Apr 24 2010

Syzygy position update from another boat

Tag: route,tripsJonathon Haradon @ 11:59 pm

Ten days have passed since Matt and Karen left the Mexico coast on April 14th.  The SPOT tracker lasted for nearly 700 miles, but the last way point from SPOT came on Tuesday, April 20th.  This was expected, in fact I’m surprised it lasted that long.  Karen’s mom has worked diligently on a way of communicating with Syzygy and managed a circuitous route.  Right now, Vicki is in contact with some people who are land-bound and have a ham radio.  Those people are able to contact s.v. Io, who are also crossing the Pacific, about 2 weeks in front of Syzygy.  The crew aboard Io are Hyo and Mike who are awesome people.  I met them when I was down in La Cruz, and Matt and Karen have become good friends with them.  Hyo and Mike are then able to contact Matt and Karen over the pacific crossing SSB net that most/all sailors check in with daily.

So with the SPOT information and a couple of updates from Io, I’ve constructed the map below to show people how far they’ve gone.  10 days, 1350 miles.   They should be turning more southerly soon and heading through the ITCZ, a band of still air that sits on the equator.  Hopefully that won’t slow them down too much.  They’ve still got 1900 miles to go!


Apr 13 2010

On the Cusp

Tag: Uncategorizedmattholmes @ 11:37 am

Well, people, hold on to your pants because we are about to cross the pacific ocean.  This will probably be the craziest thing I have ever done, or ever will do.  The passage from here to the Marquesas–the closest island chain in the south pacific–is the longest straight open ocean passage in the world; we will be in the ocean out of sight of all land for between three and five weeks.

We intend to leave the day after tomorrow–there are many last minute details, paperwork, and logistics to be worked out, as you might imagine.  The boat is ready (more or less).  We are ready.  We are beyond ready, actually.  Most of our fellow cruisers departed a few weeks ago.  Check out Io, Totem, Capaz, Mulan, and Trim, to see what the experiences have been so far.  These folks have been posting to their blogs from the middle of the ocean, via a modem connected to the ssb radio coupled with sailmail software.  We elected not to spring an extra $1000 for the modem, so you won’t be hearing anything from us until after we reach the marquesas and find some internet again.  Our SPOT tracking device will post our location until we get out a couple hundred miles, then we’ll disappear off the map.

Despite the straight line on the image below, the actual path we take will be more of an S-curve: we go more directly west to begin with, then when we encounter the doldrums we turn south and go perpendicularly through them (minimizing our time in this squally no-wind area).  When we exit the doldrums we turn west again, directly for our destination.

This is the sort of adventure we signed up for, so we’re all gung ho to get going with it.  See you on the other side!


Apr 12 2010

Syzygy bound for syzygy: Total solar eclipse July 11, 2010

Tag: eclipsemattholmes @ 2:53 pm

Get this: Syzygy is going to experience a syzygy.

A ‘syzygy’ is an astronomical event in which three or more celestial bodies are perfectly aligned.  A solar eclipse–in which the moon blocks out the sun and shadows the earth–is an example of a syzygy.

There is going to be a total solar eclipse in the south pacific on July 11th of this year.

Solar eclipses come in two flavors, partial and total: during a partial solar eclipse, only a portion of the sun is blocked.  The total solar eclipse is the jackpot of all syzygy.  It is an extremely rare event, and it is only visible from a very tiny, quickly moving area on the earth for only a very few minutes (on this website, the little black dot illustrates the location of the totality).   The total solar eclipse is dramatic, with a full-on biblical feel to it: we’re talking about the moon completely blocking out the sun in the middle of the day, complete darkness, stars in the middle of the day.

Even fewer people will be able to view the total eclipse this july 11th because it barely touches land.  The atolls of Hao and Amanu in the Tuamotu Archipelago are on the short list (nasa doesn’t list them on their website because they are nearly uninhabited, nearly impossible to reach, and, being coral atolls, may not even be considered “land”).

We are planning to be there; we intend to treat Syzygy to a syzygy.  If that isn’t appropriate, right!?

When I learned of the total solar eclipse, I made a list of all the atolls that were in the path of the totality–we’re going for the real deal here–no partial eclipse for this party.  I used this nasa site to determine the precise track of the eclipse, and the time and duration of totality.  The list has 19 names on it.  Of those 19 atolls, it looks like only two (maybe a few more–more research is necessary) have a pass through which we can enter with our boat.  Hao is the current top contender.

This is the atoll “Hao”:

If this is your first glimpse of a coral atoll, you may be reacting with some of the same incredulousness that I did less than a year ago, when I went on google earth to see what we were headed for in the south pacific.  An atoll is an island that consists of a coral reef surrounding a lagoon.  This thing was once a piece of land sticking up out of the ocean; then a coral reef formed around the land; then the land sank below the surface.  The Tuamotu Archipelago consists entirely of atolls (78 of them).  No land, all coral, all rings like this, with lagoons in the center.  Some of them have “passes”–a place to slip through the reef, into the lagoon.  The rest have no pass, i.e. no way to get in, and thus are inaccessible to us.

On the aerial photo of Hao, you can just make out the pass at the very top of the island.  It is less than 300 yards wide–imagine trying to take that during a 20 knot current.  Here is a closer view (don’t worry, we’re not using this for navigation):


The Tuamotus are widely regarded to pose the most dangerous and difficult navigation in the world.  The water rushing into and out of the lagoon can cause 20 knot currents–it is crucial to precisely time your entry and exit during the narrow window of slack water between tides.  Once you enter the lagoon, you must navigate an obstacle course of “coral heads”–mounds of razor sharp rock hard coral that rise to within feet of the surface.  Some lagoons are blessedly free of the coral heads; others have hundreds of them so densely packed that it is impossible to cross the lagoon.  Compounding the navigational hazard, most of these atolls rise no more than a few feet off the horizon, making it frighteningly easy to accidentally run into them.  There are a number of these atolls that are completely submerged, with no visible land, lurking just under the water–you couldn’t have designed a better booby trap for a sailboat.

According to Nasa, if we end up just off the beach of the town of Otepa on the atoll Hao, we will experience 3 minutes and 30 seconds of total eclipse, starting at 18:41 UTC (which will be 8:41 AM for us, 5:41 pm on the west coast, 2:41 pm on the east coast).


Apr 09 2010

Provisioning: shout out to Karl P. and Philip R.

Tag: routemattholmes @ 7:46 pm

It will take us about a month to cross the ocean to French Polynesia, and reputedly everything is so expensive that you don’t want to buy anything even when you arrive.  As a result, we are attempting to pack enough supplies into the boat to last us for a few months.

Karen and I have different priorities when it comes to provisioning.  You can read her blog post for her view on the matter.  Here is my view on the matter:


This motherlode of beverages was purchased from the generous drinklink contributions of just two individuals: Karl Petzke–a san francisco-based photographer friend of mine (former jefe of mine, before I ran away from work), and Philip R from Karen’s family (the two individuals are not connected; we pooled their drink donations for this monster purchase).  I cannot explain how absolutely CRUCIAL this purchase will be to the success of this trip–my thirst is insatiable–especially in this heat–it cannot be emphasized enough!  Seriously though, a big thanks to both Karl and Philip–though far away from home, we’re feeling the love and support.


Apr 08 2010

Birthday stop in Chamela

Tag: routemattholmes @ 10:06 am

After Jon departed, Karen and I spent another day or two (can’t remember) at Tenacatita before heading back towards La Cruz.  We decided to stop off at an island named Isla Pasavera just offshore from Chamela to celebrate our birthday by doing some snorkeling, cooking up some good food, and drinking some cold drinks.

The snorkeling was unexciting, but it was great to be swimming in warm water.  I made some delicious iced lattes and we sat around on the deck sunbathing in our birthday suits.  It’s wonderful to expose those parts to fresh air!


Apr 08 2010

Mexican wanderings

Tag: route,Uncategorizedmattholmes @ 9:52 am

We left La Cruz on March 31st to sail south to Tenacatita, a little over a hundred miles down the coast, for a brief respite from the bustle of La Cruz. Jon had flown out for his spring break vacation from teaching, and was looking for a legitimate cruising experience, and Karen had read about a “jungle river adventure” to be found at Tenacatita, so that sealed the deal.

The wind was very light during the entire passage; the sail south was slow. I recollect sailing half the time, motoring half the time. We try to sail whenever there is sufficient wind to fill the sails, which puts us at a boat speed of about 2 knots. 2 knots is a fairly leisurely walking pace, so you can imagine how long it can take. We were in no rush, though–so 2 knots it was.

The anchorage at Tenacatita was tranquil and relaxing. There was a dolphin that lived in the anchorage, affectionately named “nacho” for a notch missing in his dorsal fin. Nacho was most interested in the boat 300 feet away from us, I think because it had a little dog that would run around the deck following the dolphin. Karen wanted to swim with Nacho–she has a lifelong dream to swim with dolphins–so she jumped in the water and started making various sounds intended to attract the attention (and affections) of Nacho over to our boat. The sounds succeeded . . . in making us laugh! I think Nacho sensed her need, because he stayed just far enough away–sometimes coming within 15 feet but no closer–during our entire stay in the anchorage.

At night, the phosphorescence was spectacular. One night we swam in it. Swimming through liquid light, making light by moving, little dots of light dripping off your hands and arms. Your whole body illuminated like some sort of superhero, like your body itself is radiating the light. It struck me as extra-terrestrial–not something that I knew existed on this earth.

The day after we arrived we serviced the outboard for the dinghy (finally), then packed up the dinghy for a day of travelling up some river through the jungle. It was a cool scene. Not, I must admit, a very impressive jungle–I think that experience is still to come–but it was fun travelling through this dark, narrow corridor of a river, barely wide enough for the dinghy in places, with a ceiling of vines and leaves overhead. At the end of the river we found a lake, which happened to be next to a town on the beach, which happened to be overrun by mexican tourists for the Easter holiday. We sat at a little food place next to the lake and spent the day like that, sitting there.

I have a good story about our first beach landing. There’s a hotel just up the beach from where we were anchored; Jon needed to arrange for some sequence of transportation back to Guadalajara to catch his flight. We took the dinghy in. There were small waves breaking on the beach, and it was fun to run in there surfing on a little wave until it got shallow then quick turn off the engine and raise it up and then jump out and drag the dinghy up on the beach. The waves seemed small and the trip into the beach was easy, so we were goaded into a sense of complacency. Trying to get back out, we were not so lucky. It’s all in the timing, I’m sure, but we did not spend much time trying to wait for a good window. Essentially, we dragged the dinghy into the water and went for it. As a result, we provided wild entertainment for a boat in the anchorage that happened to be watching this scene unfold. We got repeatedly thrashed by waves breaking on us, swamping the dinghy with seawater, and nearly flipping the dinghy end for end. I think we went weathered about 4 waves that had our number. Jon was up in the bow trying to hold it down as these waves lifted us to the vertical–on the last wave he was propelled vertically out of the bow straight into the air and crash landed back into the bottom of the dinghy. Unfortunately, the amusing part of the story would be the video and pictures that we didn’t take. On our way back to the anchorage we were hailed by the boat that watched it all unfold. They said they were sure we weren’t going to make it through the last wave, that we completely disappeared and then came launching vertically out of the white surf like a rocket. It was a hell of a fun time, that’s for sure.


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