Tahiti to Panama

10 April – Arrived at Panama!

At anchor near La Playita Marina, right under the watchful eye of Flamenco Signal Tower, the controller of all Canal traffic this Pacific side.
The distance is deceptive, you turn into the Gulf thinking “nearly there” yet it’s still more than a 100+ miles with serious wind and strong currents to deal with. The wind is a bit of a harbinger of what to expect for the next leg as it is the Caribbean trade winds blowing across what I think is the Darien Gap and into the Gulf of Panama that we experienced. We had a dream run for the last 4 hours, cracked sheets, 9+ knots, flat water, favourable current. Right up until we checked in with Flamenco Signal Tower, 8 miles from the sea mark – “Keep clear of all commercial traffic and no sails, you must motor”. Ah well, must admit it was quite fun weaving in and out of the anchored ships marvelling at the sheer number of them. I’ll send Mel a snap-shot of the AIS screen as we approached…

So here we are and here we wait until we know our slot in the endless 24/7/365 chain of vessels transiting the canal.

9 Apr – Course 076 / Speed 6.3kts / Wind 010 19kts / DTG 81 / VMG 5.8

Turned north into the Gulf of Panama around 1000 local, 1300 EST to be greeted by 20kts and 2.5 kts of wind and current respectively, absolutely bang smack on the nose. Forewarned, we’d snuck a reef in in the quieter flat waters under the lee of Punta Mala, but it still stings a bit, the last 100 miles as the last few thousand, headwind, battling for every inch.

Another common element to the 5000 miles from the Tuamotus to here: every day we have seen at least one and often many many more, clear plastic bottles with light blue screw caps. Every single day. Don’t buy them. It is the biggest marketing scam the world has ever known. Better to use the petrochemical resource that make the plastic. Leave the water in the aquifers rather than help the big companies steal it from the local people. The bottles are incredibly resilient, often ending up in the ocean, blowing with the wind. You may remember our visit to Palmyra Atoll after the Trans Pac in 2019. Heartbreaking to see piles and piles of bottles built up on the windward side of that otherwise superb nature reserve, the research team there advising there was too much for them to deal with, better it was held on the island than floating around on the ocean. Every single day we’ve seen them floating across the Pacific.

Whomever came up with that marketing idea for Coke and the others – sell water because the world is going off sugar – should be jailed and the big companies made to use the untold billions in profit to recompense the people they’ve stolen the water from and tidy up the mess they’ve made. Bastards. Take a stand as individuals, don’t buy the bottles.

8 Apr – C0urse 110 / Speed 5.5 kts / Wind 080 14kts / DTG 221 / VMG 5.8

Land Ho! 0017 local 1617 Sydney time spotted the light on Isla Jicarita, flash 1 every 15 seconds. You can smell the land, rain on earth and wood smoke. Lots more sea traffic here as you would expect from one of the major sea lanes of world trade, we are tucked up closer to the land, inside the traffic separation scheme of Jicarita. Still battling away though. The wind man still hasn’t forgiven us for some imagined slight. Woke this morning to good strength breeze 12-14 kts directly from Isla Jicarita 095, notwithstanding the forecast of 10kts from 180. And there it stayed for the next 5 hours, relenting for some of this afternoon. Back again at its most painful angle now though as we battle to get around into the big bay, the Gulf of Panama.

7 Apr – Course 090 / Speed 7.1 kts / Wind 185 10kts / DTG 361 / VMG 7

Motored most of the night, this morning even had to drop the main and headsail before they beat themselves to pieces rolling in the seaway. Breeze had dropped to 3 kts and that from dead astern. In such conditions, K2 is almost comical, rolling through a full 30 degrees (60 in total) side to side on occasion even with the mizzen up in an effort to reduce the roll. Yachts of K2’s era were designed to slice through the water, slender with fine ends, beautiful to look at but heavy and with little form stability. Form Stability? Think of a long cheeseboard on your dining room table. That has form stability. Now try a rolling pin, stable in one axis, along the pin, but unstable on the roll. Add a 3.5m keel and a mast and you have K2. When sails are up and the wind blows, the pressure from wind in the sails heels her over, the keel starts to weigh in and try to bring her back upright and forward force is created. No sails and she becomes a big pendulum. Nice if you’re a grandfather clock, but uncomfortable on a yacht. Happily we’ve had better of it since, including a rather spectacular hour or so inside a mighty rainstorm doing up to 11 kts straight at Panama. Onwards we go.

6 Apr – Course 090 / Speed 7kts / Wind 250 4kts / DTG 528 / VMG 7.3

Good day’s sailing. Never more than 11 kts, often less than 10 kts we had favourable current of up to 2 kts and smooth seas so we were able to accelerate and use K2’s fine, slippy hull shape and generate usable apparent wind. Jib, full main, mizzen staysail and mizzen all pulling enthusiastically directly towards Panama. Sadly the breeze fizzled out around 1700 local time and we’ve been motoring ever since. We’re at that distance where if there were no more breeze we’d not have enough diesel but it’d be close so calculations are made, checked and rechecked about every 30 seconds it feels like. At least in my head.

Diesel is kept in 3 keel tanks, and pumped up into a 100l day tank periodically. This has a number of positives, 1) it’s easy to keep track of what you’re using, 2) you can filter the fuel as it goes up into the day-tank meaning it’s clean before it goes to the generator or main engine filters so they have to do less work and clog up less, and 3) the generator and main fuel systems are gravity fed, a massive bonus if you have to bleed air out of the fuel lines. But it does mean you need to transfer fuel at sometimes uncivil hours, like now, at 0100.

5 Apr – Course 070 / Speed 6 kts / Wind 340 7 kts / DTG 704 / VMG 6.1

Light but useable breeze since about 0900, we’ve had the spinnaker and mizzen staysail up during the day. The spinnaker lasted a couple of hours until the 20 degree swings in wind direction were either side of where we could set the thing. What seems to be working best is jib, main, mizzen staysail and mizzen.

Good progress, emphasised by an issue of the last of the beers at 1700. The beer ration calculated to run dry 3-4 days out by the black-hearted skipper to encourage focus and good sailing in the run in…

4 Apr – Course 055 / Speed 5.5 kts / Wind 050 5 kts / DTG 850 / VMG 5.4

Difficult day, mostly spent sailing, mostly in decent breeze, just not from where it would have been helpful, mostly. Then why not motor in the direction you want to go? Because there was sufficient wind (10-12 kts) coming from exactly where we’d aim if we were motoring, making that exercise (motoring) slow and inefficient. We plug on, our course on the mapping software looking like a series of “Z”s rather than linked “L”s as the headsail (our #3) is small in area for this wind strength. We have to sail wider angles to keep moving well in the seaway and our extra weight (full of gear we normally wouldn’t take racing) – something in the order of 55 degrees TWA. This gives us a tacking angle of 110 degrees instead of something closer to 90 degrees when we are in racing trim. Another day done, VMG was positive at least.

3 Apr – Course 055 / Speed 5kts / Wind 000 9 kts / DTG 980 (woohoo, cracked the 1000) / VMG 6.25

From cute boobie antics falling off Ian’s head, to boobie patrol, news of the free ride obviously got around in the boobie community, at one stage towards dusk we had 30 of the buggers following us, using us as a flying fish scarer. Spent the morning flicking runners and halyards at boobies perched on spreaders, and running forward to shoo off 2-3 squabbling over who could perch where on the anchor bower. As we discovered on the trip to LA for the TransPac in 2019, if you allow the cute/photogenic factor to get you and you let them perch you end up with shit everywhere. Boy these birds are the masters of projectile defecation…

Not so much sailing today as we skirted massive rain squalls – biblical amounts of rain but very little in the way of wind – and pushed on ENE to find the intersection between these doldrums and the NE trades where we hope there’ll be what we want: breeze at an angle to shoot us down to Punta Morro de Puercos where we turn N towards the canal entrance.

2 Apr – Course 065 / Speed 7.2kts / Wind 170 12kts / DTG 1125 / VMG 5

Watching a brown boobie almost land on Ian’s head (while Ian was trying to find the BBC on SW radio sitting out on the aft deck), put its feet on his sconce, slip and then clatter to a landing by the mizzen on any other day would have been the highlight. The bird sat there for quite a while, apparently listening to what appeared to be football commentary from somewhere on mainland S America. Clearly a keen supporter.

A highlight, definitely, but not the pick of the day. In my comments yesterday I noted the squall affected breeze and that it had been helpful for about an hour, fully expecting it to fade and revert to the previous torture. Well that hour stretched into the day and finally faded out around 2100 this evening. Amazing. Not on any forecast, we had 12-16kts from about 150 all day allowing us to chuckle along at anywhere from 6-9 kts heading exactly where we wanted to go. Surely some mistake? A minion somewhere must have pulled the wrong wind lever.

A day that cheered, reasonable distance covered. At the end of our day the wind strength dropped to about 7kts, progress to about 4.5kts and finally we went back on engine power for about 2 hours, breeze having died to about 2kts. Then the minion pulled his lever again and here we are with 12 kts from 170, wind that isn’t showing up on any weather file, our own private puff. Hey-ho, on we go.

1 Apr – Course 075 / Speed 7.5kts (squall affected) / Wind 162 12kts / DTG 1240 / VMG 4kts

Long difficult day. Breeze varied from 045 to 100 and 4kts to 12kts, and the current has been 1kt against all day. We’ve tacked about 8 times, using 074 (the heading for Panama) as the central line heading east when wind is from under 70 and north when over 80. Frustrating. We’ve had to sail when we’d normally have used the motor – sail at relatively unproductive angles in order to preserve diesel as we still have a lot of very variable weather to navigate through. For sanity we’ve been chasing squalls when possible, desperate yes, desperate to find wind at useable strength and angles. The latest has been the best – about an hour of decent breeze and heading 075.

31 Mar – Course 010 / Speed 5.9 kts / Wind 080 10kts / DTG 1340 / VMG 6.5 kts

A motoring day. The breeze faded out and swung to the now familiar angle of “completely useless”, that is 070, so we motored at about 6.5 kts through a bath-warm sea. For a while we passed through what appeared to be a reasonably extensive algal bloom. Had to stop running the watermaker as the prefilter was getting blocked. The sea temperature rose to 33 degrees. Presumably the algae absorb more heat from the sun. Temperature dropped back to a balmy 30 deg once the water was clear again.

We crossed paths with a decent pod of pilot whales, quite close, possibly 20-30 along with a couple of adopted dolphins – completely different dorsal fin shapes, looked like bottlenose – no interest in us, just wending their gentle way NW.

30 Mar – Course 050 / Speed 7kts / Wind 125 8kts / DTG 1496 / VMG 6 kts

It’s days like this that remind you. Not the days when the aft head blocks and you have to fix it in 25 knots and big seas. Not the times when someone forgets to close the galley hatch and a wave sluices in, setting off the gas alarm. Not the days when it’s raining so hard and the waves are so big, everyone is wet through, the inside of the boat is so damp the floorboards have expanded and won’t come up. Nor the time when you discover during the daily check that there’s oil in the engine bilge, not enough to be dangerous but enough to keep you awake in your off-watch worrying about how it got there. Not the night when you lose a dorade box after a moment’s inattention from the on watch, a jib sheet flaps, loads up and tears off the box.

It’s the time you come on watch at 0600, sun is just up and you’re on deck, steering. The watch are clattering below seeing to coffees and whatever, it’s just you. The breeze picks up and lifts, K2 heels over and without fuss or fanfare she is doing what she does best, holding nearly 9 kts, pointing at the mark, chuckling along. There’s no-one to chatter at you, 70 feet of Kialoa stretches out into the sun in front of you, and your heart fills so much you catch your breath. These are the moments that bring resilience, that feed the mind.

The debit column on an adventure like this is long, complicated, stressful and expensive, the credit side sometimes has too few entries, just occasionally there’s one like today. And on days like this there’s a note at the bottom of the ledger: PAID IN FULL

29 Mar – Course 029 / Speed 7.5 kts / Wind 085 9kts / DTG 1639 / VMG 6.5kts

“Oh tis a better day sorr!” as McCarthy, Shackleton’s irrepressible Irish deckhand on his epic boat journey might have said. Once the last of the squalls faded around dawn, it was a fine day, a drying out day. The fly in the ointment so to speak has been the wind strength, 7-9kts most of the day. We’ve kept rolling along by sailing very wide (070 rather than 050 true wind angles) and getting acceptable speeds without too much ground lost, but frustrating. Especially so given when we do get some 10-12kts, Kialoa takes off slicing through the water aiming at the mark at 8-9kts and doing what she does best. Oh that we get the chance to do that for a full day or two.

Three aboard had never sailed across the equator meaning due ceremony was required to placate the forces that be, that the three pay their tolls and send Neptune back to his watery kingdom. Vile concoctions mixed, and consumed, copious amounts of zinc used to mark them, and plenty of words and photographs, all presided over by the knowing, experienced four enjoying their temporary superiority. Temporary as we are now all part of the same family, those who have crossed the line. So here we are in the North. Doesn’t seem that different yet.

28 Mar – Course 060 / Speed 7 kts / Wind 105 12 kts / DTG 1795 / VMG 6 kts

Early one this evening as I’ve just come off watch and need to get some sleep. Last night turned out to be a tough one. After the somewhat spectacular wall of cloud at dusk the evening went downhill. Clouds had warned us of “potholes”, ie that the wind wouldn’t be as steady as the forecast in that there were squalls and rain to be dealt with. Potholes!

Since the sun went down and for the next 15 hours the sequence was (with minor variations): wind from 085 at 12-14kts. OK, useable. Then the breeze would back (turning anti-clockwise) rapidly to 055 at same strength, possibly lower, painful, heading almost due north. Followed by a strengthening and veer (going clockwise) to 075 we then would get smashed for 15-20mins 23-28kts anywhere from 065 -105. Following the pasting the breeze would drop to 8-10kts  075-095 in a cut up seaway, very unfriendly and difficult to make way. We’d motor for 10 mins to get away if the breeze dropped below 8kts otherwise we’d be stuck with no steerage way, and then the sequence began again

Oh I forgot. During all this it periodically rained cats and dogs, mostly when it was blowing 25kts. Had to dig the safety glasses out of the tool store to be able to see. The torture cycle took anywhere from 45 mins to 90mins. I think we had 11 or 12 iterations of the sequence over the 14-15 hours. Didn’t get much sleep as you can imagine. We either had not enough sail up (most of the time, while waiting for the next shellacking) or too much when we were being shellacked. Eventually it relented and we sailed out into a relatively fine patch only a little clouded and we’ve been ok since although we ended up having to motor for 6 hours or so as there wasn’t any breeze! And we do this for fun…

27 Mar – Course 055 / Speed 7 kts / Wind 115 20 kts (@1800) / DTG 1835 / VMG 5.8kts

Great day up until 5 hours ago. Decent breeze, good angles, useful speeds and then it all went horribly wrong. A wall of cloud built in front of us as the sun was setting. Spectacular – orange ramparts, dark grey footings. Did not look friendly. We reefed and prepared for the worst which of course, in its own way, eventuated: zero wind, lots of rain, occasional vertical gust of 20-25 kts from what ever angle it pleased. And it has been like that for the last 5 hours. All this included the ever reliable, illegal, no AIS big factory size fishing boat making its way directly onto our course, not responding to hails and generally being bloody minded. We had to take a losing tack away to get clear. On we go, hoping for better days.

26 Mar – Course 050 / Speed 6 kts / Wind 105 16 kts / DTG 2070 / VMG 6 kts

A better day. Breeze this morning was all the way round to about 150 meaning we could make due east with slightly cracked sheets and good speed. Due east rather than course to Panama (which is 063) so we can set up for the wind to back again to 100 and position ourselves in a few days for crossing the equator and finding the thin vein of east flowing current we’re hoping will be there, between the strong west flowing currents either side of zero latitude.

Of course while it was immensely cheering while it lasted, it didn’t last long, and we find ourselves bashing into a reasonably strong ESE wind, not quite getting the angle we want, but hey, we’re moving roughly in the right direction. For sailing, that isn’t bad. There’s a sign at the Opua Yacht Club titled “How to sail” 1. pick where you want to go, 2. sail in a totally different direction, 3. whatever you do, don’t sail in the direction you want to go, 4. trust me this is how they do it, 5. sailors drink a lot. Given 2 and 3, 5 is somewhat unsurprising…

25 Mar – Course 045 / Speed 5.2kts / Wind 124 11 kts / DTG 2214 / VMG 5.7 kts

Days spent on the wind on one tack trying to make a strategic weather waypoint really brings home how hard sailing to windward actually is. Point too high and your speed is poor, as is your leeway (the boat slips sideways when there isn’t enough water flowing over the keel to give lift). Sail too low and your speed is good, but you loose ground towards your objective upwind. The sweet middle ground where your “VMC” or speed directly towards where you want to go is straightforward to calculate, indeed we have sheets with the theoretical best angles to sail for a range of windspeeds as reference for the trimmers and steerers, but is difficult to find. It is greatly influenced by the seaway, by how shifty the wind is and by what sails you have up and how they’re trimmed. When you’re on the dog shift at 0300, you’re tired, it’s pitch black and there’s no visible horizon to help you steer, and  the b’std navigator (me) is giving you a hard time for being wayward, and there’s every prospect that there’ll be another week or two of it, it’s not on your list of favourite things to do on a Saturday night. It is a challenge though, intellectual and physical, and even satisfying to accomplish. Afterwards, in the bar…

24 Mar – Course 045 / Speed 5kts / Wind 115 8 kts / DTG 2350 / VMG 5.6kts

Steering earlier, my opening line for tonight was “The best thing about sailing today was: I got some varnishing done”. Light breeze (5-8kts), making it hard to keep rolling with only the working jib, but I could varnish without spray and in comfort. That breeze blowing from the most perfectly irritating angle: 080: too little north to be worth a tack and not far enough south to get us on course. Painful.

A big pod of common dolphins rocked up leaping and spinning and generally enjoying themselves. Life is definitely better because of dolphins. A general hand out of icy-poles further lifted in spirits which continued with dinner: spaghetti bolognese and a glass of Pinot watching the new moon set with Venus just above it. Then a cheery chat with Valnor, a passing superyacht headed from Galapagos to the Marquesas. What’s not to like about this sailing lark? We’re at sea sailing for starters, not in an office, it’s warm, there is breeze, dolphins, spag-bog, cheerful superyacht crew, the new moon and Venus? And, AND, I got some varnishing done.

23 Mar – Course 057 / Speed 6.5kts / Wind 110 12 kts / DTG 2484  (Panama Canal) / VMG 5.8kts

We were preparing for a day of little or no wind and a hot day motoring, but winds have been better than forecast. Breaking no records we’ve managed to keep rolling along at between 4-7 knots all day roughly in the right direction close hauled in 5-14kts of breeze. A bonus for fuel consumption: Clouds (Roger Badham our weather router) has recommended a $30 an hour fine for use of the engine at this stage as we’re going to need every drop of diesel we have when we get into the ITCZ. And a bonus for lower temperature below. K2’s 220hp Cummins 6B is positioned nice and low (for righting moment) below the floorboards in the main saloon, and well below sea level. Great for stability and keeping weight low but terrible for getting rid of the heat. While the engine is running and for about 3 hours afterwards we have to run a blower to suck cool air in for the engine to burn with the diesel and also to vent the hot air from around the engine compartment. Nevertheless the heat seeps up through the floorboards, and gradually you find everyone migrates up onto the deck, on-watch or not. Actually the heated floor was a bonus when we were getting rained on while limping north after losing the forestay as we could lay gear out on the saloon floor to dry. Not so good when the sea temperature and air temperature are both 28 degrees…

22 Mar – Course 045 / Speed 7.2kts / Wind 100 15kts / Baro 1011 / Sea 27.8c / Drift 0.7 Set 065

Ran out of wind during the afternoon after having been progressively pushed north by a backing breeze. Motored due east for 2 hours and were rewarded by a batch of breeze from 120 degrees at about 12 kts. With flat seas we’ve been able to recover much of the ground we lost to the north during the evening, the bonus being we were able to do a few boat rigging type chores while we were motoring. A good day.

21 Mar – Course 055 / Speed 7kts / Wind 105 16kts

It’s a better day. Breeze angle slightly less unhelpful, we’ve been able to make a bit more east than north, holding onto the hope that we can skirt under a patch of strongly adverse current Clouds has identified for us and which we’ve highlighted on our routing software with a big red box – here be sea monsters.

Still on starboard tack and still mainly heeled at about 15-20 degrees which makes everything from cleaning your teeth to doing the washing up a challenge, to say nothing of putting one of the galley cupboard doors back on after its hinge pulled out. Sitting on the floor with epoxy glue and matchsticks refilling the screw holes while bouncing around in a head sea is entertaining. Anyway, success. Door back on, full set of new screws down the piano hinge, you wouldnt know it had pulled off. Life at sea eh?

20 Mar – Course 045 / Speed 6.4kts / Wind 090 15kts / Sea 28c

We’re running a 2 on 5 off watch system, with a new person on watch every hour. Slightly complicated, it means only one person switching at a time making life below deck a bit quieter, with the benefit of not having to talk to the same person for your whole watch. It also means a 7 hour total rotation meaning your watch hours are at a different time each day and night. No-one is stuck with the 0200-0400 watch every night.

Coming on watch this morning at the relatively civilised hour of 0800 (having gone off watch at the very un-civilised time of 0300!) I was instantly aware that the sky was completely clear of cloud, for the first time this voyage. Clear sky = No squalls! A real bonus. Squalls are a fact of life sailing in tropical waters where the water temperature is often higher than the air temp. It’s mainly the warmth of water that powers the squall. Simply: warm water, water evaporates and rises, drawing in more air, evaporating more water. If it gets big enough and circulation rises high enough the water vapour condenses and it rains, releasing a tremendous amount of heat, reinforcing the circulation and, like a thunderstorm creating very strong local winds and a hell of a lot of rain. Winds can swing through 180 degrees and go from zero to 30kts and back again – a real pain for sailing. An old salt once told me “clouds suck, rain blows” if the squall hasn’t started raining it’s sucking in air, if it’s raining it’s blowing it out. They also move at an angle to whatever the gradient breeze is, and that angle varies depending on a whole range of things – squalls move like each other on a particular night in a particular area, but not the same way all the time. So they have to be watched closely – by radar at night – and you’ve got to work them out for a given set of them. As I said, a pain. And they’re often more frequent at night when the temperature differential is bigger. Wonderful phenomena. From an armchair. In the living room at Elvina Bay.

19 Mar – Course 001 / Speed 6.5kts / Wind 050 18kts (and another squall belting us…)

A decent day followed by a deeply frustrating evening. Sailing well this morning, pointing the right way, good speed, we noticed an anomaly on the computer’s suggested route for the day and evening. An odd almost “Bermuda Triangle” zig-zag area on the chart where the software was unable to calculate a path, suggesting instead that we keep clear to the south. We of course were headed right at it, and barring taking a big losing tack to the south, would be unable to miss it. We tried using data from two different weather models, still there, but we couldn’t discern anything in the data that gave any reason as to why it should be so. A number of head scratchings later, we tentatively concluded there must be some data missing or there was a glitch in our boat data (the speed and angles that K2 can sail at for given wind speeds and directions), so we’d carry on, do our best to err on the side of being as close hauled as possible on starboard, and keep sailing towards our current way point of 10S 120W.

Fools. We have spend the last three hours with no-wind, wind from the north, wind from the NE, and everything else but what we had expected and have not been able to sail anywhere near our course to destination. Maddening. Possibly co-incidence, we are still no closer to working out what it was in the weather grib files that prompted the routing software to come up with the predictions, accurate as they have turned out to be. Then to cap it all, Duncan discovered that somehow the cork in his newly opened bottle of Tallisker had been dislodged and all the contents had spilled out, finding their way into the bilge, where I presume they have evaporated over the days it has taken the contents to leak out. I did wonder at an improvement in the smell of the bilge. Now I know why.

18 Mar – Course 045 / Speed 8kts / Wind 120 12-14kts / Sea 28.4 / Baro 1014 / Drift 0.6 Set 321

A quick update this evening as we’re being bounced between squalls and I’m supposed to be on deck. A decent day. Breeze has been fairly helpful all day, direction and strength and we’ve made good progress which has cheered everyone up after we had a difficult night.

17 Mar – Courses 1210 / Speed 7kts / Wind 070 10kts / Sea 29.1c / Baro 1015 / Drift 0.9 Set 107

Harder day. No breeze at all for first 6 hours or so, then starboard tack until we were headed as we sailed into what seemed to be a new air mass/weather system. We went from clear skies and flat water through a curtain of squalls into more left breeze, chopped up seaway and much more cloud, then clear again. Currently waiting for breeze to veer or back – painfully coming from least useful direction of course. Hoping St Patrick’s day gives us more favourable winds.

16 Mar – Course 046 / Speed 6.8kts / Wind 115 11kts / Sea 29.1c / Baro 1015 / Drift 0.6 Set 345

Almost feel like we were given a small gift today. Breeze has been more 105-125 than 090-110, and 10-12kts rather than 8-10, so useful but without being a give-away. We’ve tried not to squander it, staying close hauled in the main part (unless we had to get rolling after the breeze dropped out following a rain shower) and hand steering to make sure we used every lift and opportunity we were given.  Steering in lighter breeze, and slightly adverse swell with a small headsail takes concentration. I find I can’t cope with steering and conversation, reverting to mono-syllables and grunts in an effort to deflect. Not grumpy, I had to insist, just keen not to waste the better than forecast breezes.

15 Mar – Course 048 / Speed 6.5kts / Wind 095 14-17kts / Sea 28.9c / Baro 1015 / Drift 0.6 Set 000

So the long starboard tack begins, much more comfortable in my bunk on this tack, but a pain in the leg, elbow and chest writing the daily update… We tacked at 0700 this morning DST about 1 hour into the move in the breeze we’d been waiting for from 070 to 085 and since then breeze has been 12-17kts from 085 to 115. Current has been mostly 0.6 set 250 (against) but recently swung around to setting N, a little more helpful. Sea state reasonable although at one stage we were punching straight into the swell/wind chop as the breeze had veered enough to lift us into it. Improving though, and we’re heading towards the Galapagos, a good thing.

14 Mar – Course 110 / Speed 6.4kts / Wind 075 15kts

Slightly cooler today, only 28! A long, not particularly satisfying day, we’re battling to get east before the wind itself veers east, and before we start our long mostly starboard tack towards the Galapagos. From a really excellent day from a distance perspective yesterday, every mile today has been a bit of a struggle. Light winds, difficult wind direction and squall stirred seaway have conspired to keep us battling. Fingers crossed the tough miles will pay their dividends in the days to come.

13 Mar – Course 080 / Speed 4 kts / Wind 230 5kts

Right up until the sun went down we’d had a cracking day. Breeze from the NW at around 15kts occasionally up to nearly 20 and belting along at 9kts. Didn’t get rained on, no squalls to speak of, 1 kt of current in our favour. Even the sea state reasonable – nothing wrong with that. Until it wasn’t of course. So now we grit our teeth and try to keep moving, keeping our trigger happy ignition fingers in our pockets so we don’t revert to running the engine. There’ll be plenty of that up the course.

12 Mar – Course 120 / Speed 9kts / Wind 000 22kts  (squalls) / Sea 29.5c, Air 27c / Baro 1011

Dolphins! At last. We were beginning to think they had forsaken us. We’d not seen dolphins since leaving Sydney way back on Australia Day (26 Jan) – I think that’s the longest I can remember being at sea and not seeing them. Oddly depressing. We’ve had albatross’, shearwaters, fairy penguins, sunfish, flying fish, tuna, dorado, even a boobie that landed on the bow for a while, but no dolphins. There’s something enormously cheering about watching them play around in the bow waves and wake. Life is definitely better for dolphins.

Better wind strength and direction today, however still being disturbed by quite big squall systems. There were enough of these squalls around this afternoon that we dropped the asymmetric spinnaker and hoisted the #3. Working very well, we cannot sail quite so deep as with the lightweight spinnaker, but with the better wind strength and direction we are making course and at decent speed. And we worry less about blowing it up, so generally much less stressful. A decent sailing day. All because of the dolphins of course.

11 Mar – Course 075 / Speed 5kts / Wind 320 7kts / Sea  29.8c, Air 27.5c

A direct hit from a small rain squall had the crew capering around on deck in their undies, a refreshing and cooling interlude in an exacting day. Not much breeze and lots of rain squalls had us setting and downing sails all day, trying to keep moving, aiming to be conservative and not break any sails given we now only have one jib that can be used hanked onto the new wire forestay. As it turned out we didn’t use it – we were either using the cruising ‘chute or the staysail. Sadly had to resort to the engine for a couple of hours this evening when we had a glass out. Sailing again now though with a big black cloud chasing us down. Nice way to start the evening…

10 Mar – Course 105 / Speed / 5.5kts / Wind 260 10kts / Air & sea temp – 29c

Pretty much all day we flew the small asymmetrical cruising ‘chute which has a “snuffer” – a sock, pulley system and a bottomless “bucket” that can be pulled down over the spinnaker to snuff it, allowing us to raise or lower it comfortably short handed. A great little sail, it has allowed us to keep moving even when the wind dropped down to 4-5 kts from astern. We finally dropped it just before dinner when a squall overhauled us, the breeze temporarily rose to above 20kts and backed from around 290 to closer to 230, forcing us to drop the spinnaker and gybe. As I write we’re thinking/discussing gybing back onto port and raising it again.

The main diversion for us today was threading between atolls of the Tuamotu Group. We adjusted course to skim the top end of Fakarava, a large atoll some 33 miles across. Spectacular, the northern entrance was plenty deep enough for us to have negotiated, we somewhat whistfully watched it pass and kept going. Somewhere to note and visit again one day perhaps -i t has a small airport!

9 Mar – Course 035 / Speed 4.5kts / Wind 270 6kts / Sea temp 29.2 deg celsius

Hot hot hot! Aluminium boat sitting in a bath of 30 degree water means it’s 30 degrees inside. Unless of course you’ve been running the engine because there was no wind. Then its probably closer to 35 inside… Unsurprisingly most of us have spent the whole day on deck.

The wind has been an unhelpful 2-5 kts for most of the day, forcing us to motor. Finally about 1500 local time we had enough to get the asymmetric up along with full main, mizzen staysail and mizzen. Hold onto your seat: we were doing 7.5 kts for a while. Disappointingly it’s slowly faded all afternoon. We’ve persisted despite the falling breeze a) because it’s hellishly hot running the engine and b) because we have a long way to go.

Last night (great full moon!) we were overrun by a biggish squall, wind briefly hit 29kts and we decided to reef. Just as we were doing so the fishing line started to spool out at speed. Having to leave that while we dealt with the sails, when we eventually got back to it, all the line was out, but there was something still hooked. Eventually (eventually after three people took turns to wind it in) we landed a decent tuna. Refrigerated for a day and finely filleted, we feasted royally this evening on sashimi and pan fried tuna with a potato, pea, bean and pesto salad. Great team effort on everything from  landing the fish to coming up with and executing the menu. Delicious!

8 March – Course 068 / Speed 6.1kts / Wind 240 5kts / Baro 1014.1

A number of big (height and extent) squalls whilst leaving Tahiti. At one stage we spent a couple of hours with the wind at 200 (SW) on starboard tack. Currently motoring. Crew for this leg includes Paul, Lindsay, Gen, Cuts, Duncan & Ian.

Amazing turn-around. We had excellent support from The Tahiti Crew, their contact list and knowledge of where things could be found was awesome, and they suggested some excellent tours on our lay days, so thank you Tehani, and team – Chantal, Tava and Talitha (& Corinne).
The forestay is reattached to its new stem fitting (thank you to Stellio and his workmate, huge effort to execute the design in the time available-and weather!), and our repaired #3 hanked onto it (great job by Sebastien at Tahiti Sails). Audrey is sorted too thanks to Maui Hydraulic. We’re heading towards Panama, via a fairly direct route, hoping to carry the forecast NW airstream for a few days, although, true to form on this trip at least, that airflow is currently absent. At least it’s not raining.