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Landing in the Marquesas; First Impressions of French Polynesia

Many of my sailing friends are excellent researchers. They read about their upcoming destinations and are forearmed with a knowledge of what they will encounter. My tendency is to have enough knowledge to be prepared for our trip but allow the next harbor to reveal its offerings upon arrival. This way I form my own impressions and I have the delight of a child on Christmas morning – I arrive to an “unknown” destination and have the pleasure of watching the new location unwrap its mysteries. Thus I didn’t have a clear impression of what the Marquesas would look like and offer.

In my mind, I often thought that sailing in the Sea of Cortez felt like we were sailing through a vast desert canyon that happened to have a large sea in the middle. We were surrounded by arid cliffs dotted with cacti and a few tenacious, scrubby plants. We anchored near appealing sandy beaches that offered little in the way of vegetation. How, I wondered, would The Marquesas compare?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

Nuku Hiva arose abruptly from the depths of the Pacific Ocean

After more than 2,500 nm of ocean, Nuku Hiva erupted from the Pacific Ocean as a large, mountainous land mass. In contrast to Mexico, Nuku Hiva’s rocky cliffs were draped in an assortment of greenery; low lying ground cover carpeted the jagged heights and a variety of trees interrupted the undulating ground. Gone were the occasional succulent plants, replaced by foliage that clamored skyward with flowers and fruit dotting the branches.

Even the smell was different. The Sea of Cortez, especially in summer, had the smell of heat and dust, but in Nuku Hiva, the scent of plumeria and rich, damp soil wafted on the breeze to our boat. Our senses were assailed by the changes in our location.

Overlooking Taiohae Bay

The Marquesas are the youngest of the five Polynesian Archipelagoes and unlike the majority of the French Polynesian Islands, these islands do not have surrounding fringing reefs. We found the anchorages generally deep and open to the ocean, allowing weather and waves to influence the comfort of our stay. And often dictate the need to find a different bay.

Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva, where we first dropped anchor in the Marquesas, was littered with sailboats because this port is an official check-in point for French Polynesia.  Nuku Hiva is the capital of the Marquesas and in 2017 had a population of just fewer than 3,000.

.After cleaning TTR and clearing into the country, we strolled the main street that boarders the crescent shaped bay and we meandered into “magazins” to see what provisions and fresh foods were available.  Good fortune was with us as we learned that the supply ship carrying fresh vegetables would arrive the following day.  

After strolling the main street and finding our land legs, we met our friends Nan and Doug of s/v Paseo for lunch at the Keikahanui Pearl Lodge. The Lodge is situated on a rise at the northwestern side of the bay and offers a beautiful view of Taiohae Bay. We sat in the open air restaurant, scanning across the swimming pool, into the Bay where we could see Ticket to Ride happily resting on anchor. It was very fun to enjoy someone else’s cooking and swap stories about the crossing with friends who had recently sailed a similar route.

Our friends Bruce and Alene on s/v Migration were due to arrive from Mexico a day or two after us. We looked forward to welcoming them and talking about how closely we traveled, yet were unable to catch glimpses of each other.

Migration finding her dropping spot upon arrival in Nuku Hiva.

Erik, one of our crew, was scheduled to leave TTR soon, so after spending a couple of days checking in, catching up on internet, restocking our fresh food and enjoying sleep without night watches, we upped anchor and moved to Hakatea or Daniel’s Bay.

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

Hakatea is best known for its hike to the Vaipo Waterfall, which we definitely wanted to make. The hike starts at a very pretty volcanic sand beach where a few local families live and harvest copra (dried coconut from which oil is made) to sell in Tahiti. The beginning of the hike passes the home of a local family who offers lunch to hikers. We had heard the lunch of local fare was excellent so we made our reservations to dine after our trek.

The walk to Vaipo Waterfall meandered along wide tracks and narrow trails.

Erik using a live tree limb to cross a stream.

Sometimes we hopped from rock to rock through dense ground cover and other times we balanced along a low lying tree limb to traverse a stream.

Frank picks his way across layers of of fallen debris.

Most of the time we were in the shade of crisscrossed leaves and vines but always we were angling upward toward the waterfall basin that was our destination.

Four and a half miles along, we walked through thigh high ground cover with a sheer rock face to our left and a glimpse of the waterfall in front of us. We rounded one last group of rocks and there before us was a beautiful pool surrounded by boulders, bright green foliage and a vertical mountainside rising 1,148 feet into the sky, per Wikipedia.

Our first view of the pool near the waterfall.

The pool was glassy calm where we approached it. The base of the waterfall was recessed into the rock wall behind some huge boulders. It is hard to comprehend the magnitude of this area, so look at the same image below with Amelia standing on the sentinel rock to get a better feeling for just how large this cliff is.

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

We promptly discarded our shoes, then swam and climbed our way to the other side of the large boulders standing guard before the waterfall. Finally we monkeyed our way into the cavern behind the boulders where we could see and hear the water tumbling somewhere in the recesses of the high, huge cave. (Oops, no waterproof camera, so no photos.)

The fresh water pond was bracingly cool after fording the trail. We spent a long while playing in the darkened hideaway where the sounds of the water cascading into the pool and our voices echoed off of the rock walls. Small fish and 4 inch crawdads swam in the shallows, ready to nibble toes if we were still too long.

The fresh water was refreshing and a fun change from salt water, but in the shaded depths we soon grew chilly, so we made our way back to shore to begin our return hike.

Amelia has a lot of plant knowledge and as we clambered along she taught us about several of the plants we passed.  Some were edible. Others were medicinal. Most were pretty to look at, but a few needed to be avoided. Learning about the plants distracted us from our rumbling stomachs. We were all anxious to try the local fare that waited at the end of our walk.

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

Simeon and René (I think I have their names correct) served grilled tuna caught that morning, fried ulu (breadfruit), plantains and a bit of cucumber salad, along with passion fruit juice. It was an interesting experience eating at the rustic picnic tables, with smoke from the grill enshrouding our table between breezes, watching several cats scavenge leftovers from the table top next to us as we constantly waved flies off of our food and ourselves. Certainly these were not the health standards found back home, but the food was delicious and it is pretty awesome to know that everything we ate was grown on site or caught just outside the anchorage. One of the original ‘farm to table’ dining experiences. (I have NO idea why I didn’t take pictures of lunch – it was worth photo recording)

The following morning we upped anchor again and continued south and west along Nuku Hiva to a small inlet called Marquisienne Bay (Anse Eua). This small inlet can manage only two boats and we had it to ourselves. The weather was settled so we were able to do some snorkeling, free diving and scuba diving.

The water in the Marquesas is not the gin clear variety you see pictured in Tahiti. Instead the water is teaming with plankton and alive with fish, manta rays, sharks and even some jellyfish and unidentified squiggly things.

We had a couple of really nice experiences in Marquisienne Bay including seeing a “manta train” of about 8 mantas cruising back and forth along a point. We also spied an octopus, which always makes my day.

Interestingly, the Marquesas Islands have a variety of climates on each island. Taiohae Bay, where we made groundfall, is on the southern, rainy, lush side of the island, but it was obvious in Marquisienne Bay that we were getting close to the more western side of the island which garners less rain and is actually a desertlike environment. We would get a much better feeling for the variable climate of Nuku Hiva during our drive to take Erik to the airport.

Marquisienne Bay is less verdant than Taiohae Bay.

Erik’s was scheduled to fly out, so we headed back to Taiohae Bay. We rented a car and drove Erik to the airport on the NW side of Nuku Hiva, Although small, the airport was clean and comfortable with nice people working tiny shops that were only open when airplanes were arriving and departing.

Nuku Hiva airport.

After waving goodbye to Erik, we put the rental car to good use and explored Nuku Hiva. Crisscrossing the island we drove through lush landscape and encountered some dry, parched conditions.

In between, we saw prairie like areas of tall grass where cows and horses grazed, and in the highest altitudes of 4,000 feet, we encountered pines forests!

It was interesting to see the vast difference in climates interspersed with gorgeous views of the ocean, especially when covering an island only 18.6 miles long and 9 miles wide.

Church in Hatiheu Bay.

One thing that we have had to adjust to is the hours of operation for stores and restaurants in French Polynesia. Nuku Hiva was our first island and we had not adjusted to strictness of hours. Unlike the U.S., breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at very specific hours and we missed the lunch window. We had hoped to eat at Chez Yvonne since we had heard it was excellent. Instead we bought soft drinks and a snack which we ate sitting while on the edge of the water, across from the church. No baguettes were available, so we ate peanuts and crackers while looking out over the Hatiheu Bay; because we don’t get ocean views very often! : )

When we arrived in Nuku Hiva, the fuel supplies were depleted but the ship with diesel and gasoline arrived and we wanted to top up the fuel tanks on Ticket to Ride. The fuel dock in Taiohae Bay lacks any protection and we weren’t willing to risk damaging or scratching TTR by tying up to the dock, so instead we rented jerry cans from Fakarava Yacht Services to transport fuel. We made trips between the fuel dock and TTR in the dinghy, filling the jerry cans, then transferring the diesel into our boat tanks. Luckily we hadn’t used much fuel since leaving Mexico and we only needed 75 gallons of diesel which we were able to acquire in just two trips!

Although we were all anxious to move on to our next island, I was very interested in seeing the tattooing event scheduled in Taiohae Bay. The event included tables where traditional Polynesian tattooing was done, Polynesian dance demonstrations were performed and some traditional foods were available for purchase.

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

After the festival, Amelia, Frank and I made a final provisioning run to stock up on fresh food before heading to less populated islands of the Marquesas.

One fun fact for those of us who grew up watching Gilligan’s Island, per Wikipedia, “In the Gilligan’s Island episode X Marks the Spot, the Professor gives coordinates for the castaways’ imaginary island that would put it in the outer fringes of the Marquesas group.” 

We may be overlapping with some Gilligan’s Island trivia, but we have NO desire to offer three hour tours much less end up stranded on some remote island. Visit remote islands? Absolutely! We are so lucky to do so. But get stranded on one? Nah, we prefer to skip that!!

Thanks so much for reading our blog. We would love to hear your thoughts through the comment section. Wishing you good health and fun adventures.

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

Ticket to Ride anchored in Amanu Atoll, Tuamotos

After sailing 25,000+ nautical miles on Ticket to Ride, plus the 20,000+ miles sailed on Let It Be, one might consider Frank and me pretty accomplished sailors. But the fascinating thing about the sailing and cruising life is that, regardless of how long you live it, you continue to learn and improve your skill set.

Learning to navigate the islands of French Polynesia, especially the atolls of the Tuamotos, is a perfect example of how our knowledge and ability for sailing and living on a sailboat continue to grow…

Anyone who researches sailing in the Tuamotos quickly reads about three influential factors: 1. ‘Passes’ which are entrances and exits to the atolls, 2. Traversing atolls, which are littered with coral and rock bommies, and 3. Floating your anchor chain. 

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

Initially each of these can sound very intimidating and could discourage sailors from exploring the Tuamotos, but we like to look at challenges as opportunities to learn and improve our proficiency. Also, after seeing the pictures below of an atoll, who wouldn’t want to find a way to visit some, especially in the comfort of your own floating home?

Very few sailing books about the Tuamotos are available, but the cruising community has some extremely organized and helpful folks who have written and compiled a good amount of information about their personal experiences here in French Polynesia. These compendiums are often regularly updated and they are invaluable resources when preparing to sail in French Polynesia. These are a few excellent compendiums if you are interested: Jacaranda Journey, Soggy Paws  and  Pitufa

A satellite view of one pass into an atoll.

PASSES: When perusing the compendiums, passes garner a lot of typeface! Passes into each atoll vary greatly. Some are wide and straight while others are angled or have dog-leg turns. Some are pretty short but others are much longer.  My estimate is that the passes range from less than .2 miles to over .75 miles (321 – 2,308 meters).  Not all passes are actually navigable, so sailors cannot assume that any opening into an atoll is an entrance.

The pass into Makemo Atoll during calm waters.

Once a navigable pass is found, the state of tide within the pass must be considered before attempting to enter. Diurnal tides empty or fill an atoll every six hours. To add a bit of perspective about tides within a pass, consider that the lagoon of an atoll can be miles in length and width. 

Let’s imagine a perfectly round atoll that has a diameter of 10 miles.  A two foot tide change would displace 585,366,279 gallons of water; but it is hard to relate to that number.  Instead consider that an olympic sized pool holds 660,000 gallons of water. That means that four times a day, at each tide change of two feet, our imaginary atoll moves the same volume of water as 887 olympic sized pools through a pass(es). That is a LOT of water.

When the tide in the pass is outgoing, or exiting a pass, there are usually choppy, abrupt areas of water near the outward end of the pass. When the tide is strong and collides with incoming ocean swell, one can encounter short, sharp waves as well as eddies that bounce a boat one way or another.  If the current is incoming, often the inside portion of the pass has the short, steep waves where the incoming tide is meeting the waters of the atoll.  

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

There are tide charts and applications for predicting when tide will be ebbing or flowing in specific places.  One such tool is called “The Guestimator” – the name doesn’t inspire great confidence!  We have read many accounts of the inaccuracy of all of the tide estimation tools. In our opinion, the best way to determine the state of a pass is to check the nearest tide chart and wave report, then approach the pass and observe the state of the sea at the entrance and inside the pass.  Your own eyes and a decent set of binoculars will definitely help you determine a good time to enter or exit an atoll.

Remember, atoll passes can have a lot of current, the highest current we have encountered so far is about 5 knots, though I have read of currents up to 8 knots.

If possible, the best time to enter or exit an atoll is at slack tide; when the tide is in transition and doesn’t create a noticeable current in either direction.

Passes funnel water into a narrowing and shallowing area, so in addition to tides, we pay close attention to ocean swell direction. Extra caution is necessary when swells are rolling directly into a pass. Whether we are leaving or entering a pass, we do not want to be surprised by incoming ocean waves.

We have spent a few hours fishing the outside of an atoll while we wait for the conditions of a pass to become favorable. It is better to wait outside a pass for proper waves and tides rather than force your way in and create a dangerous situation.

Fortunately, Ticket to Ride has two 57hp engines that are in excellent condition, and therefore have been very reliable. Those who sail on boats with less powerful engines or less reliable engines will need to sail through the passes or wait for slack tide when they will have easier water to navigate.

Sharks and fish abound in the Tuamotos.

Side note; although the passes can be challenging and require good timing and attention, they are also filled with sea life and are excellent places to snorkel or scuba dive during slack tide or an incoming tide. We have seen tons of beautiful fish, coral, sharks and manta rays when diving or snorkeling the passes.

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

TRAVERSING ATOLLS:  All atolls are not made equally. Some are very large and others are very small. Some have towns with regular supply ships arriving weekly and others have no residents, no town and no supplies. But all of them have coral or rock areas that can cause damage to rudders, keels, dagger boards or any other part of the boat they encounter.

The water in the Tuamotos is beautiful, but it isn’t always possible to see the floor of an atoll. Visibility may be poor because the sun is causing glare on the water instead of shining into the depths or wind and waves have stirred up sand under the water. The atoll could be 100+ feet deep and a bommie can suddenly tower up to just a few feet below the water surface. Or perhaps the wind and waves are high and you cannot clearly read the water on the day you are traveling.

Image of Toau Atoll from one of The Chart Locker overlays

Our solution is to use satellite imaging overlays that show where our boat is and what is hiding under the water surface. We owe huge thanks to Bruce Balan of s/v Migration   for his countless hours of work putting together charts for just this purpose.  Bruce stitched together images for thousands and thousands of miles of sailing grounds with three different satellite photo sources overlaying the charts.  ALL of this amazing information is available for free or with a donation at The Chart Locker.

Anyone can access and download these charts. We have downloaded all of The Chart Locker charts for French Polynesia and we literally navigate within the atolls using these satellite photograph overlays.

The same chart with greater zoom for more details.

On Ticket to Ride, when traversing an atoll, we have one person on deck watching the water and one person at the indoor helm station studying the satellite images. We have TTR on autopilot so the person on deck or the person inside is able to adjust the course of TTR based on the chart or on our vision.  Usually the person with the chart has a much better idea of any impediments from below.  The person on deck can identify surface objects like other boats, debris, pearl floats or fishing buoys.

Traversing the atolls can be extremely stressful, but these charts make them more manageable, much less stressful and safer. Using these satellite overlays gives us “sight” where without them we were moving blindly through the water.

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

By the way, we also use these satellite images to assess every pass before we enter or exit it.  The satellite images cannot tell us the current state of the water flow, but they can tell us the shape of the pass and where the deep, clean water lies. 

Another added bonus is using these charts to scope out anchorage spots long before we decide where to drop the hook. Having the ability to look at the ocean floor for potential anchor spots opens up many more places to anchor safely and without damaging coral.

FLOATING ANCHOR CHAIN? Who ever heard of floating anchor chain?! Isn’t that an oxymoron? Nope.  We are not talking about chain that floats, we are talking about adding buoys to our chain to suspend the chain in the water off of the ocean floor.   

The purpose of floating your chain is twofold: 1. Floating the chain prevents it from hitting and damaging coral heads that are growing in an anchorage. 2. On light wind days, a boat can swing and twist in different directions and the anchor chain can become wrapped around rock or coral. When the chain is floated, the air filled buoys suspend the chain in the water high enough to prevent the chain from becoming entangled in the rocks or coral.

Chains that are wrapped around bommies harm the bommies and create a big challenge for the boater. It is difficult to maneuver a boat around rocks to untangle it, especially in high winds or if you must avoid other anchored boats or additional hazards. It is also difficult for a swimmer to dive to the chain then lift the chain to untangle it from the rock or coral. A scuba tank may be needed if the wrapped rock is deep or the chain is hard to disentangle.

It is much better to deploy floats, preserve the coral and avoid chain entanglements.

Deploying the floats requires a person to attach the buoys as the anchor chain is being released. This is a pretty simple action on most monohulls and many catamarans where one can easily reach forward on the bow and attach the float to the chain as it pays out over the anchor roller.

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

On Ticket to Ride, the anchor chain is encased in the longeron and drops into the water from under the crossbeam and trampoline. While we like this feature for esthetics and cleanliness, it does make deploying the buoys a challenge. We have created a manageable system that works for us. 

Regardless of how the buoys are attached, we find that adding the first floats at one to two times the water depth is a good distance from the anchor to allow the hook to bite but the chain to be suspended. The next two sets of buoys are added at intervals of about 25 feet.  Then we add the anchor bridle as usual.   

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

This method of anchoring is a little challenging and it definitely took us a few iterations to refine the process, but now it is working well. Even though deploying the floats adds time and difficulty, it is worthwhile. Our hope is to leave the places we visit in better condition than we found them or at least to cause no harm. Floating our anchor chain preserves the beauty of the area, demonstrates respect to local residents and leaves the anchorage in good condition for the next person who visits.

Of course French Polynesia is unique and has many additional differences from other places we have sailed.  We are learning about things such as weather in the southern hemisphere, traditions of local residents, species of aquatic life we haven’t seen before and more. All of these are adding knowledge to our cruising tool quiver, however, the three points covered here are unique and will immediately affect anyone who wants to sail in the atolls of the Tuamotos.

Thanks for stopping by to read our blog. I hope you found this information interesting and helpful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and we will do our best to answer them. Wishing you good health and fun adventures.

Pacific Crossing – Mexico to The Marquesas!

**This is a REALLY long post! If you are only interested the sailing bits, please read the 4th paragraph, then skip to the table at the bottom of the blog.

Similar to the old joke that you eat an elephant one bite at a time, our trip from Mexico to The Marquesas in French Polynesia was accomplished one nautical mile at a time until Ticket To Ride had consumed 2,859 nautical miles.  

However, we broke up our consumption by making a stop at the Revillegedo Island of San Benedicto after leaving from La Ventana, MX.  With provisions topped off in La Paz, we took a few minutes to festoon TTR with roses at the stern steps and bow. This Hawaiian tradition for a safe journey calls for Ti leaves, but since those weren’t available, we used the powerful rose instead. 

On April 21st, we sailed to La Ventana where we dropped anchor and enjoyed a day on the hook to decompress from the city and the stress of provisioning and preparing. We spent the day relaxing, enjoying the water and settling in as a traveling group of four. Since Amelia and Erik passaged with us from Hawaii to Alaska, the process of settling in was really the fun of reuniting with friends who are excellent travel companions.

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

La Ventana to San Benedicto was an easy 329 nautical miles.We departed La Ventana after the southern winds died and we hoped for some north winds. A leisurely departure around 9:30 am with only 6.5 k of wind speed, we motored a bit until the wind angle improved then we put up the mainsail, genoa and spinnaker staysail.  Day one we only covered 88nm between 9 am and midnight. The second day we had better winds and covered 188nm which set us up for a lovely 7:40 am arrival on April 25th.  Our trip to San Benedicto took a little over 46 hours with an average speed of 7.1k and a maximum speed of 14.8k.  This was a great warm up for the crossing to the Marquesas.

The Revillegedo Islands are sometimes called the Galapagos of Mexico because they are remote, rarely visited and have plenty of sea life.  We chose to stop here to scuba dive again (our third visit) and enjoy watching the giant manta rays and other wonders below. 

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

Above water, San Benedicto is desolate, without growth and covered in a loose ash that can infuse the air and dirty the decks on windy days. Under the water, San Benedicto is filled with colorful fish, huge rock pinnacles, deep canyons, giant manta rays, schools of fish and plenty of sharks. 

In the evening we turned on our underwater boat lights and watched the small fish gather. But soon larger fish and sharks arrived for some easy hunting. Then we were surprised that dolphins moved in and usurped the territory forcing the sharks to share the hunting ground….. We didn’t leave the lights on very long as we don’t want to alter the natural tendencies of the ocean dwellers. We did enjoy the show while the lights were shining though.

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

The ocean is a marvel of life and we seem to observe new behaviors or new things regardless of how much time we live on the water.

While we enjoyed San Benedicto, there was a little looming reminder that we had a long passage before us and we were all excited to begin.  Our weather window arrived quickly and we departed on Thursday, April 28th at 11:20 am.  The first day of we had steady winds between 8 and 16 knots and very calm seas. We managed a bit over 106 nm with an average speed of 8.9k. I remember thinking this trip would be a cakewalk if we kept those conditions.

Our first surprise arrived in the form of a land bird who joined us as we were leaving San Benedicto. We tried hard to shoo him back to San Benedicto and off to Socorro when we were passing that island. Alas, “Lenny” had other plans and he chose to turn in his Ticket To Ride with us.

Initially, Lenny was very brave, perhaps in shock, and would land on us or near us. Once I was lying down in my room and felt something near my face….. it was Lenny sitting next to me on Frank’s pillow!  Cute as that sounds, Lenny was not house trained so we shooed him outside.  

As animal lovers, we couldn’t bear to leave Lenny in need, so we began feeding and watering him regularly. Ironically, this made Lenny less willing to come near us. Soon we had a knowledge of his food preferences (he loved corn chips and cashew clusters) and we had taught him not to enter the salon but to stick to the outer parts of TTR!

Training Lenny not to come inside TTR was very quick but also a little sad. The first evening, in an effort to train him, we closed the sliding doors while we ate dinner. Lenny kept flying up to the door to try to join us! Then he would walk along the sliding door peering in and making little flying hops to try to find an entrance. It was both comical and sad, but effective. Lenny rarely entered the salon after that evening even though we left the sliding doors open the remainder of the passage!

Lenny decided to study the fish ID book with Amelia!

Lenny was not a fan of winches and would fly to the front of the boat or hide in the dinghy and sometimes fly off the boat whenever major sail changes occurred. When the noises of sail change ramped up, Lenny would fly away, then return shortly later. One the night of day six from San Benedicto, we had several sail changes and there was a bit of rain and wind. Apparently Lenny was pretty unsettled by all the noise and flew a little further than usual from TTR.  But since he had disappeared and reappeared many times over the last days, we weren’t too worried.…

Until we didn’t hear any chirps all morning. On day seven, Lenny did not return. We were hoping he was just extra tired after a busy night of sail changes, but alas, Lenny never returned.  We kept Lenny’s spot stocked with his favorite food for a day or two, just hoping he would surprise us and reappear. We really hope Lenny found a different boat where he is happily ensconced and being well fed. I don’t like to think of our little feathered friend fatigued and lost at sea.

Days and nights on passage are a collidescope of skies, ocean, sunsets, sunrises, naps, food, podcasts, music, stars, stars and more stars! After a few days, a loose routine sets in where we rotate night watches of three hours each, unless there is a weather concern, then we have two people on deck for six hours and they take turns up and sleeping. During the daylight hours, with four souls on board, it is easy to grab naps as needed because somehow all of us end up wanting to sleep at different times.  This trip we changed watch hours so that we could have a variety of views; one person didn’t always have the sunrise or the deep dark hours around 2 am.

Planetary alignment in a beautiful evening sky.

One interesting and slightly disconcerting aspect of this passage was time and time zones. As we traveled south and west, our location changed the timing of sunrise and sunset. Not very far into the passage, sunset was occurring around 8:45 instead of 7:15ish. And sunrise had become 5 am.  This alteration of the sun in comparison to the Mexico time zone on our clocks made it necessary to alter our shifts so we were actually covering the hours of darkness. We had to determine the correct time in Nuku Hiva so we could adjust our internal rhythms as well as our clocks and shift schedule. This passage, the change in time zone felt more drastic than when we sailed from Hawaii to Alaska.

Sunset in front of TTR’s starboard bow.

Turns out, Nuku Hiva time is actually 3.5 hours behind Mexico time. I didn’t even know there were places that altered their clocks by 30 minutes; I thought it was always by the hour. Though upon reflection, the need to adjust incrementally makes complete sense.

The one consistent event on TTR is dinner. We always make dinner a satisfying meal that all of us eat together at the table. The autopilot is on but we remain aware of conditions as we enjoy a meal together.  This is a great time to discuss concerns, recap the day and strategize based on weather information.  This is also a time for us to adjust sails in preparation for night watches before dark sets in. It is MUCH easier to adjust sails in the light and perhaps even be a bit conservative on our sail plan, rather than throw the dice and have to make major adjustments in the dark when conditions have become a little spicy.

As mentioned in the Hawaii to Alaska blog, we eat really well on Ticket To Ride! If you are interested, at the end of this post I have listed our dinners during this passage.

Fishing, or as I call it “dragging,” is definitely hit or miss on TTR. Often we are sailing so quickly our lures get frayed or we are too fast to hook up fish (9+ knots).  But we still try.  The first day we had our lures out, we sailed near a group of birds obviously diving into a fish-boil. Moments later one rod offered the “zing” of a fish on, though the pull was light and sporadic. We hopped into action, furling the headsail, heading to wind to slow the boat, etc. 

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

Imagine our dismay when we realized a Booby Bird had snagged our line! We brought the bird in as gently as we could and found he had tangled a wing in our line. Thankfully, he allowed Frank and Erik to carefully remove the line – he didn’t even become aggressive.  Really quickly the line was free but the bird chose to ride along with us for about 15 minutes while he was catching his breath. Perhaps Lenny gave him confidence that we were safe.

We spoke gently to the Booby and encouraged him to be well and fly back to his friends, which he did, without issue. Phew! Enough fishing for that day!!

Sunday as the sun was descending into the horizon, the starboard side fishing rod zinged to life. Amelia and I handled sail furling while Frank and Erik pretended to be participants in The Deadliest Catch! Actually, they didn’t pretend anything, but they did land a beautiful Mahi! Yum!

Calm passages are a good time to catch up on some “Boat Love,” as we refer to many boat jobs. The skies were clear, the seas were calm and we took a moment for some TTR maintenance. I polished a little bright work while Frank waxed some painted surfaces.  Not wanting his shoulders overexposed to the sun which was growing more powerful as our trajectory moved us closer to the equator, Frank donned a shirt for protection. However, the combination of sun and effort soon had our captain’s temperature rising; so in the best way possible, Frank made a costume adjustment and rocked his Britney Spears look!

Frank rocking the B. Spears look.

Erik received the award for strangest event during this passage. One night while on watch, he saw a huge object fly across the sky. He still can’t figure out if it was a meteor, a UFO, a comet or something else. Of course we couldn’t access the news to see if anything was reported but Erik did manage to snap this photo which he says doesn’t begin to do the event justice.

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

I find it truly amazing how vast and small the ocean can be. Days on end we will see no one, hear no chatter on the VHF and wonder if the world has disappeared while we were in no mans land. But sometimes it is crazy to actually see another boat come very close to you when there is so much space in the ocean that you could easily pass someone nearby but not within eyesight.

Our friends on s/v Migration, Bruce and Alene, had left a different Revelligedo Island than we did and upped anchor only 45 minutes before us. Bruce and Alene were about 200 nm further along than we were but we hoped to somehow meet in the middle of the Pacific and say hello.

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

We kept in touch via satellite messages and hoped we would catch them. Late one evening, the VHF sounded a familiar call, “Ticket to Ride, Ticket to Ride, Migration here.” We jumped for the radio, galvanized by the voice of our friends, only to realize that our VHF was not transmitting well, or maybe not at all! It was very frustrating to hear Migration call and not be able to respond. 

We were not within eyesight, but we could have been within earshot!

Frank and Erik addressed the VHF issue and learned that an essential component had failed. Luckily Frank attached our back up, handheld VHF directly to the mast antenna making it possible to use the radio. Our next visitor will get to bring us the part necessary to make our boat VHF operational.

Just a few days later we spotted a light on the horizon during the early morning darkness. As the run rose, we caught up to s/v Pablo, a monohull heading to Nuku Hiva with five souls on board.  Amelia grabbed the camera and took some lovely pictures which she shared with that family once we were all in Taiohae Bay.

I am not one for “Bucket Lists” but I really wanted to swim in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and I really, really wanted to swim at the equator. There is an area known as the ITCZ, Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, where the weather can be dicy or dead calm; stormy and squally or smooth as glass without a ripple of wind. The ITCZ is a moving area that expands and contracts based on weather, so it is a moving target that sailors try to move through at its most narrow point.

We were blessed with a calm passage through a narrow ITCZ which allowed us to SWIM on Wednesday, May 4th.  First we floated a long line off the stern of TTR as a grab line in case of a current or boat movement. Next, Frank and Amelia chose to jump from the helm station roof, while Erik and I donned our mask and fins. On the count of three, the team jumped into the Pacific Ocean!!

Rainbow spectrum sunset!

Erik was immediately approached by a HUGE marlin – we estimate he was 8-10 feet without his bill! The marlin approached to within about 12 feet of Erik. When I spotted the marlin, he had his mouth open and it looked like he was determining if we were all tasty nuggets dropped from above.  Thankfully he decided we weren’t chum and with one slight flick of his tale, the marlin disappeared into the depths.

I will never forget the beauty and power of the moment I saw that marlin. He was a shiny, sleek sliver-blue suspended in a perfectly clear, dark blue sea. The only thing I can reference to describe him would be a glass sphere, like one on a dest, that has a marlin suspended in translucent blue glass that reflects against his armor-like exterior.  

What an experience!

I am beginning to think Bucket Lists might be as powerful as positive thinking since I was also gifted with the opportunity to swim at the Equator!! Now that was icing on my wishes since my true hope had been to swim at the equator;  but often the weather isn’t cooperative or a boat crosses during darkness. 

Not TTR!   At 10:38 am on May 7th, the chart plotter showed 0 00.000’  We were ON THE EQUATOR! 

We pointed our bows to span the equator and allowed Jude, the auto pilot, the direct our course while we celebrated and swam!

Equator swim!

Tradition demands a celebration/initiation of sailors who cross the equator for the first time. Post ceremony, a sailor looses his status as a Pollywog and becomes a Shellback. At its essence, this means a person is no longer green or untried but rather has earned his stripes as a sailor. Celebrations and hazing are often hand in hand with the initiation and as the only shellback on board, Amelia had control of the initiation for Frank, Erik and me…. 

Fortunately Amelia is very playful but doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, so I knew fun would be had with just a smidge of hazing. Having said that, our playtime becoming Shellbacks was so fun that it deserves its own blog.  Check back for our next piece with all the details and photos!

Part of our Shellback ceremony.

Many people told us they found a .5 to 2.0 knot favorable current beginning anywhere from 3 degrees N of the equator all the way to Taiohae Bay on Nuku Hiva. We knew Nuku Hiva was only a few days away yet we had only experienced unfavorable currents of up to 1.5 knots.  If we could find that positive current, our travel time could be reduced by at least one full day. 

Alas, no such luck! We only saw negative current or neutral current throughout our passage. Still, our arrival time was anticipated to be sometime on May 11th which would mean our total travel time since leaving La Ventana was only 16 days.  Complaining is completely unwarranted.

May 10th arrived bright and sunny with just a few wispy clouds – perfect for celebrating Erik’s 40th birthday! Amelia had masterminded a fun celebration and while in La Paz we had procured “things” to make this birthday a memorable one.  

Ironically, several times during the passage, Erik had bemoaned not buying a piñata before leaving Mexico. Unbeknownst to him, Amelia had squirreled one away and it was the first step in Erik’s birthday celebration and gift hunt!

Erik was thrilled with his birthday piñata.

We had a great time watching Erik unravel Amelia’s clues for where to find his gifts. New clues and fun surprises were dispersed in the freezer, the dinghy, the mast line bag and even the bilge.  Erik was a good sport and wore the piñata as a hat for much of the day. That evening we celebrated with burgers, homemade buns, yummy veggies and blondies for dessert dessert which we topped it with ice cream we had hidden in the freezer for this special occasion.

Throughout the trip, I tried to have some little special things to help keep the crew happy and make sure spirits were lifted if needed. At the equator crossing, Frank, Erik and Amelia received t-shirts from La Paz. At the 1/2 way point we had a pretty fancy dinner of pork tenderloin in a brown sauce with green beans and rice followed by brownies. When we reached 500 nm remaining, I brought out dark chocolate covered cherries straight from Michigan.

None of those things are really important, but they do make life aboard a bit more fun.

The day after Erik’s birthday we could clearly see Nuku Hiva in the dawn light. A small group of dolphins acknowledged us by swimming past us as we approached Taiohae Bay. The water washing against and away from the mighty elevation of Nuku Hiva was sharp and tumultuous as we jetted in under main and reacher.  By 10:20 am on May 11, 2022, 13 days and 23 hours after leaving San Benedicto, we had set our anchor in French Polynesia.  We had completed our passage to French Polynesia and achieved a milestone!  Without regard for the early hour, we broke out the bubbly to celebrate a successful and excellent trip across the Pacific Ocean.

It bears stating that our passage was truly a blessed one! We saw storms on the horizon that looked destined to inundate us with wind and rain, yet they all passed before or behind us or dissipated before we reached them. At times it felt like the Red Sea was parting before us! TTR felt like she was enclosed in a special space of protection as we encountered very few weather  or sea surprises. 

Our travel time was quick and our breakages nearly non-existent. The only problems we had were: 1. the VHF Box failed and needs to be replace, but Frank rigged up a temporary fix. 2. Our IridiumGo antenna was knocked by the leach of a sail when the wind flogged but while at the Rev’s, Frank went up the mast and installed a protective margarita mix bottle – hahaha, now our antenna is very happy. 3. When we arrived in Nuku Hiva, the anemometer at the top of the mast was loose and Erik took a ride to the top of the mast to tighten the loosened screws.

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

SAILING SYNOPSIS: This is a simplified table of our sailing, not a perfect representation of detailed sail changes and wind speeds or angles.

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





Dinner on TTR is a “thang”

~Mykronos Aubergine Stew – veggies, including eggplant – yum.

~Grilled AK Halibut on a bed of mixed greens and avocado with sautéed poblano pepper, asperagus, onion, etc

~General Tsao’s Tofu with cilantro garnish

~Erik’s Chicken Noodle Soup for lunch on passage  

~Chicken Tacos with homemade salsa: creamy cashew cilantro sauce

~Grilled Pork Chops, salad, rice

~Pasta Bolignaise and sauteed green beans with mushrooms

~Honor-da-veg Day: mixed veggies in Mexican seasoning in flour tortillas

~Pizza Night – homemade pizzas

~One-Pot Chicken pesto pasta (using homegrown basil!), E’s vegetable soup, roasted green   beans with candies rosemary almonds

Caught the first fish – Mahi

~Cajun seared mahi, black coconut rice, salad

~Mahi mahi tostadas…. (Lenny’s last meal)

~Pork tenderloin, curried green beans, rice

~Cinco de Mayo! Chicken tostados

~Cold asian noodle salad with panko crusted tofu

~Equator Pasties (meat pies) and blueberry pie

~Mahi, salad, rice

~Breakfast for dinner – eggs and waffles

~Birthday burgers, buns and fried potatoes, blondies with ice cream as birthday dessert

Phew! This was a long blog. Thanks for reading ALL of that. I hope this gives you some insight into our passage and how our time is spent while at sea. Please send us a comment if you have questions, and keep an eye out for our really fun pollywog to shellback ceremony!

P.S. I didn’t have enough internet to preview this post, please forgive poor formatting or mistakes. 🙂

Cedros, Ascunsión, Mexico City and Other Places We’ve Visited These Last Four Months.

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.

Christmas potluck dinner on board TTR

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.

Sand dunes at Santa Maria.
This boat is so full of fish it is deep in the water….glad I’m not under all those birds looking for scraps.

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.

Dolphin friends playing in front of TTR in the deep blue Pacific Ocean.

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!

Not a great pic, but uniquely Cabo – a whale fin below and an ultra-light above!

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.

We were happy to settle into Muertos and enjoy this sunset.

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.

Frank, Marcy and Jeff at the helm of TTR.

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.

Hanging on Abuela’s 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, MaryGrace, Jeff and Marcy overlooking Isla San Francisco.

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.

Jeff and Frank landing a Skip Jack tuna which we released.

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.

Sea lions playing near our dinghy.

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.

Frank and Gio unwrapping the new main.

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 checking out the new mainsail.

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.

Frank and Jackie watching sunset from the back step of TTR.

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.

Sea lions hanging out on Los Islotes.

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.

Jackie and Frank at the helm of TTR.

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.

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