Crew on-board!

A few weeks back, on my walk between Tahauku Bay and Atuona, my path crossed with a girl, and we said the compulsory ‘Bon jour!’ to each other. We took a few steps to the opposite direction before she called after me. ‘Excuse me. Are you from a boat?’ She was looking for a lift from Hiva Oa island to Fatu Hiva, hitch-hiking a boat, a common way of travelling here, especially for backpackers and tourists. We talked and I explained her that although I am actually leaving soon for Fatu Hiva, if I were her, I would think twice before I take a passanger place on my tiny, little boat. Ana, a world traveller, who hitch-hiked from Croatia to Bora Bora between 2012-’16 and now is here to write a book about it, said she will think about it.
I was still undecided what I want to do. I had two options, either slow down and spend the coming cycle season at the Marquises (until March, a good six months) or speed up and try to get as far west as possible before December when you should be out of the water unless you like gambling with the elements. The Marquises is generally safe all year around, while south and west of here is a cyclone zone between the end of November till March-April. I let myself to go with the flow and see what happens, but I was sitting in one place for a month now, and was itching to go somewhere.
Ana thought about it twice or three times and decided considering all the circumstances that she accepts my tentative offer for a ‘ride’ to Fatu Hiva including a stop in Tahuata the island just off Hiva Oa. We set the date of departure, then we put it off, then we had to extend our stay, then something happend, but eventually on the 4th October she brought her big and heavy back pack to the boat, we picked some poplomus (a huge grapefruit-like fruit) from a nearby abandoned garden and got ready to hoist the anchor. It was stuck again in the garbage and wire mesh at the bottom of the harbour, so I had to dive to free it but we were off in no time anyway. Ana sailed only on catamarans before, so heeling of the boat was a new experience for her, but I eased her worry, no we are not going to capsize just now. The weather was clear, we motorsailed down wind towards the famous Stephen’s Bay on the west side of Tahuata about three hours away.
Every bay and valley is private on these islands and in the hands of a big family. The land is usually too big to be cultivated and only consists of coconut trees, wilderness and maybe a shelter for hunting or copra making. They come to visit the property occasionaly from the village or town where they live permanently. In some bays though, a small family or a few people live and look after the place. You can land on the coast (according by Mark, the propreitor of Make-Make bar in Atuona, the consequences of an unsuccesfull rising by Marquises people in the XIX. centiury was, that the French goverment took ownership of the all the coasts 50 m deep in land, and forbidden any kind of building there) but walk farther and you are on private land. Stephen lives in his own in one of the bays and there are contradictory reports about him, some say he is an antagonist lunitic, some say he is very friendly and worth a visit. We have to see this man.
We were there in no time, Bai Hanamoenoa it’s official name, incidently the best anchorage near and far. With white sandy beach, green surroundings, and none of the high mountains around to generate the crazy catabolic winds, protected from the ever present oceanic swell and waves it is your tipical leaflet material anchorage. Anchor dropped and set in good holding sand, we went ashore quickly swimming and rowing the dinghy. There was only one more boat there, a small, blue french yacht with Damien and Delphina, whom I knew from earlier.
Two men were taking copra in bags to a small speed boat, walking into the sea chest deep, sacks on the shoulder so we sat down and waited soaking up the atmosphere. When the boat left, and the young looking man who stayed behind sat down on the beach to smoke his cigarette we approched him. He was Stephen, a bit reserved and always trying to maintain a misthycal air around him, nonetheless seemingly appreciating human company. He had near perfect English so communication was not a problem, and soon he invited us for a cup of tea. He made the open fire boiled the water and we sat down talking around the table behind the trees that made up the natural fence between the beach and his garden. He complained about the yachties who dont respect the signs that say ‘Private’ and just take everything they want, coconut, chicken, fruit, and have no manners and behave like they own the place. We must have got into the good books as we were invited back for the next day, which we were too glad to accept.
Damien came around to Comino the next day and said he just shoot a parrot fish with a speargun and we should make a bbq. We went ashore, asked and invited Stephen respectfully, and had a nice afternoon all together. Stephen caught two piglets the night before, whose mum kept coming back and destroying his garden. He intended to rise the piglets (tied to a tree by their hind legs as they do here) but they were full of ticks, so we were assigned the job to wash them in the sea. The poor things, they were tiny and scared, but it was the funniest thing to see them swimming around in the water. When they got too cold we took them out, and buried them in the warm sand, only heads sticking out. Well, thats some memory from Tahuata…
Before we left Hiva Oa, I checked the wind forecast and picked Saturday evening as the best time to leave Tahuata for Fatu Hiva. Fatu Hiva is south east from Tahuata, and the general direction of the trade winds is south east so it wasn’t going to be an easy sail. We planned to leave early morning, stop for a couple of hours in Vaitahu village, the next bay, then continue to Fatu Hiva, about 40 miles away. All started out well, we sailed up to the bay where the village is, dropped anchor and landed on the shore. We went for a walk, and were given bananas and mangos and lemons by the locals as a present. They are really wellcoming here and proud of it too. Some countries could take examples of it!
It was time to leave, and that was when we encountered our first problem. The swell increased while we were inland and waves were breaking on the shore. There was no way to launch the dinghy. We sat down on the shore and waited. Comino was safe and happy a hundred yards away, so near and still so far away, and we couldn’t get to her because of this mere couple of meters wide surf. But it was impassable. We waited hours and hours, and tried to figure out the sequence of the big and smaller waves, and when finally it seemed to abate a little (or is it that we just wanted to see it like that?) we made a plan. We semi-launched the dinghy and waited for the big ones and when we thought they were the biggest we pushed the dinghy, we commited ourselves jumped in and paddled like hell to get over the surf. It was a lucky escape, but we were on our way. There was no time to waste, it was getting late in the afternoon. The usual routine of hoisting the anchor followed and we sailed out of Vaitahu Bay. The wind let us down not much time later, as we were still in the shelter of the island and we kept losing steerage way. We tried to hug the coast not get too far west but the wind was shifting back and fro and up and down. We were too close to the rocks darkness started to descend and after an accidental tack when we headed straight to the coast I decided to furl up the jib and start the engine to get out of the situation. The jib didn’t furl it get strangled in the spinnakker halyard and the engine stopped after some minutes of running. It was getting dark. Ana looked at me with panic-striken eyes searching for a sign of reassurance, so I took a deep breath put on my most confident countenance and said ‘It is OK, it is absolutely normal, dont you worry!’.
At last, we were out of the lee of the island and were hit by the wind immediately. It was a beat into the wind, if we are lucky, a fetch to Hanavave Bay. The waves were moderate the wind F3-4, I put in a reef then two and full jib. Under the twilight of the setting sun, we got a half an hour breathing time, before my crew brought my attention to the dark clouds approching from the east. Crew have these annoying habits of asking inconvinient questions. I was just getting comfortable after working hard bringing the boat this far, and might even thought about a glass of rum, when Ana asked if those clouds are not dangerous, are they? There are not dangerous clouds here, I said, we are too close to the equator to have any really bad weather, and anyway I checked the wind forecast before we left. Just to ease her feelings I prepared the third reef in the main so it is easy to put in. Ten minutes later we were hit by the wind under the cloud and I was running to put the third reef in and roll up most of the jib as well. Comino was sailing beautifully close hauled under tiny canvas but it was far from pleasant sailing. The waves were huge, it was raining, water was pouring through the hatch that wasn’t locked properly and we were slow of course making only 1-2 knots. It lasted all night. That much about me picking the right time for a passage. Luckily my crew was completely seasick, so she wasn’t under my feet, I fixed the engine during the night kept watch, and got enough rest for the day coming. Sunrise (I suppose , I couldn’t see it behind the clouds) found me on deck enjoying the battering of the elements, it was good to be out at sea again. The wind was still strong, F5 true, and the salty spray was flying around but the new-to-me island was visible and we were going to sail into our new anchorage soon.

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Farewell to the Marquises Islands

The time has come to say goodbye to the beautiful Marquises Islands and the nice people I have met here, and head for the Tuamotus archipelago. After spending more than seven months between Nuku Hiva, Fatu Híva and the rest waiting out the cyclone season, I might call this paradise on earth my second home. Whatever the landscape with the lush mountains, sandy beaches, coconut trees, streams and boulders, abundance of fruits, curious fish in the clear sea water, would not have been enjoyable if it wasn’t for the warm welcome from the generous local people. Vaiei nui. I will never forget the many friends I made here, all the people I met, travelers, sailors, locals and foreigners. They made every moment unforgettable. Thank you, I will be back.

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In Hiva Oa

One day, we went up to the Semaphore, which is the maritime radio station at Hiva Oa, and also a place for the sailors to get together on Wednesdays, when barbeque is organized  by the volunteers.    Christophe was there, Jeremy, and Daniel playing with the local band. He is a French guitar maker who settled in Atuona, the main town of the island after travelling around the world, and now he builds guitars on order, from locally sourced wood. I just arrived a week ago or so, but was welcomed into the small community of the healthy mix of locals, travellers and sailors, some of them staying short, some putting off and off their departure. I had no definite plan either, and it felt good, there was no pressure on me to be haste.
More people were coming as the night progressed and most of them had interesting stories how they ended up on this beautiful and far away part of the world. ‘I am Brian O’Connor’ introduced himself with perfect English a local fisherman. I nearly spit my beer from laughing; I thought he was pulling my leg. ‘We leave in Hanaiapa, the village on the north side of the island. Nearly everyone is O’Connor there. I have eight brothers and sisters, some of them have red hair and white skin some a mix, we all look different. My great-great-great grandfather was originally from Ireland; he went to New Caledonia then here to Hiva Oa, got married and established quite a dynasty.’ He told me, he studied in Hawaii, hence his good English, and came back living on the island with his Thai girlfriend, who he met at college. I was flabbergasted by the story, only a little bit more in a few weeks later, when reading Moitessier’s book ‘The logical way’ found a reference, that him, arriving to Hiva Oa spent weeks with a family who called themselves O’Connor. The man must have been the grandfather of Brian.

Atuona

Atuona

  Hiva Oa is the largest of the Marquesas Islands and the main island of the southern group that also consist of Tahuata just a stone throw away, Fatu Hiva the most southern, and Motane which is unpopulated. The stunning rugged coastline, the lush vegetation and the high reaching mountains create a picturesque countryside. Since my arrival, when Rob from a boat I met in Colon waved a fresh baguette into my hands before I even dropped the anchor, I am having a good time. It is an amazing experience to meet up with friends after 3500 miles of sailing, ending up in the same little harbour on the huge ocean. I wasn’t even too surprised to see Andrea’s boat at the back of the bay. Easily recognisable, with shark jaws and teeth painted on the bow, they made remarkably good time of 27 days crossing from Panama, while I spent my time in Ecuador. Now it was time to celebrate the reunion before he must leave to be in New Zealand as soon as possible to prepare the boat to spend a winter frozen in the Antarctic ice. His short term goal was though, to beat me in chess at least once, and when it was done and the boat was ready he set sail with his screenshot charts to cross the Tuamotus. I am a bit torn between going and staying. The cyclone season is approaching and this would be the place where one can spend it safe and quiet, protected from the worst of the elements. On the other hand, it will be nearly half a year before I can get underway again if I don’t go now. Well, we will see, it is sunshine and calm water right now.

Chris

Chris

  But the conditions are not always that benign in a Pacific Ocean safe heaven. It is two o’clock in the morning and someone is knocking on the boat while I am in my deepest and sweetest dream. ‘Attila, wake up!’ It is Jeremy. He is my neighbour, only one boat is between us. His de-masted catamaran soon could be a landmark (or I should say a watermark) staying this long in the bay. They arrived to Fatu Hiva at the beginning of the season, young French surfers with big plans to setting up a mobile surf school in the Tuamotu Archipelago, but due to a small, stupid mistake during a rigging maintenance session the mast came down. They motored up to Hiva Oa for repair, the friends left, and now Jeremy is looking after the boat and organizing the refitting. He is running around all day, barefoot, wearing only a surfing short, doing something, going surfing or talking to everyone, generally knowing and wanting to know everything that is worth knowing around the Bay of Tahauku. Now, he is coming around with the news that there was an earth quake in Mexico and we have a tsunami alert and all the boats are leaving the harbour for safe deep water. Strangest thing is, I just talked to Chris about the tsunami alert last year, and how the water was sucked out of this bay and pumped back many times creating a big whirlpool damaging some boats that didn’t bother to leave. That time the gendarmerie came around the boats, and told everyone to leave, but not everyone believed them. Eventually, some people had to be forced off the boats. Incidentally, Chris had no engine, so accepted a tow, but was dumped right outside the jetty leaving him in a dangerous situation. But that is another story…

Tikis

Tikis on the festival square

  The tsunami is only dangerous close to land. If you are sufficiently far away and in deep water, you will not even recognize the wave generated by the earth quake passing through, under the keel. It is also very well forecasted these days, scientists can calculate the possibility and strength of it based on the available data and issue an alert. It seems, every one heard the story of the last one, as all the boats were either motoring out of the harbour already or hastily pulling up the anchor. I thanked Jeremy the warning and tried to wipe the sleepiness out of my eyes. I was hesitating and thinking of staying put. What a miserable idea to pull up both my stern and bow anchor, and spend the night out in the dark motoring or sailing around for hours aimlessly. When I eventually forced myself to do something, the main anchor got stuck in the wire mesh that is laid down some places at the bottom of the bay to stop erosion. I had to dive down in the dark and murky seawater and free it out, working blindly, standing in the mud. Let’s not think of the sharks now! I can’t afford to lose my good plough anchor. At last it gave in and I was ready to go. Back on the deck I looked around. Danny, whose boat was the one between me and Jeremy, was helped by Axel from ‘the Norwegian boat’ as we called it in Panama. He wouldn’t be able to move on his own, but now he was sorted. I engaged the gear box, pulled on my makeshift throttle cable to rev the engine and motored out of the bay.
We were hanging around, just outside the bay, trying not to crash the boats, shouting at each other when we recognised who is beside us, but it was generally a big confusion, no one knew what to do. I tried to anchor at the 25 fathom line, so maybe I can stay and rest there, but a big fishing boat was drifting slowly towards me and Jeremy, with his mast-less big catamaran was also circulating around, so I decided it was not the best idea. How bad the idea was actually, I just realised when I started to retrieve the anchor. The 25 metre, 6mm chain and the 30-40 metre 3/4inch nylon rope felt like they weighted a ton. It took me the best of two hours before the anchor finally was fixed back on its place on the deck. Well, at least the sun was up by now. The yachts and fishing boats slowly dispersed, most of them heading back to the bay. Nothing happened of course, no tsunami wave came, it was a false alarm. I started off towards the Bay of Motopu on the north-east of Tahuata, the next island, less than 10 miles away and motor-sailed across the Canal de Bordelais between Hiva Oa and Tahuata islands. I thought I would look around if I am out at sea already, but the bay looked very unfriendly with the onshore wind and the swell breaking on the shore. I evaluated the situation and did a quick u-turn. It was a tough sail upwind against the current and bashing into the waves, but Comino again worked hard and took me back to Hiva Oa, no trouble.

Local way of transport

Local way of transport

Life resumed, and I went to visit Christophe on his blue boat. There are so many boats, who can remember all their brand and size. At least it was blue and not an AWB (average white boat), a bit more distinctive and easily recognisable. A Beneteau or Jeanau, one of those French ones, he was living on it for twelve years. He sailed to French Polynesia from the Caribbean, to meet with his girlfriend, who was sailing her own boat on a similar route, but she never showed up and hardly replies to his email. He is completely heartbroken, and just wants to sell the boat as fast as possible, as was his original plan, and fly back to France. The trouble is the boat has osmosis all over the hull. It is like a plague here, nearly all the boats develop it when they arrive, despite having nothing like that before for decades. It has to be hauled out at the boat yard, and it means weeks and weeks of sanding, epoxying, painting, antifouling. I persuade him to go for a hike and we spent a day in the mountains climbing up a random peak and having lunch on the top under a mango tree. We descended on the other side and hitched a car back to the boats.
I have my own trouble with the boat, but it is been decided, small boat – small problem. On the way back from Tahuata, I noticed that the starboard side lower shroud, 4mm stainless steel wire rope, broke at the lower fitting. Only 3 years old, it had no reason to do so, but what can one do. I looked around for solution. In general, you should try to avoid big repair in French Polynesia (in fact even small ones) as everything is very expensive and transport cost is high. The old rigging that I replaced in Lanzarote was still around somewhere in the lazarette, now I dug it out and used it to make a jury rig. Combined with some clamps and a couple of shackle it made a good enough impression on me. I went halfway up the mast to check the other lower shroud. Loose strands of wire were hanging out of the fitting. It was totally dead. I replaced that too, using the last of the ‘emergency rigging repair kit’ hoping everything will last for awhile now.

Meanwhile, I am running out of butane gas, used in the galley for cooking, and I have to find a way to refill the bottle. It isn’t always easy considering all the different variation in size and fittings of the cylinders. Here, the French Polynesian bottles are similar to the ones on the French Caribbean islands, but different colour. I heard about boats that managed to exchange their empty ones by merely repainting them to the local grey hue. I have smaller ones though, one from the UK (Calor, 4.5kg) and a Campingaz bottle. I use the Calor most of the time and just have the Campingaz as a backup. Cannot complain, last time I filled up my relatively small cylinder was in Portobello, Panama months ago. Now, Chris kindly offered to fill it up for me for a small charge. Chris is practically a resident on the boatyard. He arrived to Hiva Oa nearly two years ago sailing his Columbia 56 from San Diego. Originally from England, he has some interesting life behind him. After growing up on the English countryside, he learned French going to school in Switzerland. Later on he had his picture framing business and printer tone refilling enterprise; he worked in Australia in mines and in south-east Asia in the tourism industry. He sailed his boat across the Pacific with the help of friends and family, but had osmosis, engine, battery and rigging problems by the time they got to the Marquises. He put the boat on the yard and working on it ever since. He has a local gas bottle, we hung it upside down high up, connected my small one with the screw-on fitting I hacked to let the gas through into the bottle and settled down waiting with a couple of cold beer. The evening routine for Chris is to feed the cats he has, and to play with the chickens. The chickens are eating the cat food from his hand, but they are getting bold and demanding, climbing up the leader and taking over the deck. They are living wild all over the Marquises islands; you can see them in the towns, at the roadside, in the forest literally anywhere you go. There are usually hens and chicks and a cock together like a family. I heard opposing reports about the quality of their meat, some say they are lean and tough as they are near-wild animals, some say the meat is fat and juicy from the coconut and fruits they eat. I have yet to try it. At the moment they are flying around us as we are sitting four metre high in the cockpit of the boat in the cradle and they look very happy. They are useful; they help to keep the cockroach and the poisonous centipede population down.

The Bay of Atuona and Tahauku are like one huge south facing bay divided by a rock, Pointe Feiki with a light on it. The eastern side is Tahauku where the yachts anchor. There is a quay, currently under construction, where the supply ships go alongside. You suppose to anchor your boat behind an imaginary line in the middle of the bay to let the ships manoeuvre. A jetty runs across the harbour mouth, where the local fishing boats are tied up, stern to the jetty bow on a mooring ball, Mediterranean style.  On the left side of the bay, as you enter, there are high rocks all the way to a black, volcanic sandy beach. The beach slowly and gradually drops and has more rocks as it gets deeper. Behind, there is a coconut plantation. A small river flows lazily into the bay, twisting away from your sight as you look inland. A ford lets you cross it even at high water. After heavy rain in the mountains the river can grow immensely and bring trees and all kind of floating debris to the sea. On the right side of the bay is the road to Atuona. It has some traffic. Fishermen from the boats, cargo from the quay, locals and tourists drive back and forth between the sea and the land. Behind the quay, with a high open barn to protect the offloaded goods from the rain, there is a gas station and small grocery shop. The road continues on, passes by the slipway, then splits right to the jetty, left to the boat yard and further on to the Semaphore station, famously the first in the Marquises.

Tahauku Bay is protected enough most of the time from the wind and swell, but in special circumstances, it can get dangerous. The news went around in the middle of September that a once in a five year phenomenon will create waves in our bay big enough to break and to surf on. The south-south-westerly swell combined with strong winds would push the waves through the entrance making it uncomfortable for the boats, to say the least. Everyone was getting ready to leave one way or another. Some boats were put on the hard, some stocked up with provision and left for other islands and better protected harbours. I decided to stay. When the place is crowded, it is recommended to use stern anchor to keep the boats banging into each other as they would swing around differently with no constant wind and the tide swirling around the bay. Now, that nearly all the boats are gone, I just put Comino on a swinging anchor and let her look after herself. I was helping Danny this time on the next boat. He is an elderly sailor from America, living on his catamaran. Sadly, his health is deteriorating and he is finding it hard to conduct the daily chores on a boat, let alone going sailing. Still, he loves living in the climate here, and on the boat and not willing to go anywhere. We prepared his boat the best we could and waited the waves to come. There were stories of previous big waves in the harbour and surfers surfing by the anchored boats bucking on the waves, so we held tight and expected the worst.
It was bad. It was coming slowly, getting worse and worse and then stayed for a long-long time. Comino was just fine in the middle of the harbour; I put the tiller on a bungee cord, and a very slack piece of rope to let her play with waves, and she followed the way of the flow of the water and it was even possible to make a coffee occasionally. I went up to Danny’s boat to check upon him every day. He had the bow anchor and two stern anchors out and they kept the boat into the swell. He had nearly a hundred meter scope in both direction, but the waves were big and sometimes just broke under the boat and this put enormous strain on everything. It was hard even for me to get from the dinghy onboard. Days on struggling we thought it was over, but it started to get worse again. The old catamaran couldn’t take it anymore. Things started to break. A fairlead on the bow, chafe protections on the anchor lines, hatches, everything.
  One night the port stern anchor line got caught under the rudder and damaged the hull where the shaft enters. It started to leak badly. Danny told me in the morning the bilge pump was working overtime and he was worrying. I went to investigate and reported to him. He was nearly crying ‘I suppose this is the end for me. I have to move off the boat’ I told him not to worry, let’s have a beer; we will sleep on it, think about it and see what we can do. The next day he was much happier. We concluded we found the solution. The rudder was removed and the rudder stock was plugged in with a bung. All was good again. I went off to do one of my last shopping, and meet with Ana to discuss the details of our departure.

The elephant in the boat, or let’s talk money!

The monster subject when family, friends and enemies ask about your cruising life. ‘And how much it cost?’ The scale is infinitely long, depending on the thickness of your wallet, expectations, habits, desired level of comfort etc, etc. You heard the rumour of cruisers who left their home port with 100 dollars in their pocket and sailed around the world, and yachts that spend most of the time (and money) in marinas, the crew in elite restaurants. Inevitably, there are unavoidable associated expenses, but with a bit of discipline the cruising budget can be stretched to last longer than expected. To monitor my spending and out of curiosity I documented all my expenses from the start. The initial investment is excluded, where would you start? Should you include the boat value, equipments big or small, provision, bits and pieces? Income, if any was also excluded as it is not strictly relevant to the topic.
There is, admittedly a wind-down period after you had cut the lines. Most of us had worked extra hard to get to this point, and it is hard to hush away the inner voice that says, ah sure you deserve an ice-cream today or a cold beer. Later on, when you got hooked on your new life style, you will think, sure it is worth to restrict myself so I can spend a few more extra days in paradise.
I don’t know how much others spend nominally, as it is usually a touchy subject, but I hope my record will help future cruisers to plan their financials. There are times and places where you just have to spend a bit more, either to save on a long run (like provisioning when shopping is cheaper) or just because there is no other way (Panama Canal). I tried to include prices of individual items to show what and where it is worth to buy, without going into too much details and generating unmanageable data.

Below is the excel sheet of my first 14 months of spending. Enjoy!

Expenses

 

 

 

Crossing the Pacific II.

The wind became strong, but it became a bit too strong for liking. I have the three reefs in the main and rolling the jib in and out. There is something to adjust every five minute, the night was tough with the strong breeze, but at least it was steady and the wind-waves were uniformed and now coming from one direction. During the day it changed and squalls with light winds between them made life hard. I still try to make as much southing as possible taking the wind and the waves on the beam mostly. I survive another night and even catch a big mahi-mahi in the morning within five minutes of dropping the lure into the sea, and manage to have breakfast despite the appalling conditions. It consisted of a good size flying fish, collected on the deck, eggs and coffee. It is raining and really not pleasant at all, I decide to drop the main bear away and run with the wind until it gets better. Life immediately becomes tolerable again, and I have time and energy to attend a problem with the wind vane. It revolts aft around the bolts that hold the bracket together, and losing its desired vertical position. It seems like, when surfing down on a wave, the pendulum rudder experiences enough force to pivot the wind-vane around the fixing points, and I am unable to apply enough torque with any tool to fasten the bolts sufficiently. It is quite uncomfortable to sit on the lazarette hatch hanging over the side, one hand grabbing the push-pit the other two working with the spanners trying not to lose them overboard.  I notice the push-pit needs attention too, some nuts have to be tightened, another couple of lines on the ‘list-to-do-after-arrival’.   At the end, I fix the wind vane with a piece of stick put between the vane column and the deck to keep it in place. Lunch is fried plantain and fish.
The daily runs are reaching the 80-90 miles per twenty four hours and in a few days time I experience better and better conditions. ‘The most beautiful before noon since the Caribbean’ I write in the log book one day with the position coordinates, S 07⁰ 46’ and W 115⁰ 36’. The wind becomes more and more easterly and although light, the sea smoothes somewhat and I keep up my progress. On Day 26, I decide there is only two more weeks to go. Under jib only, helped by the current, the clear sky above and the blue sea beneath us, we are sailing on like in a dream. People in general, if did not try it extensively, imagine sailing like this, sunshine, blue sky and sea, gentle breeze, gin & tonic with ice from a glass on the deck, sitting in a chair. It hardly ever is though, but I don’t want to think about that at this moment and am just trying to enjoy every minute of this dream like existence. One day, when I am 2/3 over the distance, clouds appear just to show, it could be much worse, but then it is quickly over, and the next week is just a sequence of continuous perfect days. The log is nearly empty, but the coordinates. There are few event to write down:
‘Movie night, watched Eddie the Eagle.’
‘Breakfast: porridge & muesli, coffee. Lunch: aperitif (tiny glass of cognac), potato, last ½ onion, tined beetroot and tuna. Snack: ½ portion of chocolate. Dinner: lemonade, left-over potato and dried fish.’
‘Inside the 1000 miles!’
‘I put 20 litres of water into the tank.’
‘Tea afternoon.’
‘Change of time zone, Nr.IV.’
These are the log book entries. I did not even bother to make a note of trivial stories, like when I hove-to to have a swim and make an attempt to scrub the hull to free it from the growth we accumulated the past weeks. I contemplated this for days (in fact for months, even on the Atlantic crossing) but it is quite scary to leave the safety of the ship and jump overboard deliberately despite all the precaution you take. I will never do it if I don’t do it now, now is the chance I kept saying to myself. I was reading the book Shrimpy, from Shane Aston about his circumnavigation (on a 6 metre boat in the ’70-s) and he did the same roughly on the same spot (well, +/- couple o’hundred miles), but he had a crew. He suffered a jelly-fish sting and was unable to move his left side of his body for 24 hours. I went for it. I took a deep breath, did a last check on our speed, it was under 0.5 knots, drifting, and dived. The sea temperature was pleasant; my heart was beating overtime adrenalin level high up, and I surfaced as fast as I could. Comino was already some distance away and it took a few strokes to reach the pull pit and pull myself up back on deck again. Many different feelings like a turmoil whirled in my mind, but I took my tools to scrub the hull and jumped again, this time on the other side. I opened my eyes while I was underwater and the picture I saw will stick with me forever in my life. Visibility was extremely good and the sea calm and crystal clear. Floating 4000 metre high in the most interesting substance in the universe, a few feet above me was my boat, almost seemed to define the law of physics. Underneath me, in the opposite direction, a group of mahi-mahi fish was looking at me, questioning my senility with their eyes and in general unapproving my behaviour. They were following me for awhile hiding in the shadow of Comino, which was their base and where they, one by one went hunting from, chasing the flying fish. They stayed with me all the way until the Marquises. I surfaced again and did a vague attempt to try to clean the hull. In a minute or two I felt a sting on my left shoulder and got a fright. What if it is a jelly-fish, and I will not able to climbed back aboard?  Before it had a chance to spread I retreated to the comfort of cockpit. I am still unsure if it was real or just a trick of the mind, but I had enough excitement for the day, set sail again and continued on westwards.

Hiva Oa

Hiva Oa Island

On Day 34 the wind dropped so much I had to start the engine for an hour to get steerage way. Then it came back strangely from the north, but it was so light I only made 59 nautical miles between two mid-days. I made some flat-bread, it is very simply. Eggs and flour, a bit of salt (I used seawater, I like the taste of it) mix and knead it, use plenty of flour or corn meal to stop it sticking your hand, shape it and bake in a frying pan (if you have no oven, as I). Don’t keep it on the fire too long, after a while it just drying it out. Add various herbs if you wish to taste.
The next day might be a negative record with 50 miles made in 24 hours. I had to climb up the top of the mast to fix a broken spinnaker halyard block. It fell the previous day; I heard a bang and did not know what it was. The spinnaker was up, and I instinctively looked up the top of the mast and immediately saw the problem. The shackle holding the pulley broke but the halyard got caught on the forestay and didn’t fall all the way. Nonetheless, I had to drop the chute, and roll out the jib but I lost speed big time obviously. I expected to be able to hoist the other jib and fly it as twins later on, on a dead run, and I need this halyard for it, so no choice, somebody has to go up. It wasn’t so difficult after all, I free climbed and put a safety harness on at the top (I have full rock climbing gear on board) hoisted up the tools on the halyard in a bucket, while swinging around in a quarter arc of circle, fixed the thing and came down. 15 minutes later the big blue and white cruising chute was flying again.
Well, not for long, the wind dropped again completely and I turned on the engine again. It is mainly to test it and use it; I still had no confidence in it for some reason. Instinct, sixth sense, I don’t know. It stopped the same way as before, after less than two hours and I was back to thinking what could be the problem. I went to sleep on it.
It was coming to the 20th August, St.Stephen’s (funder and first Christian king of Hungary) day and the national day of Hungary. It was a good reason to start a big cleaning operation on the boat. There is only 560 miles to go, the double jibs are up and we are doing nice mileage day after day. I can finally shed that feeling of hopelessness that was hanging around while we hardly made any progress. Despite the beautiful weather, when according to the calculation the estimated date of arrival is sinking back to the unimaginable distance of the future, mode is down. Now, as we entered into the three digit miles-to-make territory, I lost that inherent feeling of being in the middle of the unbounded, enormous something called Pacific Ocean, and sensed inside me that there is a wall somewhere in front of me, that puts, if not an end, a break to it. That will be the island of Hiva Oa.
I had a dream-like (sub)conscious thought about the solution, to fix the engine, while I was lying in the dark, in my bunk, only the moon and the milky-way with the billions of stars looking at us from the infinite distance. As it must be an easy and simple problem, the solution is easy too. The interesting part is how randomly it works or not, and that was the key to the problem. The long fuel line from the tank to the feed pump looks like a sinus wave or a hilly landscape in two dimensions. It goes up and down, and depending on the heeling of the boat and the weight distribution the upper part is either under or above the fuel level in the tank. Furthermore the tank also changing its relative position to even the engine and it either helps or hinders with the fuel supply. Well, I took off the fuel line from the feed pump and started to let out the Diesel into a 5lt jerry can. There was air and diesel, as expected, then only diesel, then after more than two or three litres airless fuel a big gulp, a bubble and from then on clear, fluent flow of fuel. That was the problem that air bubble got stuck somewhere in the middle of the line and resisted to the bleeding process for long time. I instantly gained back my confidence in the engine, I didn’t even have to try to start it, and so far after many hours of faultless engine use again, the feeling seems to be justified. 

Comino after the 42 days crossing

Comino after the 42 days crossing 

  The extremely beautiful days were over, and I had to pay more attention to sailing again. Getting closer to the destination means less and less deviation is tolerable in the heading. So jib down, main up, reef in, spinnaker up, last square of chocolate eaten are the focal points of the days. I am longing to arrive, but at the same time I know I am going to lose the strange intimacy that developed between the three of us: The Ocean, Comino, and Me.
On Day41 midday there is only 51 miles to go. I obviously will not be able to do it during the afternoon, so I aim to arrive in the morning, I can slow down. But it is always much harder to sail in the vicinity of land than out of the open sea. Not just because you are not allowed to sleep practically at all due to danger of running aground, but because of the strange and disturbed flow of the currents and the winds. I set up my alarm clock for 15 minutes intervals for this last night, to wake me up in case I accidentally fall asleep, but in fact I was kept well awake by the sails and the steering. The wind vane lost control over the steering, not enough boat speed, the wind changed direction and strength, the sails needed to be attended. At 0600 hours on the 25th August 2017 I turned on the engine and after a couple of hours of motoring on the 42nd day at 0900 hours I dropped the anchor in three metres of water at Baie Tahauku, Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquises Islands.

Traitor's Bay

The Bay of Traitors 

Crossing the Pacific I.

 

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).

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Fishing boat near the Ecuador coast

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.

DSC_0011

Catch of the day: mahi-mahi

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?

IMG_7402

The Pacific Ocean

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!

The earthquake at Bahia de Caráquez

 

Everything I touched seemed to break down in Ecuador. I put on the coffee in the morning the valve of the burner on the cooker fell apart, I swapped the jib to the spare one, the furling gear got stuck, the engine kept playing havoc, as I am getting used to it now, but when the throttle cable broke one morning when I started it to charge the batteries… well, what can you do, laugh.

After the arrival my main concern was to empty the boat and dry it as much as possible. One of the reasons I was here, because it supposed to be in a dry tropical climate. After the humid and warm conditions in Panama and the wet ride down to Ecuador mildew and mould farms cherished all over the interior of Comino, and it become a dangerous health issue to me. I felt breathing in the smell of the fungus and the ill effects of it, dry flu like symptoms.  While the port, for a hefty, compulsory fee, organised my check-in procedure, and various officials were visiting me to fill their papers with ridiculous information, I surveyed the damage this last tough leg of sailing caused in my assets. Half of my paper books were soaked in water, some of them beyond rescue. Clothes and various items also dripped from the seawater, only God knows how it got there. The deck soon looked like a yard sale; section by section I emptied the shelves and lockers, dried them then wiped them with vinegar while trying to air out the contents as much as possible. The sun rarely showed itself during my stay, it is true, it was that season, however, the air was dry and slowly, I managed to get from the bow to the lazaret.  The seawater, but even the salty air eats itself into everything, especially metals and even more if two dissimilar metals are in touch irreversible corrosion sets in. I routinely have to open and oil every single zip I have on board at every stop, or more frequently if possible, otherwise they seize up and there is no way to open them anymore without permanent  damage. Jeans, even in waterproof bags lost the studs in the pocket corners, starting with a slight discoloration, and rapidly going downhill to complete destruction. Luckily, no real valuables got spoiled, yet. However, I will have to be more careful in the future, if it is possible.

The ungrateful behaviour of the cooker, by giving up working for me, was a great blow in my mood. I didn’t know how and which way I would be able to sort out this problem, if at all, here in the middle of nowhere. I decided I needed a day or two off, and one early morning I got on the bus and bought a ticket to Manta. Manta is one of the biggest cities in Ecuador, and it has a huge commercial port as well. A mere 100 km distance on the road, it took nearly five hours to reach it. Bahia de Caráquez and the area were destroyed by a powerful earthquake just last year, and the roads still under repair. I had to change in Portoviejo, but it was all organized for me without my knowledge. The system here is still that one man is driving; one man cares about the passengers, like in many other South American and Caribbean countries. So my conductor took the money from me for all the way to Manta, then in Portoviejo he put me on the other bus and gave the share of the fair to his colleague. It suited me fine. I bought some funny food from the local vendors who got on the bus at some stops with their goods and sometimes had to stay on until the next one if the driver was too impatient to wait for them to finish. They were selling everything from cocoa water to cakes and candies. They were real homemade curiosum for 50 cents or a dollar. It really seemed like hard work for little profit.

Manta is a real big town with an incredibly sized market. Just the hairdressers’ tiny workshops filled many rows on the market, so I quickly got a badly needed haircut. On the market you can buy everything from tobacco leaves via chilli peppers to smart-phone covers. A few stall was selling the gas cookers that I thought, with a bit of modification would suit me, so I made a mental note of their location in this maze of vendors, and set out to find a bed for the night. There were no tourist and hardly any other gringos around town, and I just happened to wear a bright yellow T-shirt which seems to be Ecuador’s colour, so the local people looked at me curious and usually smiling but at least on an approving manner. No one speaks English though and my Spanish is virtually non-existent and this makes communication rather hard. Still, it depends on situation and personality. Sometimes, a conversation could be held by I am talking in English and listening in Spanish and my partner doing the opposite. I met not one young Venezuelan refugee, working in Manta, who was keen to telling me about the harsh reality in the home country. No money or no food to buy in the politically unstable Venezuela is a good reason for escape.

After bombarded with European prices on a well-known booking site, I decided to ask personally for a cheap bed for a night. The first place’s best shot was a room with breakfast for $27, but I found it too expensive. At the next hostel the receptionist’s offer was $20 so I asked the busy young couple who looked like they were running the place, if there is anything cheaper. They gave me a room that was under construction for $8. It was really like sleeping on a building site but I was tired enough to fall into bed after a shower and a quick shopping for breakfast.

The morning came fast, I went back to the market bought the cooker and headed for the bus stop. When I got on the bus and connected to the Wi-Fi, messages kept coming to me if I was alright after the earthquake? I thought it was funny, how could an earthquake from a year before hurt me? Then I looked up the news, and realised there was a quake at the same spot not too far from Bahia, just the last afternoon. It was a magnitude 6 one, strong enough to be reported in the European news, but not strong enough to do any damage in the already half-ruined town.  I did not feel it, but now I was in a hurry to get back to see if I still have my boat.

Back in Bahia they reassured me that they only felt a little rumble after all, and all is OK. Comino was safe and snug on the anchor and after some fixing and tinkering the cooker was ready to be tested. It worked, although not as good as the old one used to be, but I have to do with this now.

My next job that was on one of the sticky notes that were lining up on the switchboard not to be forgotten was to change the sails to the other set I had. I used the better ones so far, but I would like to keep them as they are not too bad, and use the old ones until they last. I will have to buy a new set sooner or later and this way I would have a usable spare one. Also, the pulleys for the reefing lines needed to be replaced, they were getting rusty and were stuck. I changed the main, and it took some time to find the best way of using the available resources to set up the reefing, but it was sorted out anyway. However,  when I hoisted the jib it didn’t want to furl up so I had to drop it again and again until I figured I had to oil the bearing on the top gear. Maintenance is the key to the seamless running of the ship.

Days were going fast and I started to understand the few cruisers who spent prolonged time here. Food is cheap here; I could have a three course meal with a soft drink for US$4, the Port provides Wi-Fi and shower, the staff is nice, the weather is mild. I wouldn’t mind a bit of more sunshine, but should have come earlier I suppose…

As there is no sunshine the solar panel is hardly generating any power, so I use the engine occasionally to charge the batteries. It still has the same problem as it started in Portobello, despite my belief that it was fixed, many time. Then one morning the throttle cable broke at the control head. I knew there would be no chance to get a cable in Bahia and not in a short notice in Ecuador either. An old couple on one of the few boats here were waiting six weeks for a fuel pump to be delivered from Europe. I was already getting ready to leave and gave my passport to the port to obtain my zarpe, so I quickly put together a makeshift solution and decided I will not rely on the engine any more at all. I am sailing.