Having had a memorable stopover in Galapagos “the enchanted isles” Camomile was ready to go again, “top line” with food, water, fuel, with her rigging repairs done and maintenance complete.
The Pacific crossing to the Marquises is the longest passage in our circumnavigation route so we were suitably apprehensive as we hauled up our two bowers and a kedge. Camomile had been anchored all on her own in the harbour for several days while we had enjoyed a cruise on the local pleasure boat Daphne. Although this might sound a bit like a busman’s holiday it was really nice after all the sea miles so far to let someone else take the strain of sailing, navigating, cooking and anchoring in some really fantastic spots not to mention the air conditioned cabin, a toilet that flushed without you pumping it and as many refreshing showers as we wanted!
Just what we needed to galvanise us for the trip ahead.
While we were letting Daphne take the strain, crew members from other Blue Water Rally boats had been keeping an eye on Camomile and going aboard to run the engine for battery charging and so on but, even so, I had been taking no chances with not having enough ground tackle down if a blow came through while we were away having too much fun on someone else’s boat.
So it was that, suitably refreshed and recharged, we motored slowly out of Puerto Ayora passing the huge 3 masted schooner which had gone aground on nearby rocks during the previous week, a reminder, if one
were needed, that sometimes even local knowledge is not enough!
We left a couple of days ahead of the bigger faster rally boats so that we would have as much of the fleet around us for as long as possible and, as it turned out, the first days were spent motor sailing while we made our way south to pick up the southeast trade winds which were expected to blow at about 20 knots for a good deal of the voyage. Camomile has a main fuel tank of about 200 litres, a small auxiliary tank of 60 litres and for this trip 300litres in steel jerry cans below deck and plastic ones above. Although this gave us a possible 10 days of motoring with a range of up to 1200 miles and we had been briefed that we would need to burn fuel early on this passage, it was still a little worrying seeing all that diesel being consumed with so many of the 3000 sea miles still ahead of us.
When God made the Pacific he was thinking big. Really big. There is just sea and more sea, too much to capture with a puny camera. It was
perhaps a little rougher than its name suggested and it was a distinctly different blue to the Caribbean though showed much less life on the surface after we left the area of converging currents around Galapagos. Having sited pods of dolphins and even a large ray jumping clear of the surface early on it then seemed to us that the dolphins, sharks, whales etc. had all said “here comes Camomile, quick hide!” On reflection though, we were not all that sorry about not seeing the whales or sharks on the basis that they can go bump in the night and/or bite you.
Once we arrived below 3 degrees south it was with some relief then that we greeted the beginnings of the trade winds at last. We gave the engine a rest, let the sounds of a downwind rig settle comfortably around us and really started sailing.
At first we went through squally weather which, after a couple of days, gave way to finer sunny days. The squalls were wet but did not have the
vicious wind in them that we had experienced in the Atlantic so we found, once the twizzle rig (twin 135% heavy Dacron genoas flown from the forestay foil on poles) and the Hydrovane wind pilot were set we had very little daily sail adjustment to do. We have been really pleased with the twizzle rig and it made us smile whenever we listened in to the little group of boats in our area on the HF radio net comparing notes and hints on sail plans. They were trying this sail plan or that, flying spinnakers, rigging cruising chutes from the back of the boom, poling out this way or that and when it came our turn we had to confess; yes that we still had the twizzle up and hadn’t so much as touched the sheets for the last 24 hours!
Even so the rolling motion from a following sea was there but at least it was missing most of that sharp flicking motion of the Atlantic and we just moved on with a warm wind of between F3 and F5 over our stern day after day making slightly more northing that we needed to stay on the rhumb line. We paused the twizzle rig only twice on the voyage, broad reaching with the cruising chute to bring us back on track.
Life on board goes on and after 2 or 3 days we found ourselves again falling into a good routine with some of the tiredness that dogs us at the
beginning of a two up passage and its 24 hour watches dropping away. We have long since learned that sleep is one of the most precious commodities on board and are careful to protect it for each other.
Sue had stocked the boat thoroughly in both Panama and Galapagos so we ate well including fresh bread, bacon & eggs, flapjacks and her killer chocolate brownies. At 10:00 and 18:00 each day there was a radio net on the SSB which, in the morning, entailed a controller of the day calling a 2 minute silence for urgent calls then taking the position of each rally boat in turn together with their local weather conditions. This usually took about 40 minutes after which the net was opened for chat and boats would call each other to natter about how things were going. One of the boats would come on the air each day and do a joke of the day, which was usually appalling but no matter.
Camomile’s aging but powerful SSB radio earned her the nickname “Radio Camomile” and her most popular broadcast was without question Sue’s “Friday Night is Quiz Night”. This was an institution she had started across the Atlantic based on a rather tacky and very British pub
quiz book where, every Friday after the net, boat by boat, she tormented victim after willing victim with her questions. Goodness only knows what the Swedes, Spanish, Americans, Canadians et al thought when they were asked questions ranging from the likes of unknown Coronation Street scenes through to the reign of obscure British Monarchs but to their enduring credit they came back for more and often scored better than British boats who might have been expected to know some of the answers! It was great to hear friendly voices from people who we felt, by now, we knew well and this together with email via Pactor modem helped keep our morale high. We might not be able to see the rest of the fleet and we might be a long way from everything but company was there and sometimes, using the radio net position plots, we found some of it was only just over the horizon.
Where is everybody?
Having sighted no other boats nearly since we had set out, after five days the faster boats finally started coming past us, it was a brief interruption to an otherwise empty horizon and, with the exception of one container ship, was the only time we saw another boat until the fleet started to converge just before we came to the end of the passage.
Strangely, although I had kind of hoped for it, there was no cathartic
moment for me though the place was humbling beyond words and, in those wee small hours beneath the galaxy of stars set in the blackest of skies watching the satellites spin across the firmament chased by scudding meteorites, you could feel a peace as deep and broad as the ocean.
Early on I contemplated stopping the boat and taking a swim, just as we had in one of the deepest points of the Atlantic, however, after hearing that another rally boat skipper, who had had to go over the side to clear a line from his propeller, spotted sharks nearby I decided that caution was the better part of valour and stayed dry. It seems that, as the nutrient rich waters of the Galapagos give way to open ocean, there is less food around which encourages sharks among other fish to follow yachts for the scraps that go over the side and to prey on smaller fish that rise towards the boat attracted by the disturbance caused by the wake.
Big Ocean – big milestone
On our tenth day at sea we passed another milestone, 10,000 nautical miles since we sailed off from the UK. Nearly as far as we had ever sailed
in Camomile before we left. Even though we spent so many years planning to sail “further afield” it really does not seem possible that we have put so many cruising miles under our keel and we still feel like beginners; newcomers to passage making.
I have never been so far from everything. This passage from the unique Galapagos across the awesome Pacific to the enigmatic Marquises impressed with the sheer scale of the place we were in and our insignificance in it. “A long way from help” tended to play on the mind while Camomile ploughed on mile after mile because, out there, even the smallest thing, like a minor injury or illness, could rapidly become a crisis.
A fellow rally boat broke a shroud just beyond the half way mark and fortunately managed to make a repair so that they could continue to sail however it did bring home that you can’t just motor to the nearest port if something breaks.
Camomile has a small watermaker which produces fresh drinking water by compressing seawater through a membrane. Some fifteen days into the passage we found that we were having difficulty with it as it had started to draw in air somehow. It seemed as though the lift pump was not working so a replacement or a very flat sea were the only fix. Neither was available but, as the tanks had been regularly topped up along the way, we still had at least 300 litres on board with backup systems to prevent any accidental loss. Camomile was built with two water tanks totalling around 450 litres which can be isolated from each other and I had added an entirely separate dedicated drinking water tank of 90 litres. This arrangement means that we can judge quite accurately how much we have on board and can take on water from local sources without the worry of compromising our drinking water supply. The daytime temperature was by now peaking well above 35 degrees and drinking less was not an option in the tropical heat so, with our drinking water tank luckily nearly full, we decided to cut down our consumption by washing in seawater. Thus it was that our daily ablutions transferred to the transom boarding platform where, with careful precautions against the soap or anything else falling overboard, we would take it in turns to shower by pouring buckets of sea water over each other and then having a final small rinse in fresh water. It sounds basic and cold however with the water temperature at more than 27 degrees it was just mildly refreshing after the heat of the day.
Are we nearly there yet?
As we came to the last few days of this leg, little by little a sense of achievement started to grow inside us… yes really we had crossed a 3000 mile ocean, little Westerly us, who would have thought it!
Winds were decreasing by now and progress had faltered so our estimates of landfall were frustratingly going further and further out. Strange how an extra few days or even hours at this end of the trip are so much more difficult to accept than more time taken at the beginning.
Approaching the end of the leg the faithful trade wind finally expired and the log read “no wind, never going to get there”. We set out carrying enough fuel to motor around 240 hours and had used 134 mostly at the beginning of the trip going south in search of the trade winds and then thereafter for periodic battery charging. We checked the forecast and realised that it could be some days before the south easterlies re-established themselves so we decided not to languish in the long Pacific swell and fired up the engine for the final day and night of the passage.
At long last we sighted land, the island of Fatu Hiva in the Marquises. Its bulk rose out of the pre dawn gloom with soaring and ragged volcanic peaks covered in lush green vegetation fed by the rich volcanic soil and watered by the heavily humid wind releasing its rain as it was forced up hundreds and hundreds of feet for the first time in thousands and thousands of miles.
As we rounded the leeward side of the island, after so long breathing deep draughts of almost sterile sea air the smell of the land assaulted our nostrils with an almost tactile heavy earthy moistness delicately perfumed by exotic species of tropical plants.
We made for the Bay of Virgins and, as we approached, were just astounded by the almost unearthly beauty of the bay with its natural spires and lush valley with the small village nestling down by the harbour almost totally overwhelmed by the surrounding spectacle.
For some bizarre reason the appearance of the landscape brought Herges cartoons of the Tin Tin adventures to mind. Well, here we were in our own, totally non fictional, adventure and to add to the elation of the achievement we were greeted by three fellow rally boats that had arrived a little before us. Somehow their welcome radio calls were all the more poignant for knowing that they had shared the same experience. Needless to say the celebrations that followed were happy and very thorough. What a landfall. 21 days and 3113 nautical miles, what a passage!