May 08

25 days at sea

Tag: route,victoriesmattholmes @ 7:31 pm


We just arrived in Nuku Hiva after crossing the pacific.  Good lord was that a long time to be out in the ocean.  I’m going to ramble on and on now.  Let me tell you, there’s not much of anything out there. In terms of tourist attractions, you’re not missing anything. I had expected to see a fair amount of wildlife, different views of the ocean, something. Nope. It all looks the same. For 25 straight days one of us checked the horizon at least every twenty minutes–over 2,000 instances of climbing out of the cabin to check the horizon, and every time seeing exactly the same thing: nothing. The only thing we saw during that entire time were a few birds and a bunch of tiny flying fish. Not even other boats–for three straight weeks we saw no other boats.

The pacific ocean does have boobies, I’ll give it that. Near the coast, at least. We had an exciting Booby-caused moment that I will now relate in entirely too much detail. A booby is a very annoying bird. For the first 5 days of the passage, we were frequently targeted by boobies. They want to land on the boat, hang out, and shit. There is no equivalent to a floating island in their evolutionary history: they do not need to do this. What I am saying is: don’t feel bad for them. Moreover, they have a hard time making the landing, but they are stupid and stubborn enough to continue attempting it without regard to the bodily risk. They will get smacked by the sail, tangle in the rigging and bounce off the deck into the water–then get up and try it again. The first time one landed on our solar panels, I was nice and let it hang out. Then a river of bird poop spilled into the cockpit, narrowly missing karen. Booby’s welcome expired. I took our boat hook and gently nudged him off (he didn’t like that–kept pecking at the pole and squawking at me). He came right back. I pushed him off again. A few dozen more times he came back, with progressively more aggressive expulsions on my part and angry squawks on his part. Eventually, I was flicking him a good ten feet off the boat before he would fall in the water and repeat his attempt. Like a bonk-the-booby video game. He landed high up on the spreaders; I duct taped all my long poles together and continued to battle him. Finally, at dusk, he landed on our spinnaker pole, from which our spinnaker (largest sail on the boat, by far) was flying. I shooed him out along the pole (funny image, a squawking sidestepping out of balance booby) until he was over the water and not the boat–i.e. a poop safe zone. The sun sets. I hear a noise. I look over: the booby has fallen off the pole and has his foot stuck in the tripline running down the pole. I know what’s coming. As he drops like a stone into the water, he triggers the release, opening the jaw and letting the tack of our spinnaker fly free. This is not something you want to happen to you in the dark with 15 knots of wind and a big spinnaker. Anyway, it took a half hour to get everything contained and put away–a frantic half hour reminiscent of racing on the bay when something goes horribly wrong. Boobies, man. No booby love, no more.

What we did see: we saw beautiful sunsets and blue water. Moonless nights were very dark; you could see bright stars reflecting off the calm ocean. The milky way was prominent. The moon would often make a dramatic appearance–sneaking up from behind a cloud, bright orange until it got some searoom off the horizon.  Lots of sky, lots of water, that about sums it up.

All in all, this passage was not as hard as our 9 days from Ensenada to Banderas Bay, but nevertheless it was harder than I expected it to be. I had heard great things about the trade winds and I was expecting good, consistent wind. Not for us, my friend, not for us. Two days out of La Cruz the wind died on us, and we sat bobbing around for a few days, not wanting to waste our fuel (we battled boobies during this time). Once the wind came back, we had a few good days of sailing before we hit the ITCZ (i.e. doldrums) and then the wind died again. Then we had 5 days and 5 degrees (300 miles) of doldrums, with no wind, occasionally punctuated by weak, unimpressive squalls and rain. On the other side of the ITCZ, the wind picked back up right in our face, together with a contrary current pushing us backwards as well, so we beat upwind and up-current for five more days before we could point towards our destination. Then, finally, the last week was glorious wind and glorious sailing in the southern trade winds.

Boats both before and after us had better luck with both the wind and the ITCZ; most people had less than a hundred miles worth of doldrums and experienced solid trade winds on the north side. We just got unlucky in that regard. The result was that we ended up doing a lot of work, putting sails up and down, changing things around constantly, etc, until the last week.

We crossed the equator in the middle of the night on May 3; Karen woke me up at 4 in the morning with a mixed drink (rum and jumex). Dutifully in my delirium I drank my drink.  In my state I was confused about what I was supposed to do. I watched karen pour some rum into the ocean. I believe I expressed gladness for our progress, and passed back out (memory of this event is hazy).

At no point during the passage was I bored. Both of us read at least 10 books–best way to stay awake during a night watch. I did some boat projects. I got out karen’s sewing machine and made myself a pair of shorts out of a pillowcase. I relearned the turk’s head knot. I studied french. I learned some new constellations. I consolidated my lists. We watched some movies, listened to music. I made iced lattes. I made iced tea. I drank beers. Karen read, wrote, baked bread. During a dead calm, karen cut my hair on the foredeck. I got the best tan of my life (better have–I was butt-ass-nekkid most of the time).

We made hundreds of entries in the log book.

Much of my time was spent messing around with the boat. Trimming sails, changing sails, changing the lead of lines, adjusting the self-steering, tweaking the course, reefing, unreefing, furling, unfurling. At best, this business–the business of sailing the boat–would occupy only a few hours each day (spread out). At worst–when conditions were constantly changing–it took all of my waking hours to keep on top of it. The primary attribute of “great wind, great sailing” is above all consistency–conditions that don’t require constant changes.

Watching our little boat depicted on the chart on the computer was strangely addictive–even though it was just a big blank white screen.

At least once a day we participated in a net on the ssb radio with the other boats out there, all watching out for each other and tracking each other’s progress. I would estimate about 10 boats participating each night. The community was solid; we made a number of friends over the radio, people we had never met in person. Occasionally we would even set up a radio date where we met on a particular frequency at a particular time to chat. I was surprised by the enjoyment to be found via the radio.  And now we already have friends to meet up with on land.

It was no problem staying clean; whenever we started to feel dirty we would take a shower with buckets of seawater. Maybe even use a little bit of freshwater to rinse, if we were feeling luxurious.

Lack of sleep was an ongoing challenge. Usually each of us would be on watch for half the night, so we could get a decent stretch of sleep. Even so, that meant that neither of us slept more than 6 straight hours in a row during the entire passage. We always had plenty of time during the day in which we could nap–but it’s not so easy to go to sleep on demand.  The lack of sleep wasn’t dangerous,it just sapped our motivation, made us cranky at times.  Both karen and I found that the surest way of getting sleepy enough to pass out was to go on watch–all of a sudden it seems like all you want to do is sleep!

During the final days, more than anything I just wanted the rolling to stop. I grew furious at the boat for constantly throwing me against the walls whenever I moved around, the same way one might get mad at being randomly shoved as you try to walk down the sidewalk. Didn’t matter that the boat is inanimate, still I blamed it for causing needless suffering. You try to walk from the head to the galley, and you get thrown on your ass on the settee. On your way past the mast, you get hip-checked into it by an unpredictable lurch of momentum. You’ll be slipping through a doorway and get a doorknob shoved in the gut. You’ll be standing at the sink and lose your balance, ending up all the way over on the nav seat with your feet in the air. The motion was incessant, inescapable. At the end, I just wanted to be still.

We made landfall (feels sweet to be able to say that–the expression itself indicates a serious passage–after all you can’t go out sailing in the bay for a day and then “make landfall” back into the marina, no you need to sail across an ocean and then you can make a landfall) at Taioe Bay on Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas, french polynesia, on the morning of Saturday May 8–a few hours ago.  We are both ecstatic to have the passage behind us.  I’m glad we did it; I’m more glad that it’s over.

After getting the boat in order, I had a beer, then slept for 6 hours.  Just woke up in fact.

Now it’s time for us to go explore land.

21 Responses to “25 days at sea”

  1. Jonathon Haradon says:

    Well Done. King’s to you, my friend.

  2. Vicki Anslinger says:

    I am so glad you had a safe, uneventful crossing. Loved the blog! Enjoy your time on the islands. Tell Karen I’m at Brian’s this weekend & got her text message while I was on the freeway doing 80MPH. That’s why I didn’t write more back. I’m so very grateful you two made the crossing safely. Love U both!! MOM

  3. Jodi Solem says:

    Yay!! Good luck with your sea legs! I’m glad you made it!

  4. greg and drew says:

    Bravo you guys.

  5. Karen's Aunt Arlene says:

    Congratulations! We are thrilled for you. We relative landlubbers have spent an anxious month hoping all was ok. A much needed “thank you” to IO for the posts, too.

  6. Mike says:

    That was a good read. Congrats!


  7. Elaine Morris says:

    Waiting for the first edition of your collaborated book 🙂 Pictures! We need pictures!

    We sure are glad you are safely on land. Just don’t fall in love with Polynesia and decide to stay there!

    Love – Elaine

  8. Rob says:

    Karen and Matt! Congrat’s on your safe crossing! Cracked up reading about your “Battle with the Boobies”. Keep on truckin folks. Emeryville misses you! Rob Levy

  9. Pauline Crane says:

    Congratulations Matt and Karen! This is awesome news. This is quite a honeymoon;)

    Hope you have a great time in French Polynesia! I need to take Scott one day;)


  10. Phil says:

    Damn you had me laughing. I kind of wondered what the first post after that leg was going to be like, but never expected it to be THAT funny. It’s a good sign that you were able to come away from a long dull journey like that and see the humor in the situation. Now the real adventure begins. Exploring, island hoping, eating interesting new foods, meeting locals, longing on the beach. Now I’m getting jealous just thinking about it. Cheers, my friend.

  11. William says:

    Hey guys,

    Congrats from Oklahoma. I’m so jealous….can’t wait to join you or start our own adventure.
    We bought you a drink, so have something exotic….and tasty.

    Best wishes,

    Amanda and William

  12. Phil Reischman says:

    Congrats on a great adventure. Enjoy the south pacific – both land and see. In honor of your land fall we made another contribution – so you can restock and press on.

  13. mattholmes says:

    thanks william, we appreciate it. hope all is going well with your new life as well!

  14. mattholmes says:

    phil R., you are too generous! thank you very much for the support, stay tuned for some updates from our first island experiences

  15. mattholmes says:

    thanks phil (H.)–yeah at times it certainly took an effort to see the humor in the situation. I forgot to mention that on one of the final days a flying fish jumped right through the hatch and landed in the salon–so sometimes the humor leapt right into our laps

  16. mattholmes says:

    Merci beaucoup, Pauline. J’etudie francais maintenant et je peux parler un peu mais je souhaite que vous peut être ici pour nous aider!

  17. Jim says:

    Congratulations. Folks on the dock were just asking about you today. They will all be thrilled to hear you’ve made it!

    Jim, Jeanne & Kanga (Syzygy’s younger sister)

  18. Gary says:

    That’s it! 25 days at sea and you have, literally, nothing to show for it!! Well OK, I am glad it was uneventful and you are safe. It even sounds like you have come to grips better with the lifestyle changes. Again, that is great news. Congratulations to both of you. On another note, the campchair loveseat that you orphaned in my basement is still happily raodtrippin’ through the desert southwest in your absence. This weekend it got to experience our asses in Fruita, CO. You’ll be happy to hear it dodged all campfire embers and has no new holes!

  19. Jon Bernard says:

    Congrats! Very impressive stuff! Cindy, Keyla and Jenny say “Hi”. Keyla’s finishing her freshman year and Jenny’s going to college next year… Can you believe it?

  20. Tresa ( Krise) Flowers says:

    I love reading your stories 🙂 so Cool

  21. mattholmes says:

    jon: no, i certainly can not believe it. Please give them my love

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