually pretty accurate.
Of course, we do have electronic charts on board Ticket to Ride to help with directions. We do have a satellite phone system (IridiumGo) that allows us to get weather updates or place emergency phone calls. We have safety equipment and emergency medical supplies. We are well informed and have taken classes to improve our knowledge (100 ton Captain’s licenses and Safety at Sea courses). We will have two extra crew members on board to help us with this trip.
We have done our best to prepare but the truth is, once we shove off, we are on our own for 3000 nautical miles until we reach Nuka Hiva, Marquesas.
So, although we have been having a fabulous time here in Mexico, much of our time and energy is being invested in preparing to leave Puerto Vallarta and sail to the Marquesas Islands.
The trip of about 3000 nm is probably the longest passage we will complete as sailors. TTR is a pretty fast boat and, if the weather cooperates, we hope to complete our trip in just 16 days!
On average, most sailboats take three weeks or more to complete this crossing. When considering passage time, we are fortunate!
We are not alone in our preparations as many other sailors are planning to sail to French Polynesia right now as spring is the best weather window for the trip. Unlike a road trip, we cannot stop along the way if the weather gets bad, so departure timing is important.
Drama aside, this is a big passage and preparation is essential. Fortunately I married an eagle scout who truly embraces the “Be Prepared” motto. Together we are tackling our To Do Lists and getting Ticket to Ride in prime condition.
If you are interested, here are a few of the items we have been and continue to address:
Long Stay Visas for French Polynesia. As non EU citizens, we are allowed to enter FP and stay for 90 days. However, we would like to be able to stay longer, so we have applied to the French Consulate for a LSV which would allow us to stay for one year. Applying for the LSV meant gathering a mound of paperwork, including a police report stating that we are citizens of good standing, financial information, proof of health and boat insurance… well just a bunch of things. Then we had to travel to Mexico City to visit the French Consulate and apply in person. We completed that appointment on January 29, 2020 and anticipate the response this coming week – about a six weeks processing period.
Crew: although Frank and I originally planned on making this passage alone, we decided that having crew would make the passage safer, faster and more fun. To our delight, our youngest son, Clayton, is joining us for this passage! Clayton has plenty of sailing and water experience, plus he is a mechanical engineer and will be very helpful in case of any issues. Our second crew member is Connor Jackson. Connor is a friend of Clayton’s and a very experienced sailor who crossed the Pacific two years ago in his 31’ Hunter sailboat. Connor’s experience and knowledge are valuable additions.
By adding Clayton and Connor to the crew, we have lowered that average age on board TTR by 1/3 and I imaging the energy level will increase by an equal amount.
Every sailboat is like a tiny city that must produce its own power, refrigeration, water etc, so it is essential that all parts are working consistently and reliably for our passage.
For example, we have a water-maker aboard TTR and we rely on this for our drinking water. Frank has checked and triple checked the system to make certain it is working well and we won’t be thirsty while offshore. (We will bring some bottled water in case of a system breakdown.)
Rigging/sail inspection: inspecting our rigging and sails is very important since we are relying on them to propel us across the ocean. In addition to making sure the sails are holding up well, Frank has cleaned and waxed the mast, inspected the rigging and connections, oiled the sail tracks, greased winches, inspected blocks and made adjustments to lines and sheets. (I just had to hoist him up and down the mast.)
Spare parts: Walmart cannot be reached! TTR is full of spare parts and tools to insure (hopefully) that we can repair any issues we find.
Reviewing and changing boat insurance to cover us while in the South Pacific. Because insurance companies suffered huge losses during hurricanes these last few years, obtaining insurance is more difficult than one would expect.
Reviewing medical insurance: international travel requires special insurance and our LSV requires us to have coverage in place for the duration of our visas.
Route Planning: gathering information about the best route to take, where it is best to cross the ITCZ, weather patterns on both sides of the equator, determining how/if we can stay in touch with other boats who are crossing, etc.
Navigating in French Polynesia: more and more sailors are relying on electronic chats and imaging as aids to navigation, especially in areas where the charts are not current and where Google images can be overlaid on charts. Fortunately, Connor has used many of the electronic charts and has graciously shared his knowledge with us and friends who are also heading across the Pacific Ocean.
Food Planning: so this could take a whole post unto itself. But the short story is that we have to have enough food on board for 1.5X our planned passage time. In addition to planning and buying the food, I need to have several precooked, frozen meals available in case we aren’t feeling well or the conditions are rough and cooking from scratch is not possible. Three meals a day, plus snacks and considering that at least one person is up and on watch 24 hours a day…. a lot of food and snacks are required.
Favorite foods: traveling to other countries means we get to try foods that are unique to those countries and are unfamiliar to us. That is a fun aspect of travel. However, when this is your full time lifestyle, you begin to miss foods you cannot find away from home. So, we are trying to stock up on a few special items that probably won’t be available after leaving Mexico.
Expensive/hard to find supplies: along the same lines of favorite foods, there are some items that are reasonably priced and easy to find in one place but cost and arm and a leg or can’t be found in other places. We are trying to flush out this information and stock up on some of those items. This can be as varied as motor oil and canned tomatoes or self-rising flour and alcohol.
Storage: once buying food and spares and tools is complete, we have to find places to store all of our extras. We are very fortunate that TTR has many convenient storage areas, but for long term trips like this one, we have to get creative. Often this means opening up the beds, the floors and the seating areas to store things below them. Pretty much wherever we can find safe and open spaces could be used for storage.
PPJ Meetings: Puerto Vallarta is a popular jumping off spot for sailboats making the Pacific Puddle Jump. As a result, there are many formal meetings where speakers present topics of interest: reading weather files, how to avoid storms, provisioning for long passages, medical emergencies, communication at sea, etc. Frank and I have attended several meetings and enjoy the information and getting to know others who are in the throws of preparing to jump.
Clean your bottom: boat bottom that is! Sailboats routinely need to have the bottom cleaned to prevent soft and hard growth from accumulating. Not only is the growth unsightly, it slows the boat’s progress through the water. Although we have an excellent bottom paint on TTR, growth still occurs and we will make certain her bottom is clean and smooth before we leave for the Marquesas.
Corona Virus: A unique aspect to our trip in 2020 is the unexpected and very fluid requirements and restrictions pertaining to the Corona Virus. In the past week the requirements for entering French Polynesia have changed depending on how you are arriving. Needless to say, we are staying informed about this and we are preparing to get additional health certificates as the requirements change.
So there you have it, a glimpse into our preparation for sailing across the Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, good preparation is essential and we are doing our best to be very well prepared. Frank and I are thankful that Ticket to Ride is a strong, fast and reliable sailboat. We look forward to completing the preparations and actually beginning this voyage since it has been part of our distant plans for years!
Our goal is to depart within the next two weeks depending on finalizing some last items, completing our provisioning and finding the proper weather window.
If you would like to follow our progress, you can look for our location on this blog page: look on the right hand column for our location.
Thanks for reading our blog. If you have any comments, we would love to hear from you. We will try to figure out how to send an update or two as we are crossing the Pacific, but no promises at this point.
Frank and I have worked to build our sailing experience and increase our passage lengths gradually so we would be comfortable when the time for our first long passage arrived.
Sunset our first night
Our first overnight passage (13 hours) was in May 2015 when we sailed from BVI to St. Martin. Since then we have made a few other overnight trips and a couple of two night passages to help us become more comfortable and confident with sailing off shore.
Of course, any trip is only as good as the weather, so we do our very best to research weather and plan our trips to insure favorable seas and winds and currents. Then we pray that nothing unexpected comes along!
Even with building our experience and choosing the best weather window we could, I was nervous about the 855 nautical mile (nm) sail from the BVI to Marsh Harbour, Abacos. We expected the trip would take around six days but I mentally prepared myself for seven so I would not get impatient.
Sunset from the helm with the jib out.
Most sailing blogs state the passage specs, but I tend to find the experience itself interesting.
Here are the facts about the passage to satisfy the sailors who prefer the data only:
Distance: 855 nm
Duration: 5 days 21 hours
Average speed: 6.1 knots
Highest speed: 13.4 (surfing waves is fun!)
Most miles in a 24 hour period: 160 nm
Days 1-3: excellent wind with mostly following seas. Daytime we flew our asymmetric spinnaker alone or with our main. Nighttime we sailed under the jib alone.
Day 4-end: motor, motor and more motor as the wind died.
Other Vessels we saw: barges and container ships = 5 sailboats = 0
Container ship pulled by a tug boat. Something we definitely have to look out for.
So those are the facts, but what is a passage like?
This passage was six days in the company of only my husband and our dog. There is a lot of time alone because generally we traded off naps and watches until we adjusted to the schedule.
Daytime is a vista of blue with occasional surprise visitors like dolphins or birds.
A lone dolphin came to visit.
Nighttime is vast darkness, using only red headlights to protect our night vision and sailing by sound and feel since you can’t really see the sails.
I found the passage experience humbling in the sense that we are so small compared to the vastness of the ocean and the power of nature.
Just prior to our departure, my uncle passed away and this passage became a time of prayer for me as I turned to God for comfort in the loss of my uncle, in the vastness surrounding us, and in the recognition of how vulnerable and fragile we are.
I was pretty nervous about the passage and I have tried to identify what factors cause me to feel skittish. Here are the main things I think create my jitters:
- Knowing I am relying completely on our boat and our wits if something goes awry. I know the boat is well made and that we keep it in excellent working condition, but one never knows if something is going to suddenly fail.
- Being alone and isolated if something does go wrong.
- Fear of seasickness.
- Stepping outside my comfort zone.
- Lack of visual references: there are no landmarks to tell me I am going the right way.
Our original departure from Cane Garden Bay, BVI was delayed by 3 days due to a little cyclone named Bonnie. We didn’t want to sail into a mess and we wanted Bonnie to show her true intentions before we left the safety of the BVIs.
Seeing this storm pop up and develop so quickly only reinforced number 6!
We departed Cane Garden Bay around 10:30 am on Monday, May 30th; Memorial Day in the States. Our first day was beautiful with excellent winds and calm seas. We raised our main sail and red spinnaker. We fairly flew along.
As the sun began to set, my nerves began to mount because it seems like any time things go bad it happens at night!
Goodnight sun, I wish the moon would shine.
At sundown, we lowered the main and spinnaker and flew our jib for the night time sail. Because we were sailing downwind, we added an outhaul line to move our clew out further from the center of the boat and catch more wind. With just this genoa and the following seas we were still managing between 6.3 and 8.2 knots!
That first day was our fastest and LIB ate up 160 nm the first 24 hours.
Each evening as the sun went down, I had to talk to myself about being calm and having confidence in LIB and us. We had no moon and the sky was cloudy so we were devoid of light. The absolute darkness can be frightening on the sea and my imagination can go into overdrive if I don’t control it! I have never suffered from panic attacks, but I think that could be an issue on a passage for those who do.
Typically, I took the first watch from 7-midnight and I was very happy when my shift was finished the first night so I could go below to sleep. I was tired at the end of my shift, but mostly I knew if I slept, when I awakened, the sun would be close to rising!
Sun up means stress down for me.
My pattern of being comfortable and relaxed during light, then becoming more tense when the sun set, recurred for the first 3 nights. Thankfully, I became more accustomed to the absolute solitude and darkness of night watches and my confidence in LIB increased with time. I actually enjoyed the last two evenings on watch when we had periods of clear skies and I could watch the stars. I counted four falling stars one night.
Day two was the most exhausting one for Frank because he crawled into bed just after sunrise and 30 minutes later, a BIG fish attacked our fishing line. I couldn’t helm and reel in the fish so Frank had to get up.
LIB was cruising along at about 7 knots with only the spinnaker up and Frank was having a hard time making any progress with the fish. After about 15 minutes, we socked the spinnaker and the boat slowed to around three knots. STILL too fast to fight the fish. I finally had to put the engines in reverse and Frank was able to land the fish 45 minutes after he started the fight.
His effort was worth it as he caught a 4 foot wahoo!
The spinnaker went back up and Frank set about filleting his fish. Between fighting the fish, filleting it and cleaning up, Frank was at it for about two hours! He was extremely tired but we had about 12 servings of fresh fish on board!
The remainder of day two and most of three we were able to move from spinnaker to jib and make good time sailing. But June 2nd ushered in a window of no wind. The seas became flat and the wind died so we ended up motoring the rest of the way to Marsh Harbour.
We still managed about 6 knots with only the engines, but sailing was definitely faster – and quieter.
Captain likes to help me nap.
I am happy to report that Captain did very well on the passage. She is pretty relaxed when we sail and there isn’t much noise created by waves banging the boat or sails flapping. These miles were relatively quiet and she seemed comfortable.
And to answer the NUMBER ONE question I get – yes, she does go to the bathroom on the boat. We have a piece of artificial grass that we keep at the back of the boat and she uses that. We don’t want her to go to the front deck during the passage and we have a fresh water hose at the back that we can use to clean up after her.
However, for those who plan on taking a dog along – teaching Captain to “go” on the boat is not a complete success. If land is nearby, she refuses to use the fake grass and waits to be taken to shore. On this crossing she waited FOURTY-EIGHT hours before she used the mat!!!
(Dog lovers don’t shoot me, I was plenty worried without getting criticized!)
Captain was much happier after she went and we praised her and gave her plenty of treats but she was still reluctant to use the turf. Hopefully time will erode her resistance.
Guess who was very excited to see land?!
Looking back at the passage from our safe harbor in The Bahamas, it went as well as I think it could have gone. The sailing weather was fabulous and when we had to motor, the seas were very calm so the boat motion was excellent. Using just the jib at night made managing the sail very easy and reduced stress.
Our next passage will be from The Bahamas to Beaufort, N.C. We are waiting for a good weather window and we will have the benefit of the gulf stream to push us along. All told, we expect that passage to take three or four days.
I think Frank and I both have a sense of pride and accomplishment about completing this six day passage. Does this earn us “big boy sailor pants?” Probably not.
I’m not sure how we can actually earn that moniker, but successfully completing this passage certainly increases our experience and our confidence.
The Bahamas are visible just after sunrise.