The bearing from Bahia, Ecuador to Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquises Islands starts out as 255⁰M if you follow the great circle route which is the shortest between two points on the sphere shaped surface of the Earth. So close to the equator, and sailing nearly parallel to it means there is not a huge difference between the great circle and the rhumb line (that is the shortest distance between two points on the two dimensional representation of the Earth on a Mercator projection chart) but every mile saved and not sailed counts. In my mind I have already dismissed stopping at the Galapagos, so I tried to make the 255⁰ or as close as possible. The SSW winds meant it was a tight close-reach again, a rough ride when I finally got out from behind the shelter of the land, and sailed into the full force of the breeze. When the effect of the ebbing tide faded away, the current took over, and started to push me north, off of my intended heading. It was a real battle between the elements and me, but I knew I must hold my place and sail against wind and water; every mile I can make south now, will count double later on when I am in the proximity of the Galapagos Islands and its infamous light winds. With lot of hard work and fierce fight, I sailed out of the inter-tropical convergence zone, a weather belt around the equator between the south and the north east trade winds, and sailed into the light SE trade winds just south of the equator.
When I arrived to Bahia, three weeks before, I changed the main and the fore sails to the older, spare ones, thinking to save the better ones from wear and tear and use up the old ones on this very long leg, however, I had to realize now, that my spare main sail is absolutely useless. Its leech is flapping widely, shaking the whole rigging (it does not have battens, as the pockets are very narrow, and I failed to find suitably sized ones) it is worn and it has no draw at all. I had to change back to the old-newer Hyde sail. It, with its pal, the jib, are a remarkable pair of masterpiece, some fifteen years old or more and still keep going strong. I kept the old jib on, despite the significant difference in performance between the two jibs (even though they look very similar).
It was hard sailing into the light wind, making only 50-60-70 miles in 24 hour periods, in the dull and grey landscape as the sun and the stars were hiding behind the clouds most of the time. Hundreds miles offshore, and I was surprised to still see fishing nets and small fishing boats around. I was even more surprised that they left fish in the sea, and I caught at first two tunas, then a couple of mahi-mahis. I ate fish with fish, and the remainder was salted and sundried for later use. I got into the habit to filet the fish, and not to throw away the bones, head and fins, but make a good thick soup stock out of them. Later, with the filets added, spiced and flavoured a very nutritious dish was created, and no part of the fish was wasted. Apparently, the Inuit Indians obtained the vital vitamins and minerals by eating not vegetables and fruit, but every single part of the caught fish, eyes, skin, and all the lot.
I was still trying to make as much southing as I could, but soon I found myself in the position where I had to decide if I pass Galapagos on the south or on the north. The northerly route means easy short term solution, longer but more comfortable passage. The southerly route means hard work in the next few days, but with a bit of luck, keeping close to the wind to sail a hundred mile south of the islands gain back the time and effort later. I went for the second option, even though it felt dubious, but the wind gradually changed from SW to S and it enabled me to head 260⁰ – 250⁰ COG instead of the initial 310 – 280⁰.
The wind was in general very light compared to the size of the swell and the waves. It looks like there is always wind somewhere and the generated waves reach us, but the wind dies before it arrives. The mornings are the worse. At sunrise, the wind can die nearly to nil, and there is nothing more annoying than listen the sails flapping and banging with the rhythm of the boat rolling in the swell. I’ll get nowhere like this! The current is getting stronger though, it looks like I’ve arrived into the stream of the west flowing Equatorial current and it maintenances my progress.
On the fifth day, I decided to try the cruising chute to scare away the light winds. I had to bear away a little bit, but it might be worth it. With the boat jumping forward in a puff and with the help of the current, we overtake the wind and the sail collapsing and start to flap. It goes on for awhile, and very tiring, so I am glad when the wind shift back to the west side of south, I drop the spinnaker, harden up the white sails and continue on close reaching.
My plan of the southerly route seems to be working, but I can’t let my guard down just yet. I am still sailing close to wind and have to adjust the sails a lot. Sometimes I put in a reef or two in the main, not to decrease the area, but to flatten the sail to stop it flapping. Jib is poled out or pulled in, the wind-vane tweaked, traffic checked. There are not many boats around, thank god; I can get a good sleep at night. I even turn off the chart plotter for the night it isn’t that important, and turn on the depth sounder instead, allegedly, it keeps the whales alerted and away from the boat. They can sense the pulses the transducer emits and they do not like it. Better than bumping into each other on a dark night.
Soon, the daily routine establishes itself. It temporary disturbed by the changing of the time zone announced by the plotter’s clock, that synchronised with the satellites’ atomic timepiece. Not a huge change, it goes back by one hour at every 15⁰ meridian or about 900Nm on the equator (15⁰ x 24h = 360⁰, one day) The nights are still very long and very dark, nearly 12 hours total darkness; I am lucky at the moment if I can get a glimpse of a star or the moon for a short time. I don’t like to use the cabin lights for reading or staying up late doing anything for a couple of reasons. The battery is not an infinite resource of power and I might need it later, and I might have to go out into the dark in case of an emergency and I would be blinded by the bright light. Lucky, I like to sleep. The same goes for music or loud sounds. My primary sensors are my ears; with hearing what the boat and the surroundings doing I am more ready to react quickly.
The day starts with getting up with or before the sun. A good breakfast and a cup of good coffee are essentials. There might be a fish caught last night and it is waiting to be sorted out, or there is just a general cleaning and dishwashing to be done. I check the course and the sail settings and adjust if necessary. I start a new day in the log book and might jot down something about the night, or some notes to be remember. Sometimes I have ideas how to make or repair something that come at night and I write it down not to forget it. This time the wind can be so light I am afraid to move around too much, it disturbs the balance of the boat and affect our progress. It is a good excuse to go back to the bunk and read another book. I like reading, and now is the time for it. It is quite a binge reading, but I make sure not start a new book on the same day I finish the old one. It has to settle down, find its way to the labyrinth of the memories. As nearly all my paper books got soaked on the way to Bahia, and I had to dry them out by putting them out to the sun and wipe the mould off them, I had decided I would read them as fast as I can and give them away. E-readers are very useful; you can store hundreds of books on them, but when you read them they don’t have their own character. You can only see the new words and the symbols in the same case. When you handle a hard copy book, you make acquaintance with the individual item, the quality of the paper, the size of the font, the cover and the special scent of it. Sometimes it is worth refreshing last century experiences. I also find it hard not to open my last, special bottle of red wine, kept for the celebration of successful landing, as each and every book (contemporary and 19th century) seem to be full of drinking. Drinking of good wine, strong rum, grog and beer, casually, for aperitif or digestive, or simply to get drunk. I resist.
Midday comes, and it is finally lunch time. Not before I scribe down the “noon sight” data, position, SOG, COG etc, and put my position on the paper chart. The Pacific Ocean is huge, the chart is small and small scale. The dot I am making with the tip of the pencil is as big as the island I am heading to. Nonetheless, step by step a curved line is developing showing the path of our journey.
With no fridge on board, nearly every dish has to be made fresh. It is not an easy task, as the cooker is not on gimbals and the boat is rolling. The menu is fish. I start to pray now when I throw the lure in to trawl, not to catch any fish, please, I want to eat something else, but just before I run out of the salted, dried bites, another one is landed successfully. I imagine I will resemble a fish in appearance at the end of the sail, if I keep eating so much. It is a fair game for the fish though, I hooked many and lot managed to get away one way or another, for instance by doing a spectacular twisted summersault and thus get rid of the hook.
The afternoon goes fast with the belly full. The weather is surprisingly cold and the water temperature is low. Not much after the sun is over the zenith the air is cooling down and a jumper is needed. It might be because the deck is now shadowed by the sails. At around six or seven o’clock the day is nearly over, darkness soon takes over again. Time slowly losing its significance, and so are dates. One can go back, in mind at least, to the ages before clocks and calendars, when the time was not divided up to arbitrary hours and weeks and our ancestors followed its natural pace.
On day eight, a Saturday, I finally declared the Galapagos Islands cleared and bore away slightly to get the wind more on the beam and start to make a bit of speed. So far I sailed about 530 Nml in a huge curve projecting northwards and from now on it should be more of a straight line. Also, I reached the first magic milestone, and now there is only 2999 Nml in front of me. That calls for a celebration and the inevitable fish-soup and fried fish is accompanied with a few small glass of red wine.
The next day was Sunday; I had a big wash of myself in the cold sea water, from the bucket. It was refreshing. I felt I deserved a good healthy breakfast of French toast from the bread I still had. If I was there, I turned over the eggs in the box, it makes them keep better and longer. The light winds still persevere; I hoisted the cruising chute just before 1000 hours, and kept it up until the first sign of a bit of stronger gusts in the afternoon. I dropped it, albeit too soon. The gusts only lasted for a short period of time and I was quickly back to the struggles with the insufficient sail area.
I was in danger of running out of fish in the next couple of days, so one afternoon, on the first sunny, warm and really nice day I tried a new lure. I thrown it into the sea and was still standing there watching the line getting taut and adjusting its length, when I felt a big jerk on it and realized there was a fish at the end of it. That was quick, I thought, and started the fight which lasted for awhile as it was a big fish. Unfortunately, it was a smart fish, and just before I could lift it in, he has gone free. Never mind, there is plenty fish in the sea! There is plenty fish, and plenty other sea life in the sea too. This ocean is truly more alive than the Atlantic. Any time I look outside there is life form in the sea, even hundreds of miles offshore. Dolphins, fish, funny and unusually looking jelly fish, a cloud of what looks like fish eggs or planktons, or if nothing else some birds are always circulating around Comino. One night I woke up to a strange noise. It was a fishing boat way far away, but up wind of me, so I heard it a great distance. That was a bit too much life for me on my ocean! It felt like an intrusion of my privacy.
I was still fighting my battle with the light winds, now turning more and more to south and occasionally even SSE, when on the 11th day the last noisy fishing boat passed by us. It was a small enough boat with two big extra diesel tanks on the deck, towing three open boats behind it. Hundreds of miles from the Galapagos Islands and more than a thousand miles from the continent, I wondered what they would do if the engine broke down…
With them gone, I didn’t see people again for a long, long time. That night I was kept busy, at first checking regularly if our paths would be crossing again or not, then with sail adjustment and various noises that kept me awake, their sources to be found. In the morning I cooked a big bowl of rice in milk with sugar, a treat of mine. It was a promising morning with sunshine, wind and warming air. I could feel the weather improve as we leave behind the cooling effect of the Humboldt Current and it gives me a bit of extra energy.
As the weather improves, at least the temperature, I spend more time outside in the cockpit and less hiding in the cabin. I am not a person to sit down to watch the landscape and stick to it for hours; I can get bored with it fairly quickly. However, the waves following and overtaking Comino can mesmerise me easily. They are big, not like the Atlantic waves were, tall and sharp, but their mass and volume is stupendous. They do look like small hills and as they roll underneath the boat and lift it up extending the horizon significantly, is something one can watch indefinitely. There are always waves, sometimes they are coming from multiple directions and cross each others’ paths reinforcing or cancelling out each other. If I am lying awake in my bunk the sound of the waves are indeed resemble music, your imagination makes up the beat and rhythm possibly from some (subconsciously) stored melody. Some days, idling and listening the song of the sea, I start thinking of fearsome ideas, like the incredible depth of the water beneath and how little separate me from sinking quickly without a trace, and all the things would be down there waiting. Strange creatures, enormous pressure, rocky seabed, ancient wrecks. What can be down there 4000 metre deep, we will possibly never know, it is just such a vast area?
On the 13th day the wind completely died by the morning after a squally period and left a lumpy uncomfortable sea state. I turned on the engine to try how it works, but I still have problems with it, so after half an hour it was shot down. At least the batteries are fully recharged. In the afternoon I took of the fuel pump, various hoses and fuel lines, checked again every bits I could, and everything seem to be working. The wind is back, so I do not need it at the moment. Until I try again, I have hope that I might have just done something to it and it will function better. 2540 nautical miles to go to Atuona, Hiva Oa, and I am ¼ way between Ecuador and the Marquises Islands. Coincidently, I am ¼ way around the world as well. I have passed the W 96⁰ longitude and I left from Dublin which is at about on the 6⁰ meridian. That is 90⁰ done out of the 360⁰.
The days are slowly crawling forward; every day there is something extra worth to jot down into the log book. Now, I passed another time-zone, then I was able to hoist the spinnaker for an hour, or I am at the 1/3 mile stone. The light winds are frequented with big squalls and it makes a hard sailing sometimes. Also, there is rain, or at least drizzle with the squalls which doesn’t make life easier at all. As the wind speed goes up and down rhapsodically and the waves are not in synchrony there is lot of work to find the proper sail configuration that suits the conditions. Main sail up and down, reefs in and out, spinnaker, staysail and jib tried and tested. The bearing and the angle of the wind I should take is not perfectly suitable either I can’t use the running sails it would take me to much north, but can’t use the main sail most of the time as it is blanketing the jib, and then it is just flapping useless. A huge and long squall woke me up in the 18th day early morning and I had to run to pull down the main sail. It was already in the third reef, but it was still too much for it.
On the 4th of August, 1756 miles from Bahia and Atuona as well, I am half way across the East Pacific. This is Day21, but I hope to make the second half of the voyage faster than the first, and I give 18 days to myself to arrive. After the very light winds at the beginnings and the squally unsettled weather in the last while, I seem to have arrived the steadier and stronger SE trade wind zone. The sun is shining!