April 30, 2010

Soaking up the beauty

Since our landfall was in the moonlight, we didn't fully appreciate the drama of the landscape until we awoke in the morning. It's stunning. Incredibly rugged, the islands lack the fringing reefs that protect so much of the rest of the South Pacific. Clouds stick to the top of knife-edge mountains like cotton candy; the mountains, lushly green, seem to drop straight down to valleys or the sea below. There were sweet smells in the air: flowers, earth, something spicy. I tried to capture photographs to convey the harbor but it was impossible: from our vantage point below, I couldn't get in the distance from water to mountaintop!

I was worried about checking in, having thumbed my nose at French lessons several times while growing up in favor of just about anything else (5 years of Latin...smattering of Chinese, Spanish). No need to worry, the check-in was so brief and friendly that I wondered if our Agent fees were really necessary (I learned later that they were...it simply shunted us to a shortlist). Even the walk in to town was fun: hibiscus and plumeria scenting the roadside, Marquesan mountain men on horseback.

It's so very different from Mexico. There's clearly a lot of investment/support (payoff?) from the French. Every car is a shiny late model... overwhelmingly Toyota trucks. Every home is tidy and finished- no raw concrete and rebar sticking up to be seen.

The French influence in food is welcome. Heavenly baguettes are available from the bakery until they run out around noon- don't delay!, for about $.50 each (thank you, French colonialists!). The fruit is luscious: pamplemousse is even better than I imagined, and fresh passion fruit was like eating a flower. Maybe if I can offset the baguettes with fruit, I'll stave off the 10 lbs that will surely find me otherwise...

April 28, 2010

Day 20: LAND HO!

*** Totem has made landfall, but didn't get our daily blog updates posted after our radio stopped working. Here is the last of our written-but-not-posted updates sea. ***

position: 9*48' S, 139*01' W
24 hour run: 178 miles
Distance to go to Hiva Oa: it's right in front of us!

This afternoon, vague shapes from Marquesan mountains begain to take focus on the haze. We all squinted at the horizon from the deck, straining to make out a complete island sillhouette. LAND HO!

How can I explain what it feels like to see land after 20 days of nothing but water? I wondered how we'd all respond. There was euphoria on board: We all felt uplifted by these distant, hazy shapes. As my friends know, it doesn't take more than a cute puppy to make me cry so naturally I had happy tears. The kids decided this meant breaking out precious treats to share (why not!). We all had big grins on our faces! Everyone is so excited. I especially can't wait to see how this place *really* looks, and breathe in the rich earthy aromas after weeks of the simple clean air of the ocean.

We've been watching our mileage and daily progress carefully. If we make good enough time, it means the difference between arriving in daylight or in the evening. With that in mind, we've really been working ourselves and the boat the last couple of days. The nights have been tough- Jamie and Ty splitting night watch, because with my gimpy arm I'm not much help in these conditions...any sail change (and we've been doing a crazy number of reef in, reef out repetitions) would mean waking one of them up anyway. The guys took on more than their fair share without a second thought and focused on speed, speed, speed- getting us closer to our destination.

To be clear, arriving at a new port in the dark is generally a bad idea. We had heard our charts of the anchorage, unlike those of pretty much everywhere we've been in Mexico, are actually accurate. The harbor lights are working (another novelty, after Mexico...where you never knew what lights you'd find and if they'd operate remotely like the charts indicated). We have excellent moonlight- it sounds strange to say, perhaps, but it is amazing how miuch you can see under the moonlight, especially without any land-based light pollution. And of course, we do happen to have a Class A Pilot on board. That might be giving us just a bit of an extra dose of confidence!

The sun disappeared behind the surprisingly tall peaks of Hiva Oa as we came down the channel on the south side of the island. With a swell nearly on the beam and the wind coming ahead of us, we fired up the Yanmar to power in the final stretch. Sloowwwly into the harbor, then setting bow and stern anchors outside the breakwall, we settle in for our full night of sleep.

April 27, 2010

Day 19: things have been better

*** Totem has made landfall, but didn't get our daily blog updates posted after our radio stopped working. Here is another of our written-but-not-posted updates from sea. ***

position: 7*28' S, 136*30' W
24 hour run: 181 miles
Distance to go to Hiva Oa: about 200

I'm thinking back on our daily posts, and they're pretty rosy. I don't deliberately try to put the happy filter on and only share good news. The truth is that this passage really has been good. With the exception of the radio, there has been no failure of gear or equipment that we could not deal with. The conditions have been really comfortable. We have not been sick. We pass the days pleasantly, and with our superstar crew Ty on board, there are shared duties and night time watches that keep us all rested and on an even keel. There's really nothing to complain about!

That trend ends today...I'm going to whine a little. It's lumpy out. We are happy about the wind and will have excellent progress today, but it's mostly upwind (we are supposed to be in the trades on beautiful beam reaches or downwind) and the swells are confused enough that we get launched around. Just try cooking at an angle, juggling hot things on the stove.

What's really making me cranky is my shoulder. Not long before we left I was diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury. Mostly it's been fine...I take anti-inflammatories and can't use my right arm. That's correct: can't use my right arm. Not with any kind of strain, at least. This is where the seaway makes things challenging. Moving from one part of the boat to another means going handhold by handhold and pulling yourself along. As a dominant 'rightie' it's my first instinct to reach with the right arm. Can't do that!Now try cooking with one arm (you need one hand to cook, and one hand to hold yourself in one place by hanging for dear life onto the bar in front of the range). Or sleeping (it's a whole neck/arm/shoulder continuum of strain)...I usually sleep on my right side. Not any more! Never mind that it's also the most comfortable way to pack myself into a seaberth with cushions, so some rest is possible between the rolls... yeah. Not really fun.

The hard part really is that this all makes me really grumpy. I have no patience for helping the kids. I don't want to cook. I can't even do little chores like filling a bucket with water for dishes...tried that, and the arm yank was categorically bad!

Meanwhile...the boat is too small a space to be short tempered...but it's hard.

See? I can be whiny. It's not all roses.


April 26, 2010

Day 18: a semi typical day on board

position: 5*18' S, 134*22' W
24 hour run: 193 nautical miles (hoooo yeah)
Distance traveled since departing Mexico: lots
Distance to go to Hiva Oa: 375

The radio problems throw a lurch into our days. We can hear, but we cannot effectively transmit, and so we cannot request or receive weather reports or update our position. It has probably helped us focus even more closely on the radio nets we can hear: noting the position and weather of other reporting boats, and thinking about what that means for us and the weather we may experience next. It's a far cry from a grib file but s close as we can get.

Otherwise, today has been like any other day- that is to say it is unstructured, but has a rhythm. I have the watch that bridges dawn, and love the quiet time where see the stars fade into warm yellow clouds. Ty usually comes up earlier than his 6am start, and I get ready to scribe details from the net. Jamie is up to listen in on the radio by the time the net starts at 7. Breakfast is around 8; today, hash browns with sausage and eggs. The children are up in staggered sets... last night, the motion of the boat sent Siobhan back to the aft cabin with me. With the added heel, she and Mairen otherwise become piled like puppies at one end of the forepeak.

When the radio net and breakfast end, Ty and Jamie are typically in the cockpit while I spend time below with the kids. Today, I read aloud from a book we're learning from about the history of navigation. Other days, it's been chapters of 'Stowaway', a great kids' book about a stowaway on one of Captain Cook's vessels or helping the girls with their readers while Niall dives into another book on his own. Later in the morning, an elaborate diorama of paper sea creatures was arranged on the starboard settee. Mermaids, whales, sea horses, squid, dolphins, eels and more are drawn, cut, colored, and then arranged by the girls to tell a story. We broke out the camera so they could create the sequence and play it back later.

At midday, we usually have sandwiches or a salad for lunch. If there aren't any clouds, the sextant often comes out for a noon sight. In the afternoon, Jamie, Ty and I take turns napping- making up for gaps in our sleep from the nighttime watch schedule (which shuffled a little but mostly settled at 9pm-12am, Ty; 12-3, Jamie; 3-6, me). One of them, or occasionally me, is always in the cockpit. If the movement of the boat is settled enough, games come out: everything from Candyland to chess, dominoes, cards, or puzzles. On this day, we're tossed too much for any small pieces and so the kids are coloring at the table, with boxes holding markers and pencils wedged on the settee next to them. At some point, the journals are broken out and they do their entries- I do mine as well. On settled days, this is the perfect time to sit on the rail in the shadow of the genoa with a good book. I spent hours watching jellyfish and man-of-wars drift by us in the doldrums from this perch.

Our battery bank, while not completely topped up, is doing well and we're bringing in a lot of power with all the sun and wind to feeding through the solar panels and wind generator. There's enough to run the watermaker and maintain net positive amps into the bank, so we run it for a few hours to keep our tanks comfortably full.

Later in the afternoon, we mark our daily 24 hour run. We've tracked it daily at 0:00 UTC, which coincides with 4pm for our current time zone. After looking at our progress and route, I usually put down notes for a blog post. When we could still connect our radio, the late afternoon and early evening were good times for propagation for a successful link, and I like to have it ready between the SSB net (0200 zulu, or 6pm local time) and the Pacific Seafarer's net (roll starting around 0325 zulu, or 7:25pm local time). The children are helping mark our progress on a paper chart as well.

I'm feeling a little tired, so Jamie cooks up a dinner of sautéed cabbage and shredded beef with lavender. While he's cooking, the SSB radio net is starting and once again I'm checking all the boats who report in with their position and weather. There are a number of boats who will be making landfall within a few days of us, so there's additional chatter after the roll call on the net as the boats underway quiz Eric (s/v Secret Agent Man) on everything from lights in the harbor for an evening approach to the process for signing into the country with officials. Later, I switch frequencies for the Pacific Seafarer's Net. It is astounding to me but Randy, the net control in Hawaii, can actually still pick us up. Our signal is very, very weak- the best we can do is answer "ROGER ROGER ROGER" to affirmatively respond and confirm with him that all is well on board. We believe we are essentially operating without an antenna, and are amazed that he is able to direct his antennae from about 2,000 miles away to pick us up at all. It is like a lifeline, and feels so important to know that we can be noted on their roll call as OK...just hampered by a radio problem.

After dinner, Ty and Jamie get some rest before their watches start. With the power looking good, tonight is a special treat: the children get to watch a movie together in the aft cabin, our laptop movie screen balanced on Niall's lap as they lean into pillows. They finish as Ty comes on watch, so I can tuck them in and read the girls a story before retiring with a book of my own.

April 25, 2010

Pictures from the passage

We interrupt the somewhat time-shifted updates from Totem's passage across the Pacific to bring you... pictures! A few of our favorites are below. To see more, visit our Flickr stream: you can always get to it at http://www.flickr.com/photos/giffordclan by clicking through images down the right hand side, or through most of the photos in the blog. (THANKS TIM!)

You can get to the stream by clicking through any one of these as well. Sizes are smaller to help us upload on this dribbly bit of bandwidth that's available.


Finding Escapade offshore, and trading fresh yellowfin tuna for cake! (I think we came out ahead)

meeting Escapade offshore

The girls open gifts from their grandparents on the 10th day offshore

Goodies!

Deck bathing!

bucket bath!

I always knew he wanted a square rigger! Jamie and Ty show off the ratlines they built for checking our our backstay connections for the radio (more fruitless troubleshooting)

ratlines

Pesky little fishing net that ALMOST gave us a very, very bad day

Fishing net on the prop

Clouds at the equator: I could watch them for hours. I *did* watch them for hours.

amazing clouds near the equator


April 24, 2010

Day 17: radio woes

*** Totem has made landfall, but didn't get our daily blog updates posted after our radio stopped working. here is the first of our last few written-but-not-posted updates from sea. ***

position: 3*2.5' S, 130*6.5' W
24 hour run: 170 miles
Total miles: 2360
Distance to go to Hiva Oa: 590

Jamie has gone to great lengths to troubleshoot our SSB. The bottom line is that we have no power for our transmission. This seems to point to a problem with a connection or with the ground plane. It might also be a problem with the tuner. We have gone through almost all the alternatives we have available to us on board, from swapping out cables to testing signal strength.

What is truly remarkable is that despite the supremely weak signal, we can still be picked up by Pacific Seafarer's net control, Randy (KH6RC). He can't hear us in any detail- in fact, he can barely make us out. It is enough, however, for him to verify that all is well on board. I believe he'll be able to update our data on the roll call to note that although our position could not be taken, we were in no danger.

Meanwhile, we are just screaming along and making great progress. We're definitely in the trades now and doing better every day.

Thinking about that shellback tattoo now...

April 22, 2010

Day 16: shellbacks!

*** Totem has made landfall, but didn't get our daily blog updates posted after our radio stopped working. here is the first of our last few written-but-not-posted updates from sea. ***

Current position: 01*11' S, 130*16' W
24 hour run: 150 nautical miles

At approximately 3:30 a.m. on April 17, Totem sailed across the equator and into the southern hemisphere. There was no glowing yellow line in the water...no hot dog stand, no Wall Drug style billboards...but it was a moment I'll never forget. After nights of shifting clouds in the ITCZ, we had clear skies and spectacular stars. Pointing just right of the Southern Cross (cue the Crosby Stills & Nash!), we were on a comfortable reach, making over 6 knots in about 12 knots of breeze.

We let the girls sleep, but Niall was very excited to be in the cockpit for the big moment! Since our watch change is scheduled for 3, Jamie and I were both up anyway and we got Ty up to join us. He's a veteran of arctic circle and date line crossings was looking forward to crossing this circle; now, he just has to plan a trip to Antarctica to get the full complement of rings.

At a more civilized hour, we celebrated with a big breakfast of waffles with strawberry compote and whipped cream. Decadent! Soon after, Neptune himself made a visit to Totem. He questioned our pollywog crew, then accepted us all as shellbacks. Siobhan was completely taken in by the spectre of Neptune and buried her head in my shoulder!

Ceilydh gave us a bag to open ONLY at the equator, as Maia's note emphasized. The kids had been jonesing to open it all week! Inside were treats for everyone: serrano ham (oh, joy!), a wee bottle of anejo tequila (mmmmm...how much does Neptune need?), sweet treats for the kids, a bag of buttery cookies. Best of all was a home-made coloring book based on pictures of the good times the girls had together in La Cruz. What a great stack of memories!

Although we're not quite in the southeast trades, the sailing is now spectacular. In the evening, we had dinner together in the cockpit. Jamie pointed out that this was the sailing that armchair sailors in northern winters dream about! We were on a flat, comfortable reach, moving along at 6+ knots...watching the sun set over the equatorial Pacific...enjoying a warm breeze and a delicious dinner. It really was pretty near perfect! We had Jamie's favorite meal, a farmer's plate of finger food: in addition to our treats from Ceilydh, there were green olives stuffed with blue cheese, baby corn, dried chorizo slices, sliced cheese and tomatoes, hearts of palm, and to spread on crackers- cream cheese with papaya chutney and a pate of smoked salmon. We felt utterly decadent!

The only blemish on an otherwise lovely day: our SSB radio stopped transmitting in the morning, before we had checked into the net. It's very discouraging, and the troubleshooting continues.

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Posted via radio: we have no internet access

April 21, 2010

Radio troubles - but Totem arrived safely in the Marquesas

A few hours ago, we made landfall in Hiva Oa. Our 20 day passage was beautiful, occasionally exciting, and extremely memorable! It was only marred by the failure of our radio (we think the tuner is to blame...more troubleshooting is in order) on the morning of the 17th. We'd been having issues with it since a few days after our departure but before we could crow about our equator crossing, the situation went from "minor and annoying" to "inoperable". No fun...the radio is our lifeline for communications, a key part of our safety plan, and a sanity link to other boats.

More details will dribble out here, but for now, I'm going to catch up on some sleep!

April 16, 2010

Day 15: no "boat fever" here

Position: 00*32' N, 128*33' W
24 hour run: 103 nautical miles
Distance since La Cruz: 1976
Distance to go to Hiva Oa: <1,000!

It is honestly hard to believe that for over two weeks, our world has been the 47 feet of Totem. We estimated once that our area below decks was about the equivalent of a 500 square foot apartment- and a high efficiency apartment at that, considering there are 3 sleeping cabins, 2 "bathrooms", and a main cabin with galley, navigation station and a couple of settees. Add six bodies into the mix and it's amazing that we have not gone stir crazy.

Before we left to go cruising, we spent our last Christmas in the Northwest (2007) at a cabin in the mountains. Knowing we would not have the opportunity to play in the snow for some time, it seemed the perfect way to celebrate the holiday. And it was, truly: I recall it as a beautiful set of picture postcard memories... right up until we were snowed in. Although we had a lovely, spacious cabin, after 3 days of being stuck indoors the meaning of cabin fever truly struck home. The children were bouncing off the lovely log walls. I was craving exercise and finding that being cramped in a small abode did not do good things for my humor. One of my big fears of cruising was that this would repeat itself, tropical style- especially with the children.

It amazes me then that we have spent this extended period of time on board and not once felt that confinement. Is it the huge expanse of sea and sky around us? Impossible to feel confined when the surrounding world appears so immense. Is it the subconscious exercise? We are moving all day, adjusting our bodies to compensate for the movement of the boat. No one motion feels like much, but in aggregate we move a great deal.

I quizzed the children today about how they're feeling to make sure I wasn't misunderstanding, but they too are not feelign the confinement, or limitations, of being in our bobbing vessel for so long. Even the prospect of about another week on board wasn't daunting. Mairen literally jumped up on the bunk and said- "I LOVE IT!". I am not sure how we raised such salty pups, but I'm sure happy we have!

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April 15, 2010

Day 14: Bubble Boat

24 hour run: 118
Distance traveled since departing Mexico: 1855
Distance to go to Hiva Oa: about 1100 miles

I decided yesterday that we must be the Bubble Boat. Remember bubble boy- the popular movie about the kid in the hermetically sealed environment? Our boat seems to be inside some kind of sealed environment in the ITCZ. For days, we have seen squalls everywhere around us. We've closed up the boat up several times in anticipation of going through them, but somehow we never get a drop of rain. Everything just bounces off the bubble around Totem.

In the unsettled nature of the ITCZ, these cells are the norm. With nothing to obstruct our view from horizon to horizon, all weather systems are very obvious long before they cross our path. They typically bring wind, intense rain, and sometimes lightning. We watch them approach, consider their path against our course, and get ready...only to have them pass in front or behind us. Somehow, the skies over Totem are always blue.

That all ended today- and we were quite happy about it. We have passed through not one, but three squalls...so far. The rain is welcome: it provided a lovely freshwater rinse on our boat and gear. We caught water for showers outside and bathed in the cockpit. The relief from the humidity afterward is delicious. The accompanying wind is sending us merrily on our way, and hopefully toward the southeastern trades...quickly!

April 14, 2010

Day 13: the ITCZ times

*** Jamie found inspiration under the stars on watch last night, and offers this for today's blog post ***

While traversing the Inter Tropic Convergence Zone (ITCZ), we sought to learn about local happenings. Being underway and with determined purpose to cross the equator soon, acquisition of the local newspaper, ITCZ Times, was a thoroughly rewarding and expeditious delivery of "local flavor". Indeed, you can go online at ITCZTIMESHAHA.com to read for yourself. To further tempt you here are some of the headlines:

Irate Tonto Condemns Zorro
Idiosyncratic Tourist Considers Zen
Indentured Tiger Confronts Zoo
Infinity Transforms Confused Zero
Ichthyologist's Testimony Corroborates Zoologists
Indians To Columbus: Zilch!
Inter-Terrestrial Courtships Zoom
Infertility Taunts Courageous Zebra
Itunes Trumpets Consumer Zillions
Intestinal Trauma? Consider Zucchini

OK, ITCZ in meteorological terms is the band of weather along the equator. Because of the sea temperature, currently Totem is in 90 degree water and the rotation of the Earth the weather can be very interesting. In lay terms, one patch of area can be hot, humid, and seemingly void of air while the patch next to it can be a rather prickly convection cell with dense rain, big wind, and lightening. Oh joy!

It's slow going now, but all is well; better really after going into the water today to remove the 6' section of nylon fishing net hooked on one blade of our propeller. The kids are great with not a single complaint about the heat or tedium of this stretch. In fact, they're having a blast together.

Our fishing portfolio in Mexico, while not outstanding was quite respectable. Of the 1740.4 miles covered in route to the Marquesas, we have utterly failed to produce fish for the dinner table. The kids crave fresh Tuna sashimi. Alas we have failed them! Oh well, with 6 months worth of fresh and canned good onboard are serving us well.

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April 13, 2010

Day 12: blogs of other boats crossing

24 hour run: 109 (hello, DOLDRUMS! slowest day yet)
Distance traveled since departing Mexico: 1636
Distance to go to Hiva Oa: about 1300

We've crossed the axis of the ITCZ...for now. It's famous for shifting position. We may be unlucky enough to cross it a few more times, if it moves below and above our position. For the moment, though, although not yet at the equator, we are into the weather and winds of the southern hemisphere. Our days are now getting slightly shorter instead of slightly longer; we're in the latter part of the southern fall instead of the northern spring. Weird, huh?

One of the things I meant to do before we left is update the blogroll with the blogs of new friends. It will have to wait until we get to Internet access (I have most bookmarked online... funny how something so accesible "normally" is entirely inaccessible from, say, THE MIDDLE OF THE PACIFIC!).

Here are a few additional blogs links, specifically from boats we know who are crossing as well... I believe they are all posting updates from sea. In no particular order:

s/v IO: aboardio.blogspot.com
s/v Mulan: www.sailblogs/mulan
s/v Delos: www.svdelos.com
m/v Oso Blanco: www.osoblanco.info
s/v Syzygy: www.syzygysailing.com
s/v Renova: svrenova.blogspot.com

Already on the roll (look on the right menu of our blog) but also headed for the Marquesas are our friends on Kamaya and Capaz.

We haven't met these folks yet, but they're on the same journey, and have lovely photos and reflections:

s/v Bint al Khamseen: www.svbintalkhamseen.org

The biggest drama among the fleet to date has been on the sailboat Windchild, who also departed from Banderas Bay but a couple of weeks ahead of us (they made landfall safely in Hiva Oa yesterday). When I posted about our SSB the other day, I'm pretty sure it included mention of the Pacific Seafarer's net as a really, really important safety net for vessels at sea. They were the key communications link for garnering assistance Windchild when a crew on their boat was recently injured. He's fine now, but addressing his head injuries involved having medical personnel *parachute from air transport* to the boat, evacuate him to a ship, and then airlift him to a hospital in California. They were at a latitude approximately west of central America at the time of the rescue. The Pacific Seafarer's net was an essential link throughout.

Details about the rescue are available on the Windchild blog: www.sailblogs.com/members/rpo

I know there are more... especially thinking of new friends who have made this crossing before... complete blogroll update to follow in... right. Whenver we have proper internet access, so, who knows!!

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Day 11: passing the halfway mark

24 hour run: 121 miles...not one of our better days.

This zone around the equator may be dogging us with light winds, but it's nearly making up for it with spectacular skies. In the afternoon, we tracked squalls on the radar and watched rain fall under blue skies. In the evening, Ty, Jamie and the kids are in the cockpit for some post-sunset skygazing. Mercury showed up first, staring unblinkingly back from above the sunset. Clouds are condensing literally in front of our eyes: I wish I had a stop-image series to help pick up the changes too slow for my eyes to register.

Despite the slow day it's an exciting day on Totem, as we crossed the halfway point to Hiva Oa. As I type, we're MORE than halfway there. Our trip log puts us at 1543 miles so far on the passage- leaving about 1400 to go. Wooooo hoo!

Our fresh produce is holding up well. We've lost a few oranges, and we're down to our last head of lettuce. The carefully packed box of tomatoes is proving worth the effort. With help from the children, each tomato was individually wrapped and placed in a crate: the hard/greenish ones at the bottom, pinker and red brethren at the top. Having a fresh tomato salad with basil, olive oil, and queso "seco seco" after 11 days at sea is heavenly.

We still have a few carrots, red bell peppers, pineapple, jicama, plantains, mangoes, chayote...and of course onions, potatoes and cabbages. Oh, and limes... limes by the dozen. You can never have too many limes! It is all stored in breathable crates in different parts of the boat, organized based on storage needs and veggie compatibility. Two crates (onions and cabbages) fit under the bench seat in the main cabin. The forward head hosts two more crates jicama, tomatoes and potatoes. The final two crates are in a storage locker in the girls cabin, one full of oranges and the other with the balance of the produce.

I am very fond of a particular tienda in La Cruz, nicknamed the "green grocer" for the exterior paint and the produce inside. Two evenings a week, Consuelo has truck deliveries to her warehouse around the block from the storefront- one of those deliveries was the on eve of our departure. This is exactly how you want to purchase before a passage: the vegetables close to the producer, not refrigerated or over-handled, and many still under ripe.

After a final feast at our favorite street taco joint with the crew of Ceilydh, we went around the corner to shop our hearts out. Jamie was so tired from working nonstop on the boat that he literally could barely stand. Diane, Evan and I shooed him home, then shopped like vegetarians on a bender before humping the bags and crate stacks homeward. We made it as far as the marina gate guard, who took pity on us and our heavy load and fetched his truck to wind us down the drive to the head of marina near the entrance to the dock.

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Posted via radio: we have no internet access

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April 11, 2010

Day 10: getting into the ITCZ

24 hour run: 136 miles
Distance covered since departing Mexico: 1406
Distance to travel to Hiva Oa: about 1540

With high temperatures and 100% humidity, we hardly needed last night's squalls to remind us that we're getting near the equator. The periodic rainfall was a welcome fresh-water rinse for our decks, and break to the humidity. At dawn, the sun came out for the first time in days. We all felt energized by the blue skies after many days of gray!

The evening sky was utterly spectacular. I cannot do it justice. Try to imagine layer after layer of cottonball cumulus clouds, stretching scores of rows deep as far as the eye can see. The most distant layers turn nearly peach; shades of silver and white color the closer puffs. Is the earth flatter at the equator? No, that's ridiculous, but the horizon seemed to stretch farther in every direction than any I've seen before...the clouds almost seemed like they were reflected back through a carnival funhouse mirror.

My parents sent gifts with Ty, to be opened on our 10th day. It was great timing for a diversion as the kids were somewhat antsy this morning. One of their packages included Girl Scout Cookies- YUM! Samoas, my favorite, and Thin Mints. I didn't realize how much I'd missed them! In the afternoon, Ty helped them all to make Turk's Head knots for bracelets to put on their wrists or ankles.

Here's the latest on Totem v. Lice. Having the sun come out today also meant we could tackle some laundry, and use the solar oven to "cook" some of the little buggers. The children's stuffed animals were rotated through the oven and given an hour long roasting at around 175 degrees. Bedding must be isolated, since it doesn't fit in the oven. Niall's buzz cut has made getting him cleared up a snap, although I still can't believe that gorgeous hair is gone! All three children have had head treatments and we seem to be winning the battle. Thanks to everyone who emailed us ideas combating them, and alternatives to the usual OTC medication: my parents, Carla, Diana, and especially Tim & Charlotte for pointing out that this was an excellent use for the solar oven. I wonder what the good folks at the Solar Oven Society would think?!

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Day 9- troubleshooting the radio

24 hour run: 150 nautical miles
Distance traveled since departing Mexico: 1268
Distance to go to Hiva Oa: about 1700

We're still having some trouble with our radio. The single-sideband is a key safety tool and our essential communications link. We use it to get our weather updates, handle simple email, check in with daily radio "nets"...even update this blog. When it doesn't work properly, the impact is mostly inconvenience but can carry over into our safety on board. We would really like to be pulling down weather files routinely and staying in tune with the activity in the ITCZ (Inter-Tropic Convergence Zone, the band of unsettled weather around the equator).

It was a real low point for me when I couldn't check us into the Pacific Seafarer's Net earlier this week. This net is hands down the best run net for boats crossing. I've said it before, but if things ever go wrong- THESE are the guys you want watching your back! It is run by land-based ham stations, has relays literally across the Pacific. If we couldn't make ourselves heard to one of them, then there were clearly issues. Thank goodness we only missed the net for one night. They post check-ins from their roll call daily, if anyone is curious, look up http://www.pacsea.org.

We're still trying to understand the problem, but are pretty sure it's a combination of factors:
1. the unit overheating (fix: added a fan to ventilate install area)
2. voltage sensitivity (fix: watch our battery levels)
3. poor propagation (atmospheric, out of our control)

We're generally able to hear well, it's the power of our transmission that is affected. In radio setup, the counterpoise is essential to get your signal out. Ours had been terrific, especially after some additions Jamie made last summer (tying our metal toe rail into the ground plane). We've assumed this isn't an issue, but Jamie did make one change in the weeks before we left La Cruz which could be having an impact. We'll try that next.

The good news is that for now, at least, with attention to the ventilation and power levels we've improved our transmission and are able to accomplish the basics of what we need with the radio. It could still stand improvement, and we don't like having to baby it, so we'll keep working on it. Anyone who has emailed us and wonder why we're slow to reply, now you know!

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Posted via radio: we have no internet access

April 10, 2010

Day 8: water, water, everywhere

24 hour run: 143 nautical miles
Distance traveled since departing Mexico: 1118
Distance to go to Hiva Oa: about 1832

One thousand miles from anywhere, and surrounded by water. The color is spectacular and defies description. It's a deep sapphire, but manages to feel pale and bright at the same time. It reflects the incredible depth, over 15,000 feet where we are now, but is light and clear enough to show each spot on the sides of the dolphins that play in our bow wake.

Even in the more overcast days we've had lately, although the expanse around us may mirror the sky, a look at the swirls around and behind Totem never seem to change from crystal azure to flat gray.

At some point during the passage we hope to go for a swim. To date we've had too much wind and weather to even consider jumping off the transom, but the doldrums are coming.

There's an unofficial 10-minute limit for swimming in the open ocean. Jamie and I, having seen Jaws at an impressionable age, will probably be happy to stick with that informal rule! Our friend Scott, on s/v Whisper, made this passage with his family last year. He jumped over the side for a swim and a quick once-over on the boat's bottom while they were becalmed. Mindful of the 10-minute rule, he might have been a little jumpy- and practically leapt back into the cockpit when a remora went by. It's debatable who was more startled, man or fish!

Water is a precious resource on board. Last night, while using our reverse-osmosis gizmo to make water and fill our tanks, we inadvertently filled them with seawater. It was filtered and "clean" but not potable. Discovering we had contaminated both tanks this morning was very sobering. We do have emergency water on board, but we have a long way to travel as well. The tanks were drained, the watermaker successfully restarted, and we're at least 25 gallons down on our way to full tanks again.

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April 8, 2010

Day 7: Oh no! Oh yes...

24 hour run: 147 nautical miles
Total distance traveled since Mexico: 975
Distance to go to Hiva Oa: about 1975

Good news and bad news: let's start with the good.

On the happy front, as of this afternoon we have covered 1/3 of the distance to Hiva Oa. It's very exciting to think we've come so far already! Time honestly seems to be flying. Niall and I were talking about it in the cockpit and agreed that it has been a wonderful passage so far. None of his fears of the unknown, of some uncomfortable interminable slog, have come to pass.

In the not-so-good news, we discovered the children have lice. Not just one of them, but all three. We knew they had been playing with kids who had lice in La Cruz, but we thought we'd gotten away unscathed... apparently not!

Although we have medical kits to handle everything from the common cold to minor surgery, there is nothing on board specifically for delousing...it's sad but funny because really, how else can you react to the situation but laugh? Anyway, it's our first time dealing with these vermin and I'm not finding my resource on board to be terribly helpful, as they reference getting a medicinal shampoo designed for the purpose from a physician or pharmacist. Right then, I'll just pop around the corner for a bottle... <insert maniacal laugh>

I spent about 5 hours picking nits today. I am not amused and can think of many other preferential activities, but did have some lovely conversations with the children. We made our discovery too late to wash sheets and pillowcases today but will tackle that in the morning. For now, Niall is getting a VERY short haircut, but we can't do that to the girls.

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Day 6: getting bounced around

24 hour run: 146 nautical miles
Total distance traveled since Mexico: 828
Distance to go to Hiva Oa: about 2120

Brief note for the day: running downwind in the dark, in a seaway, can be bouncy and is generally incompatible with typing a blog post on the laptop.

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April 6, 2010

Day 5: light air is heavy on gear

24 hour run: 156 nautical miles
Total distance traveled since Mexico: 682
Distance to go to Hiva Oa: about 2270
Conditions: light wind, but we're moving

Last night was a little lumpy. We had the light wind combined with swells coming from more than one direction. Because the swells weren't consistent, and the breeze was too light to give us good steerage for working swells, the boat was jostled around quite a bit. It's a good thing we're much better stowed than when Totem left La Cruz, or things could have gotten messy. We chose to start the engine again for a few hours so we could power through the slop, redicomg the banging around while conditions were particularly uncomfortable.

Five year old Siobhan, who we usually call The Iron Stomach, was too uncomfortable the forepeak berth she shares with Mairen (I would be too, in all that movement!) and came to snuggle up with me in the aft cabin. The guys were comfortably tucked behind lee cloths in their berths closer to the middle of the boat. I managed to have the best night of sleep yet in the aft cabin.

Conditions like this can be tough on gear, even though it's not actually very windy. The rolling motion snaps our sails and shockloads gear as we go from one side to the other. We ended up with a broken snatch block, although conditions should have been well below what it can handle (Harken will hear from us). The block, used for a barbor (not sure that's spelled right?) haul on the genoa to give it a better sheeting angle, was bent beyond further use. We don't have a perfect match as a spare although there is a block we can substitute...it's going to be hard to replace this for quite some time.

In the morning, everything looked much better. The seas progressively flattened and adjusted to a consistent direction. The breeze picked up nicely to 20-22 knots of wind, allowing us to move comfortably along at 8 knots of more for much of the day. We had brilliant blue skies, visits from a few curious boobies, and continue to be amazed by the striking clear deep blue of the ocean out here.

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Four days down, how many to go?

24 hour run: 120 nautical miles
Distance to go: about 2400
Conditions: light wind, but we're moving

We've had really lovely conditions so far; light, but lovely. There's been enough wind to keep sailing most of the time, although the engine came on in the wee hours and ran into the morning today. We're keeping the RPMs down so we can make progress with efficient use of fuel. Our incentive is to arrive in the Marquesas with enough diesel that we are spared from refueling. It will be very expensive there- pushing $6/gallon.

Totem is, of course, a *sail*boat but we do want to make more forward progress than the breezes sometimes allow so we can get into the stronger, more consistent trade winds. Getting there can be challenging to the patience. At this point it doesn't look like those trades will start until around 120 W, which is still about 350 miles from where we are now and a total of 900 miles from our departure point in Mexico. As much as we are loathe to turn the key on the engine, it could take a very long time without the added push! For perspective, our average speed the last couple of days is the equivalent of about five and a half miles per hour.

The weather does change of course and we keep an eye on the location of the trades, the convergence zone at the equator, and other systems that may affect us. Forecast information is pulled from a variety of sources. Our primary references are the grib files we can download through our single sideband radio. We share information on radio nets, and learn about conditions ahead of us from other boats in the fleet reporting their localized weather. Keeping track of the weather is extremely important, but we try not to slip into over-obsessing about it as well. It would be easy to spend hours looking at predictions and come out no farther ahead!

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April 4, 2010

Day 3- finding our rhythm

24 hour run: 128 nautical miles
Distance to go: almost ready to be out of denial
Conditions: ghosting along at 4-5 knots

It's happening. With three full days behind us, we're finally hitting a comfortable rhythm. Jamie and I have gotten over the physical and emotional lows we started with on Thursday. The food and random gear that was strewn about last week is mostly put away. The kids are over their early malaise and happily occupied by various games, books and imaginary play.

We're actually feeling pretty rested. One of my big concerns about the passage was sleep deprivation- it can tip the mindset from marginal to miserable. There's no question that the 3-person watch rotation makes a huge difference: we're able to keep up with sleep, enjoy our days, have meals together instead of solo.

Starting our fourth day out, we're crossing into new territory as a family-this is longer than we've all been out together before. Looking over at the children playing across the main cabin, it is a great relief to put my prior fear of the unknown aside. They're doing better than I ever expected!

Our appetites are all 100% now. We are still trying to eat our way through the gorgeous yellowfin from Escapade. The six of us have made four meals from it already and there's enough left for at least two or three more! Meanwhile, keeping our lines out of the water isn't helping us win the fishing derby. We have an informal derby going with other boats we know- the boat with the smallest fish will be hosting dinner for everyone in the Marquesas. Reports of 5' marlin (Oso Blanco) and 200 lb tuna (Io) are rolling in.

Maybe if we don't catch anything, we can't lose?

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April 3, 2010

Rendezvous in the big blue

24 hour run: 141 nautical miles
Distance to go: lots. still not thinking about it.
Conditions: broad reaching in 12 knots

We're legging out our distance from land and are feeling very in touch with the vast expanse that is the Pacific. With nothing but water as far as we can see, it sometimes feels like we're just a waterbug on the mountainous ripples of ocean swells.

What a pleasant surprise it was, then, to encounter s/v Escapade on our second day out. They left about 8 hours ahead of us on the morning of April 1st, and we ended up in visual range at midday on the 2nd- given the square miles we are traversing, it is nothing short of remarkable that this occurred. We had fun catching up over the radio, then signed off to continue our near-pass. Not long after, Escapade hailed us again- they'd caught a 30 lb yellowfin tuna. The big fish was more than Jim and Brendan could eat and store, so they asked- did we want any? Heck yes!

A boat-to-boat transfer was arranged. They slowed farther, we powered up and went toward them, then we stood off and watched as the swells played with our bobbing vessels and wondered how to safely get close enough. The solution in the end was to practice the long toss with goods in a ziploc bag. Slabs of tuna came flying into our cockpit, and we sent a bag with slices of pound cake skittering across their dodger.

What a feast we had! Lunch was delicious sashimi- it really doesn't get much fresher than that. The children requested ramen noodles, with slices of tuna quickly "cooked" when placed on top of a steaming bowl. We had tuna steaks for dinner tonight- sesame seed crusted, and seared for about a minute. It melts in your mouth and is a little bit of pure heaven. Siobhan calls it "sushimi", we call it delicious.

It's unlikely we'll see another boat from the fleet until we arrive. Our friends on Capaz are not far away- we followed their masthead light last night- but VHF radio and visual range are quickly lost. The daily radio nets become even more important, as a time to catch up with friends and report in to the fleet.

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April 2, 2010

Getting away

First 24 hour distance traveled: 140 nautical miles
Distance to go: 2800+ miles
Conditions: close reaching in mostly 12-15 knots, comfortable 8' swells

Getting away can be the hardest part. It's the reason so many people dream of cruising, but never do it. It's just so easy to have a list of things that must be done, which never actually gets shorter. Perhaps then it's not terribly surprising that when we left yesterday, we weren't entirely ready. Our cabin was dramatically improved from the picture posted on Monday, but there were still more things loose than ought to be for a boat going to sea.

I probably shouldn't admit that. It's not terribly salty, and yes, and we should always be prepared. But within a couple of hours of the arrival of our crew, Ty, in the late afternoon on Thursday we untied the docklines. With good friends on hand to send us off, from Ceilydh, Third Day, Exit Strategy, Boomer, and even Natasha from Puppy came down the dock to wave goodbye until we meet again in the Marquesas.

But it was important to us to begin this next phase of our cruising journey, and we were definitely ready enough. Decks are cleared and gear stowed. Mainsail reinforced, rig checked, boat bottom scrubbed... at least 1,000 lbs of food added to every available space on board. Just a few minutes after our friends on Capaz untied their lines, we followed suit and at 6:15pm local time headed out towards the Pacific.

I got a little teary at the dock. Setting off on this significant crossing is a little overwhelming. It's also hard to have to say goodbye over and over to people we meet, and this time it was especially tough. We have had incredible support from Ceilydh this last month. as Jamie and I crunched through things to get done for the PPJ fleet and for our own boat, they helped with everything from keeping an eye on the children (they have seen more of the girls than I have lately) to loaning equipment (Jamie covets their sewing machine) to bringing that oh-so-timely, icy Bombay Sapphire and tonic (we chalked up some great memories). As we were a mile away from the marina, Siobhan broke down in tears over how much she misses Maia from Ceilydh already. My passionate baby, who wears her heart on her sleeve!

We had great conditions, and a beautiful departure. As we sailed past Punta de Mita, friends in the anchorage called on the VHF to wish us well- they could see the parade of running lights at dusk as Totem, Capaz, and our fellow travelers Oso Blanco and Mystery Ship all pointed their way past the Marietta islands toward the ocean.

Today has been about stowing and getting into a rhythm. Jamie and I are a little spent, physically and emotionally, but rapidly catching up on sleep and energy. We're headed for the Marquesas- we're getting back to sea.

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April 1, 2010

We're leaving today- Marquesas or bust!

Things have been a little crazy around the boat, as the dearth of blog posting surely shows. Imagine stocking your boat with nonperishables for ~6 months? Then as many perishables as you think you can consume before they go bad? Then the punchlist of making sure every system is cross checked, thoroughly going over our rig, finalizing our boat insurance, watching the weather when we can grab some time (Jamie has been up at 4am daily), and trying to still the butterflies.

provisioning chaos


Ty lands today. We're casting off in the early evening, once the daily thermal sea breeze calms down ... we hope to have the gentler evening land breezes ease us off the coast and on our way. Updates from here on out will be via radio. There won't be any pictures for a while, so we leave you with a somewhat perturbed-looking five year old wondering where she gets to play among the havoc in the main cabin.