Wednesday 14 May 2014

Passage Stats and Updates

After 21 days and about 23 hours we arrived in the Marquesas yesterday (14 May 14).

Some initial stats:

- Distance through water: 3002 nm
- Planned distance over ground: 2845 nm. It would be less if you just measured the "as the crow flies" distance but we took a route first towards Socorro Island for better wind, a long leg to our expected ITCZ crossing point, a dash due south to spend the shortest time in the ITCZ) and then finally another long leg to the Marquesas. We also ended up gybing downwind for much of the first downwind leg.
- Best distance covered in 24 hour period: 174 nm for an average of 7.4 kts. Close reaching in 15+ kts of wind.
- Least distance covered in 24 hour period: TBD
- Total engine hours for motoring: 7 hours. Sailed off anchor and through most of the light winds but decided against sailing onto our anchor at Fatu Hiva as the wind was alternating between 0 and 20 kts and the rocks on either side did not look inviting .. Most of the motoring was in the ITCZ to get south into wind and to lessen the effects of the counter equatorial current and then some motoring to avoid particularly nasty looking squalls.
- Total engine hours for battery charging: 6 hours
- Total diesel usage: 12 gal of our approx 150 gal (130 gal internally and 20 gal on deck)
- Total gasoline usage (for our Honda 2000 generator): about 4 gal of our 28 gals on deck. We would have used it more but we do not like to use it if there is too much spray on deck.
- Fish caught: 4 - one marlin (we think), one yellow fin tuna, one mahi mahi (also called dorado) and one skipjack tuna.
- Fishing lures lost: 4
- Number of times reefing or shaking out a reef: too many to count.

An interesting passage and the longest we have ever done. Not quite the "classic" tradewind sailing one hears about where you trim the sails every few days. Certainly no tough conditions but lots of variety. We would spend time coaxing every bit of energy from the wind to keep Fluenta moving at a reasonable speed to a hour later reefing to avoid going too fast. Unlike racing or coastal cruising we are also very concerned with reducing wear and tear on the boat and the crew. Even close reaching, which is normally easy, we had the additional challenge of having a significant swell on the beam. This meant we need to experiment with the trim and a small block and tackle used as a preventer to reduce the slatting of the sails and the loads on the rig. This experimentation of course led to me peeling back part of the toe rail in a 0300 decision to increase the tension holding down the boom to reduce the infuriating slatting and banging in our Furlboom. We used our spinnaker pole for much of the first downwind leg to either pole out the clew of the genoa downwind like a whisker pole or to sail wing on wing with the genoa clew poled out to windward. While wing on wing was fast with the winds we were getting between 15 to 20 kts it was just too uncomfortable as we could come off the surf or got hit on the beam by a wave. In the past we have also poled out the tack of the asymmetric spinnaker but the times we used the spinnaker on this trip the apparent wind angle was about 090 to 120 degrees so we kept the tack attached to our adjustable tack line.

I intend to write a bit of a "lessons learned" later to help others preparing for the passage and as a reminder for ourselves. Included in that I will list the various things we broke enroute (a pretty small list for 3000 nm).

The anchorage is spectacular. Much nicer now that the wildfire ashore appears to be out and the rain from last night has cleared the boat of most of the ash. Now if only the gusts would moderate a bit. The anchor appears to be holding well and we closely monitor our position on the GPS and backed up by the radar as required. The wind at least lets us air out the boat after having Fluenta so closed up over the last few days.

Liz's letters home are below.



14 May:


I just had to write ... we feel like we really *are* at anchor in French Polynesia now - ie we have arrived!

After no rain to speak of in the last six months, we have had bucketing rain every few hours overnight and today. It lasts just long enough to have us close all the hatches, and then it stops. In the misty light today, the palm-covered cliff faces are vibrant shades of green & yellow, especially in contrast to the wisps of grey clouds that are blowing down from the high hills. Every few minutes we get a gust of wind that takes us from about 5 kts to 20 kts in the space of a minute or two...

..but, the biggest reason that it feels like we are really cruising is that we have done our first trade :) We had a couple come and visit our boat this morning with bananas and pamplemousse from their home. Pamplemousse may generally translate to English as grapefruit, but these (famous) south pacific pamplemousse are unlike *anything* we have ever eaten. They are so tasty that we can't even describe what they are like. Here are are some words that the kids came up with - Johnathan - unpredictable (sometimes as sour as a lime and sometimes as sweet as candy); Victoria - amazing; indescribable; sweet & sour. I think you get the idea! When I said that we hadn't been to the bank yet, and that we had no money, the couple (Jacques and Desiree) said that they would actually prefer to trade. Did we have any rum? Wine? Lines for the boat? Gasoline? Household items (bedsheets, towels)? perfume? We settled on a tea towel and a little hand towel for three pamplemousses (the smallest one was 7" diameter and the other two were probably 9-10" diameter) and two bunches of green bananas (directions: soak them in the sea for a few minutes and then hang them somewhere outside until they all ripen at once, then eat them quickly). We all shared one pamplemousse and we each had plenty. Even Benjamin got in on the act - he loved sucking on our juicy fingers, and I even gave him a large piece to gum and slobber over :) We are invited ashore for dinner tonight. They have a set price for making dinner in their home; since we have no local money (they were not interested in USD) we are hoping that we can pay for dinner with gasoline!

Just thought you might like this little vignette of day 1 at anchor. We are having a slow day (crepes for breakfast with bacon, cheese, apples, and precious maple syrup) sleeping, reading, and cleaning the boat. We saved our last 1.5 hr time zone change until today, so we had extra time for everything :) We will likely launch the RHIB and go ashore in the late afternoon.

Love to all,


2200 Fluenta Local 13 May 14 (0600 14 May 14 UTC)

Well, for once I am doing my one-finger-while-holding-Benjamin-epistle before 0200, and there are no big swells rolling the boat! We made landfall in French Polynesia today, 21 days and 23 hours from when we weighed our anchor in Punta de Mita. The big passage that we have been planning for the last four years is complete, and now we are onto the next phase of our journey as a cruising family. Wow. The magnitude of this has not really sunk in yet.

This time last night, it was anyone's guess whether we would be anchored right now or so-close-yet-so far and hove-to outside the bay waiting for morning, but the wind and seas were cooperative, and we had a fast, bouncy ride the last 75 miles. Last night's watch rotation was me, then Max, then Nancy, so Max could be fresh and rested (or at least have had a short sleep!) before bringing the boat into the anchorage. Just after 0800 this morning, Nancy sent Victoria to mark the log with those all important words: "we see land".

It was a strange feeling to see land rising from the ocean after so many days of seeing nothing but water in every direction. I had heard that there is a different smell on the breeze when land is close, and it was true; in this case, it smelt like fruit and smoke. It turns out that there was some kind of burning taking place on a nearby hillside, and the air was filled with a combination of smoke and ash. This (Hanavave, aka Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva) is supposed to be one of the most spectacular anchorages in the South Pacific, so we are hopeful that the air will clear overnight, and we will be able to stay a few days to explore. If not, we will go to Hiva Oa tomorrow (less than 50nm away).

When I came on watch last night, I asked Max what time he would like to anchor today. He wanted to be at our turn-off waypoint at 1200 and anchored at 1400. At 1355 I was on the foredeck with the anchor capstan bar in my hand and we were navigating to our preferred spot in the bay. Amazing :)

The bay is lovely, smoke and all. The palm trees look just like Simon and Pam's photos of Fiji (which makes sense, of course, but it was funny to have the realization hit me). There is a luminescence to them that I do not remember of palm trees in Mexico. The island is lush (it is 4mi by 8 mi and 800-1100m elevation) and seems to be in cloud cover all the time, so there is plenty of rainfall. Because it is so tiny and so tall, the cliffs are very steep all around us (and the water is deep in the anchorage) and most of the island is inhospitable. Our guidebook (1996) says that there are about 600 people who live here, in two towns. If we stay, we will go ashore tomorrow and see who we meet. There is supposed to be a walk (2 hrs) to a waterfall, so that might be good to burn off some at-sea steam (kids) and lethargy (grownups).

Max will, of course, have some maintenance to do now that we are here, but much of it can wait until our next anchorage or beyond. We found out the hard way during the night before last that our toe-rail was not as strong in one place (where it had previously been repaired before we got the boat) as was necessary, and the fitting that we had attached to it (preventer for the main sail) actually pulled about 8" of toerail up from the deck. Max has done a jury rig 'fix' with silicone (to keep out water) and duct tape (to prevent chafe on the rough edges) but the actual repair will be a job waiting for him in either Papeete or New Zealand (or sooner if possible). Believe it or not, we actually have a segment of toe rail under Nancy's bunk! Overall, Fluenta did amazingly well for us over a passage that stressed all of our systems. Our new autopilot drove without any issues (a small percentage of the time we would hand-steer just to feel what the conditions were like for it). The drive for the autopilot (the hydraulic thing that physically moves the rudder) is behind the head of our aft cabin bunk, and it sounds to me like little gnomes pulling and pushing the rudder back and forth for us to keep the boat on course. I am always grateful to them for doing their job, even if they are sometimes noisy!

I must tell you about an unusual sight from a couple of nights ago - when Max and Nancy were on squall watch in the wee hours, there was so much light from the moon and so much moisture from some of the squall clouds that they actually saw a rainbow in monocolour. None of us had ever heard of this phenomenon before. (Aside - fun to think that as the moon has grown fuller over the last few days that we are all under the same moon, no matter how far apart we are.)

Well, that is the news of the day. I will send emails to this list when we are on the move, but they won't necessarily be every day when we are at anchor. Thanks for sharing our journey with us. It has been extraordinary.

Love, Elizabeth


We certainly got a taste of the reliability of off-shore comms last night. No matter which SSB email station we used, and no matter how many times we tried, we just couldn't get a connection that let us send our emails. I am hoping for better luck tonight! I also hope that you did not spend the day assuming the worst when you did not hear from us. All is well aboard Fluenta.

I have just finished yet another bouncy shift (after dinner til 2ish). This time, instead of squalls here and there, we seem to have had lots of cloud cover everywhere, and higher than normal (17-18 kts vice 10-14 kts) winds throughout. Max and Nancy have been reading our marine weather book, and it seems that when the winds are higher than 14 kts or so, the air is moving too much for squall clouds to form; they are much more likely at 10 kts and below. This appears to have been the case tonight :) [Turns out we were wrong ... there were constant squalls all night ... Max]

Fluenta is like a winged horse galloping for the barn (and so is her crew). We are into the home stretch, with less than 100 nm to go. Now the trick is to arrive in the daylight so we can anchor when we get there (otherwise, we will need to heave-to and wait outside the harbour).

That being said, today started slowly, with a flat boat, and minimal wind. Once again, we were just thinking of hoisting the asymmetric when the winds picked up in the late morning/early afternoon, and they have been good ever since. Since it was quiet, we enjoyed Sunday brunch as Monday lunch - Dad's Oatmeal Pancakes with apples on top (we still have *lots* of apples!) (bacon will wait for the anchorage).

Dinner was going to be chicken and rice, but when we opened one of our last four packages of Costco chicken strips (supposedly good until 19 May) we found that we had missed our window ... so we used some to bait our hook and all of the rest went overboard; every bag had gone off. Instead, dinner was more yummy chicken/beef/curry pot pies from the La Cruz market. This turned out to be a fortuitous change in menu, as we had a squall hit just at dinnertime, so it was handy to have something quick and easy to eat. The pressure cooker full of brown rice will wait until tomorrow...

Dad was wondering if we had been using his sextant, and if the kids had been helping. Johnathan was the "nav yeoman" the last time; taking the fixes turned out to be a family affair: I needed the chartplotter (with the GPS time) facing me, so Max called out, "Ready ... Mark", I told Johnathan the seconds, and he wrote down the time and the fix angles. He was very organized, and prepared his paper with the hours and the degree marks ahead of time for the five sun and five moon fixes, and wrote down all the numbers very carefully.

With all the squalls, they have both been learning to use the radar. They can pick out squalls and tell us if they are falling behind or ahead of the steady bearing line. Very handy to have two extra crew in those situations :)

Well, I am curious to know if this email will go out tonight, so I think I will sign off and endeavour to send it!

Love to all,
At 5/12/2014 2:57 PM (utc) Fluenta's position was 07°54.00'S 136°24.00'W

Happy Mothers' Day!

0200 Fluenta Local 12 May 14 (1000 UTC)

It is starting to look like the next time I will be able to write emails in peace and quiet will be at anchor - today was another lumpy day.

Now that my watch is "over", Nancy has come on watch, and I am at the chart table monitoring the radar because there are three squalls in our vicinity. Since our radar is downstairs, it is much easier to do this with two (or three) people! Given my limited mobility with Benjamin in the carrier, Max has been sleeping in the cockpit so that he is close by to reef, etc ... so now all three of us are awake! Max and Nancy are doing the sails/driving, and I am monitoring the radar. Our radar is old, but it sure does the job for us! Benjamin has been popped into his carseat, and thankfully stayed asleep :) (Oops - spoke too soon - he slept there for about 15 min. Now I am one-finger editing with my left hand!)

We started the day on a bit of a wallowy downwind course that wasn't even in our proper direction (too much West, not enough South) but was keeping the swells on our quarter (meeting the boat at an angle towards the stern). When we "hardened up" the sails (changed from a downwind to an upwind course), we found that we were actually able to sail right on our desired course at a much greater speed. This put the swells coming in towards the bow of the boat, which made it a little bouncy, but not so rolly, and much, much faster (not to mention that all our speed was actually taking us to our destination!) We did our best distance yet with 174 nm over the ground (boat and current together). We now have less than 250 nm to go:)

We kept on like this for most of the day, which meant that moving around the boat was a bit of an obstacle course (one hand for the boat at all times!) and handing Benjamin off from person to person was a bit challenging. We managed, but let's just say that Sunday Brunch (which we have done on the other Sundays of the passage) was postponed for this week!

Lunch today was a *big* bowl of passage ceviche - we liked it so much yesterday that we made *lots* of it today. Dinner was marlin again (the last of the marlin from the fridge - the rest is in the freezer to enjoy at anchor) with ginger sesame rice with yet another can of mixed vegetables. Thankfully, we still have jicama and beets to make slaw with our mandoline, so the grownups get some crunch, even if the kids don't like it. One of these days, I will involve the kids in making sprouts (the quintessential long passage activity), but it is "one thing too many" at this point! {One of these days, we will also bake bread, make cakes, do crafts, etc, etc ... but those days haven't come yet either!} The root of contentment is accepting things as they are, so I am working on contentment :)

Johnathan is deep into book 5 of Harry Potter; Victoria is a bit at loose ends because I need to copy book 6 from our hard drive onto one of our new kobos ... not so easy to do with the boat as bouncy as it has been, but maybe she will get it tomorrow. In the meantime, she has been busy with the rainbow loom making more items of her own design. (She even had a trinket for everyone at the equator crossing). Benjamin is still working on his first two teeth, so he is especially clingy at the moment. This means lots of time with a slippery, sweaty baby in my arms. Thankfully we have fans pointing at most of the sitting places, so that helps to cool him off. The days when the boat is flat and we can have hatches open are so much more comfortable; at the moment, they seem like a distant memory.

I mentioned the time at the beginning of this email ... we changed time zones again today (one and a half more to go before we arrive - the Marquesas are UTC-9.5 - kind of like Newfoundland time...). Max often jokes that I am on my own time zone; on this passage, I (we) actually get to pick when we change to the next time zone, so we really can be on "Liz Local". Fun. We have dropped three hours since we left Mexico, so we are currently one time zone earlier than BC. This puts the PPJ radio net at 6pm, which actually turned out to be a convenient time. There are so few

Squall update: one squall covered too much area for us to avoid it, so we reefed our main and changed course to minimize the contact with it. The winds picked up a few knots, and we got a bit of rain, but it wasn't too bad. We are starting to calibrate our eyes in terms of which clouds we need to worry about, but we are still learning and gaining experience. The good thing is that V & J are getting used to "stowing for squalls" at dinnertime each night.

Squall excitement finished. Time to pick an HF channel on which to send this, then off to bed.

Love to all,
At 5/12/2014 10:42 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 07°35.00'S 136°04.00'W


Today was rolly! Winds were light this morning, so we thought of putting up our asymmetric, but by the time we got ready, they came up and stayed up throughout the day and the evening, so no asymmetric - in fact we currently have 2+ reefs in the sails, and it has been bumpy throughout the night.

There were lots of squalls moving overhead during what should have been the dinner hour, so marlin, rice, and corn had to wait until after dark. We are teaching the kids to use the radar - they now both know how to change the range, and how to tell us the bearing and distance to a squall (the rain shows up as a bright spot on the radar).

We made "on-passage ceviche" for lunch - ie I cut some of the fresh marlin into little cubes, cured it in lime juice (limes wrapped in foil are doing really well), and then lacking any of the other ingredients (fresh tomatoes, fresh cilantro; we had onions), I drained the lime juice and added a can of salsa to the fish (it has most of the same ingredients). It was actually so tasty that I had an order to make it again, and to make more of it tomorrow!

So - a short note for tonight, as some sleep is in order! We are down to ~400 miles to go, but we are not there yet, and if these conditions keep up, Neptune will keep us on our toes until we are anchored! Bottom line - we are all well, we are looking after each other, the kids are finding creative ways to spend their time (they spent much of today tying various lines into various knots), and we are doing our best to stay rested and on top of the constant pressure of "crew fatigue".

Love to all (and Happy Mothers' Day as applicable),
At 5/10/2014 1:50 PM (utc) Fluenta's position was 03°58.00'S 132°23.00'W
At 5/15/2014 12:42 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 10°27.94'S 138°40.11'W

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