Monday, May 20, 2019

I like my fish shy please

My heart beat is high up, I'm swimming for life, kicking with my fins like crazy. I'm calling for Tod, who's inside the boat to come out. He thinks I'm being attacked by a shark. So what's all the commotion about? A 6 inch remora, also known as pilot fish, or love bugs by other sailors here, has decided he/she likes me, and has almost attached herself to me, and I don't like it a bit. No matter how hard I swim, it seems stationary between my legs. I really like my fish companions to be shy, not like puppy dogs.

All three of us did this amazing snorkel drift dive on the South pass of Fakarava atoll. You bring the dinghy as close to the ocean entrance pass as possible, tie it to yourself, jump in, and you just slowly drift with incoming current past colorful schools of fish, large and small. Reef sharks are common there too, and they are really shy. At one point Tessa and I had about 10 of them swimming closeby, and it was really an amazing experience. The incoming current started to pick up, and then we all floated fast inside the lagoon, just like the lazy river experience at the pool in Shaker Heights. Great fun! We had such a great time, that we repeated the whole thing the next day. This time I jumped off in the deeper part of the entrance pass, about 60 ft, and saw a school of reef sharks below me, my guess between 40 and 50. A little much for my comfort level, even though they are shy, so I snorkeled quickly to shallow waters.

The next day our anchor decided to give us a hard time. It got stuck, wedged, near a rock, and didn't want to come up. This anchorage was 55 ft deep, too deep to do some free diving and get a good look. We were about to call our back up option, divers on a neighboring boat, but after 30 minutes of trying several ways to get it up, we were finally free. Glad it worked out, as we got to see our friends aboard Big Finn one more time, and the girls got to do their highly anticipated sleep over on their boat. Tod had a blast that day taking a kite surfing lesson, and will do another one this week.

So are all our days just like one big party? Oh no, the saying "cruising is fixing boats in exotic locations" is still true. Right now, Tod is doing a boat project, trying to see if he can fix our flaky radar connections. Tessa did school (it's sunday!), and then got picked up by her new 8 year old friend from Norway (he drives the dinghy himself), to go play in the water with our paddle board. We will go back to the South pass to do the snorkel drift again when the wind dies down mid week, after that it's time to find a store again to get some fresh stuff to eat. For that, we need to sail north for 5 hrs, and this is fun sailing inside the huge lagoon without any ocean chop!
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At 2019-May-20 06:08 UTC the position of Bliss was 16°27.108'S 145°22.196'W, at the Harifa anchorage in southeast corner of Fakarava atoll.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

we are in the fun zone

As we hoped, we are now in the best part of this adventure. With almost all the passage making behind us for this season, we just get to enjoy all different shades of blue of the lagoons in the atolls of the Tuamotus. The pictures have to wait as we have no internet, but think about the screen saver you might have seen on your computer....that's it, azure blue, palm tress waving close by, and your happy boat in the midst of it. Even better, you now share an idyllic, calm anchorage with 3 kids boats that also made the passage from Mexico. It's school in the morning, than play time in the afternoon on the sandy coral beaches of the atoll. We have seen reef sharks black and white tip, swimming close by, and today Tod and I got to see the best colorful coral we have seen on our trip (sadly, coral is bleaching everywhere in the world, and even these remote atolls are affected). All our "water toys" are out: besides our hard bottom dinghy, we have our double kayak inflated, as as well as the stand up paddle board. The latter isn't quite easy to use here, as we are now near the south pass of Fakarava, and kite surfing is hot here which requires wind and consequently some waves. Tod is planning to give kite surfing a try.

Tomorrow, Thursday, we are getting up early to anchor 7 miles away, then take our dinghy to the atoll entrance and drift dive with the current along tons of sharks and fish. No worries, we have been told that the sharks are shy and don't pay attention. I'm excited to spend my birthday doing something I haven't done before. We plan to take tons of photo's with our underwater camera, and will upload them when we have internet again in June. Attached here are just two low-res photos that we can squeeze through our low bandwidth radio connection.

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At 2019-May-16 06:46 UTC the position of Bliss was 16°27.033'S 145°22.083'W, with course of 000T (*T) and speed 0.0 knots. Wind speed 14.7 knots from 076T (*T)

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Passage Notes

This is the first blog post by Tod since we left this year, I think. I have been holding back, since we sort of have a policy of "if you can't say something nice, better to say nothing at all". But I wanted to reflect on some of our feelings about our long passage from Mexico to Marquesas. One of my big motivations for writing this is for *us*, to help remember how we felt. I imagine that over time our memory of the feelings might fade, and we might even be tempted to do a passage like this again ... until we re-read this posting! Sorry for the length! I don't mind if you don't read it all ;-)

I should emphasize that my complaints here are just for me, although I think Jolanda feels pretty similarly. The one crew member who never complained about feeling miserable was Tessa! Several times during the passage she declared it to be "the best day ever!". She spent most of her days listening to audio books, watching DVD for a couple hours, and playing in her room. She really never complained about not feeling well, nor about being bored, and in fact hardly ever asked when we were going to be there. The closest thing we heard was during our recent 4-day passage between island groups: she told me that she wished we had stayed in the previous anchorage, the place we had been "before we started this dreadful journey"! (We think she is picking up some new expressions from her audio books!) I think she liked it better in the previous place just because we had been having ice cream almost every day!

Last year we were at an amusement park, and Tessa wanted to go on a spinny-round ride. Generally I avoid those kinds of rides, but she really wanted to go and I decided I could probably manage that one. Did you ever get on a ride thinking you would be OK with it, and then realize that it was *not* ok!? All you can really do is hold on, maybe shut your eyes, and try not to get sick while waiting for the ride to end. It might have been three minutes. Now, imagine that feeling, but the ride goes on for more than three weeks!

To be honest, we were not feeling nauseous for all 25 days of the passage. For the first few days, Jolanda and I both were taking a drug to combat motion sickness. And anyway, coming out of Puerto Vallarta the seas were pretty mild for the first couple days. And after the first few days, my feeling of nausea was limited to when I was below deck working for an extended period... for example, trying for 20 minutes to use the radio to send emails! Instead of nausea, the more common feeling is just a dull uneasiness in the head. We also both felt quite lethargic, and any little exertion seemed so big and demanded a recovery period afterwards!

In a previous blog post Jolanda wrote that sailing has extreme highs and lows. Well, regarding this passage, I would say the spectrum of feelings was a bit different. On the positive end, I would say there was one four-hour period which I would describe as "not unpleasant" -- this was when we were flying our spinnaker, zooming along on pretty calm seas with a nice breeze. But that was really an "outlier" data point... four hours out of 25 days! The rest of the spectrum would include words like: fatigue, exhaustion, hot, humid, wet, annoying, sadness, despair, misery, tortuous. At one point, I mused that they could sentence convicted criminals to a sea passage, but for sure it would be considered cruel and unusual punishment!

The rolling caused by the swells and waves can be really horrible. The worst rolling seemed to be in the beginning, about from day 3 to day 10, if I remember correctly. There were two swell directions, one from the north and one from the north-east, as we were traveling west. That might not sound like a big deal, but the result of this is that the boat would be rolled side-to-side by one wave, and then we would yaw (sort of rolling with a twist) by the other wave. The side-to-side rolling is tough, because the boat can rock like 60 degrees within a few seconds (leaning 30 degrees on one side to 30 degrees on the other side). It makes it incredibly difficult to even move around down below. And doing something like cooking becomes a serious endeavor, even becoming dangerous. Our stove is gimbaled, so it stays relatively level while the boat rolls -- it is really quite amazing. But even that mechanism has its limits: occasionally the boat would roll so hard that the stove would hit the limit of its travel, and then shit could really fly! Think about having a pot of boiling pasta when that happens... not good!

But the side-to-side rolling was not as bad as the other kind. When the swell direction is directly from the side, that is the simple rolling. But when the swell direction is from behind it is quite a bit more unpleasant. In general, we never went directly downwind, with a relative wind angle of 180 degrees -- that kind of dead-downwind sailing is difficult to do for multiple reasons that I don't need to explain now. Instead, on this passage, most of our sailing was with a wind angle of about 150 degrees -- so, from the back corner of the boat. The feeling of the rolling from this direction is worse: as the swell comes under the boat, it is lifting the back corner which causes the boat to turn significantly down into the valley of the swell; then it passes under the boat and turns it back in the other direction. So you end up with a twisting plus a rolling -- just like some of those horrible amusement parks rides that I hate!

It is hard to describe how the constant rolling of the boat affects on one's psyche and spirit and body. For example, even sleeping is so difficult. In general, it seems easier to sleep when your body is in line with the rolling -- so, with your body in line with the boat. Also, it is probably best closer to the middle of the boat. In our main saloon our settees are oriented in the correct direction and are long enough to lie on; and we have equipped these with lee cloths, which is a piece of fabric that we rig up with lines to prevent one from being rolled out of the bed! But even with this, there were many nights when we could barely get any sleep due to the extreme motion, along with the constant noise of sails flopping and blocks clicking and lines snapping and cabinetry creaking! About 7 or 10 days into our trip we were both exhausted from lack of sleep.

The rolling also makes it difficult to move, or even to stand. You almost always need to have one hand for the boat. Did you ever try putting on your pants with one hand?? It's not easy, so you end up trying to time the swells so you can pull up your pants without falling over.

I also came to have negative feelings about the different parts of the day! In the morning, seeing the dawn coming, I felt like "crap, the sun is coming up soon and I have barely slept." And when the sun was rising, I felt like "crap, it is gonna be getting hot soon", which happened by mid-morning -- hot and quite humid. Also, all morning the sun would be at an uncomfortable angle where it was difficult to find shade under the bimini. By mid-day I would be thinking "when will this day ever end?!". By late afternoon, the sun would again make it difficult to find a comfortable shaded place. Around sunset was often not unpleasant, while we were having dinner. But then I would already be dreading the coming of the night. On most nights, the wind would reliably increase, sometimes quite dramatically. (I have yet to read about why this happens... usually I am accustomed to wind dying down at night). In the beginning we were sometimes caught off guard when this happened -- we were maybe going comfortably along with 15 knots of wind before sunset, but then by 8pm the wind would rapidly pick up to 20-25 knots. That kind of increase can cause some problems when we have full sails up. Eventually we came to realize that we needed to shorten our sails before the evening, especially the main sail which is difficult to reduce after the wind starts howling. Also I didn't like nights because you can't see the waves .. you can just hear them, and sometimes they sound quite frightening! Occasionally I swear the waves would sound like a wild animal roaring!

[Speaking of sounds, both Jolanda and I noticed weird auditory hallucinations... well, maybe not exactly hallucinations, but just faint sense of someone talking, or singing. I guess it's the result of so many sounds from the wind and waves and whistling of the wind on the various boat parts, and maybe the lack of sleep, and hours of not talking to anyone. Sometimes I even enjoyed listening to the faint "singing" for quite a while -- one time it was like monks chanting, another time like some celtic music!]

The other bad part about the nights was the possibility of squalls. In the tropics, rain squalls can come at any time, and in the day they are already annoying. In a typical squall the wind will start to kick up, and soon after the rain starts -- sometimes light, sometimes a downpour. At the peak of the squall the wind might be 25 knots, occasionally gusting to 30 -- in the big picture of weather this is not too bad, and our boat can handle that without much problem (as long as we don't have too much sail up). But it can feel a little frightening for a while. The squall can pass in as little as 10 minutes, more typically a bit longer; for one day we had solid rain for hours, and on and off for the whole day. But at least during the day you can see the squall coming -- you can see the dark clouds and often even the rain falling; sometimes we were even able to change direction a bit to avoid the squall. However, at night this is all different -- you might see clouds, bur generally cannot see which clouds are going to produce a squall. And in the dark, the wind and rain seems a bit more intense and frightening. I must say we were fortunate to never have any significant lightening close to us during our trip (so far!).

During some heavy squalls early in the trip, we discovered a bunch of leaks that we never knew we had. One was around an overhead hatch that is just above our bed, and that leak saturated a cushion and got our mattress quite wet.

Well, it seems that I have complained about the passage making enough! So, let me complain about one more thing ;-). I am sick and tired of salt water!! When it gets on your clothes, they never really dry properly -- they are always a bit damp due to the humidity and the hydroscopic (i.e. attracting water) nature of the salt. After swimming we feel like we need a shower to get it off. But the worst is the feeling on all the surfaces of the boat after several days of salt spray -- everything is coated with a layer of moist salt. It has an almost oily quality. One nice thing about rain squalls is that it can make the boat feel clean again for a while.

To end on a positive note, we recently did our last substantial passage for this season: a 520-mile, four-day passage from Nuku Hiva (in the Marquesas island group) to Kauehi atoll (in the Tuamotu island group). For this season we have one more two-day passage to look forward to (to get over to Tahiti), and then mostly just short hops. That passage started with a surprise: the wind compresses around the big mountain of Nuku Hiva, such that just outside the headland of the bay the seas were quite large, and Bliss got rolled more than I have ever felt in 10 years, probably about 50 degrees I am guessing. It was no problem for Bliss, but it sure surprised us! The rest of passage was uneventful but generally unpleasant, and the four days felt like it stretched on into a week! At one point I remarked that I didn't know how we had managed for 25 days on the big passage. Sitting here now though, in a very flat and calm anchorage inside an atoll, it is hard to remember the feelings.

A friend remarked in their blog that only by doing a long sea passage will you find out if you are a passage-maker or not. I think Jolanda and I can both conclude that we are in the "not" group!

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At 2019-May-14 06:46 UTC the position of Bliss was 16°27.033'S 145°22.083'W, with course of 000T (*T) and speed 0.0 knots. Wind speed 14.7 knots from 076T (*T)

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

turning 7 in Nuku Hiva

Please welcome Edmund Edward to our family! Tessa is so excited to have our new family addition, even if it's just for a few days. We are talking about the hermit crab we are hosting aboard. Honestly, she totally forgot about presents until we brought some up to the cockpit this morning. We are celebrating her 7th birthday at remote Daniel's bay, the place where one of the first Survivor series was filmed apparently. It makes me wonder, did the participants do the endurance Pacific crossing as well, or did they fly in?

My amazing husband managed to bake a frosted covered brownie cake in an non functional oven. It involved stopping the oven, taking the thermo coupler out, start again and repeat 4 times. He has many skills, and patience is one of them.

We have been hanging out in the largest town in the Marquesas, Taiohae on the island of Nuku Hiva for a few days. Yes, there is a road and we have seen cars, but it is still tiny. The petit quai where you dare to land your dinghy has one snack (small restaurant), and close by is another snack, where we had lunch and picked up wifi to post our pictures on FB. We did buy a simcard for our phone, but the signal in the Marquesas is dismal, equal to dial up modem of our SSB.

We have indulged ourselves in ice cream here, all imported, nothing local, and baguettes. The latter is the only food item that is cheap, $0.7 per baguette. Everything else is USD or much more (the pharmacy wanted $6 for 10 pills of 400 mg generic Ibuprofen!). Most people grow their own food, have their own chickens for eggs, and a fair amount gets subsidized by France. We have been able to pick up some fresh produce, and some mediocre French cheese.

Last Friday we splurged on a car rental for 24 hrs to go inland. It's dense, lush, very clean, saw wild pigs, and visited an ancient site. Polynesian tribes once numbered approximately 100,000 people when Captain Cook visited the islands in the 18th century. Sadly, after this time the indigenous population was decimated by western contact and diseases brought from Great Britain and Europe. The current population is about 6000.

Tod and I indulged in the A/C of the car, couldn't get enough of it, and I don't even like A/C in the US most of the time! We took a late afternoon nap back aboard, then headed out for happy hour at the fancy Pearl lodge. The setting was beautiful, gorgeous view of the bay, and made up for the lack in quality cocktails and food. We have now explored all 4 eating places in this town. The night before we wanted to check out the recommended pizza place,and took a 30 min walk in town, across the bay. On the way there, I asked several people for directions, as it seems further than I had imagined. When we arrived, no signs of Belle Pizza, just another place, and a very friendly woman explained the owners had left for Tahiti... apparently, stores/shops close without much notice, and nobody could tell us when we asked for directions.

A few more days on Nuku Hiva, waiting for a boat part (thanks Jak!) to arrive, then onto the Tuamotus later this week. This archipelago of 78 coral atolls will be another 500 miles away (5 sailing days), and are described as the dangerous archipelago, due to their low lying character which makes them visible only when a boat is within 8 miles. Most boat wrecks in the south Pacific have happened there (think Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki). We plan to visit just a few, well-marked atolls, but still, need to be very careful in entering and leaving the lagoons due to extreme currents, and we can only enter the lagoons during daylight with the sun directly overhead for visibility.

Funny postscript related to a parental error on my part: Tessa loves the " I survived" audio books, a mixture of non-fiction and fiction. She listened to "I survived the Titanic" back at home, and never during our trip did she mention it or got scared that Bliss might sink. So I downloaded another title in the series " I survived a grizzly attack", and boy did that haunt her last night. My fearless girl woke us up in the middle of the night, worried that there might be a grizzly bear coming aboard! This morning she made the smart choice to delete the book from the tablet, but one hour later regretted it..good we have no more internet for weeks again.