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Day 697 - South Pacific (S 10° 38.3 W 131° 10.7)
16:41hrs - April 27th 2009
Final Countdown

Catherine and I have been at sea for 23 days now, our world has been in constant motion for 556 hours, but sweet stability lays solidly over the horizon. OK, 431 nautical miles over the horizon to be exact, but close enough where we, and our B&G navigational equipment, can actually allow ourselves the luxury of counting down.

For the first 15 days of this voyage our B&G network hardware teasingly displayed 999 miles to destination, never changing, never showing even the slightest sign of movement. Only capable of displaying triple digits, it seemed to mock us day after day after day, reinforcing Catherine's belief that "we're not actually moving are we?!!" Optimistically trying to reassure her that, "we're almost there, honey" and "not long to go now, dear" was pointless, especially when our navigational network showed no sign of progress. But now we have proof. For 4 days our B&G display has been steadily and encouragingly counting down. Even though we have over four hundred miles to go, another 4 days at sea, after 23 days, feels like the landing gear is down and we're making our final approach.

Mother Nature, however, perhaps exasperated by our presumptions and arrogance is showing us who's really in control, and in an effort to teach us a valuable lesson about patience and humility, has stolen the wind from our sails. For the last 12 hours the trades have deteriorated, dropping from a steady 18 - 20 knots to a feeble 8 -10. With the light wind and rolling swell behind us, and no spinnaker sail on board, Dream Time has slowed to 3 knots, her sails occasionally flogging and crashing in protest.

We could fire-up Mr. Yanma-san, our 50 horsepower engine and motor to the Marquesas, after-all we probably have enough fuel to see us the remaining few hundred miles. But we've used less than 10 gallons of diesel to travel the last 2,600 miles, the equivalent of driving across America, coast to coast, on less than half a tank of gas, so to motor now, would seem almost like a defeat. Perhaps (almost certainly) our attitudes will change if this keeps up, but at least for now we're willing to wait and see.

Catherine, for the moment, has resigned herself to our recent lack of progress and even suggested, rather casually, that perhaps we won't arrive until Sunday (rather than my scheduled Friday) stating that, "If we arrive Sunday it'll make a nice tidy four week journey." She's my hero!

So in anticipation of our arrival Friday, Saturday or even Sunday, we're tidying up the boat, doing some laundry and reading-up about the Marquesas. Our first port of call will be Baie des Vierges (Bay of Virgins) on Fatu Hiva, featured in a book by Thor Heyerdahl and claimed by France to be "the most beautiful harbor in the world". We'll have to wait and see.

 
 

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Day 694 - South Pacific (S 10° 24.4 W 125° 19.2)
12:08hrs - April 24th 2009
Business Travel

When we first started our epic adventure in June 2007, I secretly harbored reservations about the reality of working remotely from Dream Time. Surrounded by distractions I imagined I'd sit behind my computer, with its curser blinking patiently, while I gazed distantly out of a port light across a mesmerizing ocean, or perhaps lost in thought, day dreaming in a tropical anchorage - like a schoolboy forced to do homework indoors on a warm summer’s day - too distracted to focus. I also worried that perhaps the physical disconnect between my office and staff back in New York would make it almost impossible for me to juggle both endeavors. I would lose touch.

In many ways working from Dream Time reminds me of when I started my design company, i&D Media Group, back in the summer of 1997. For the first two years I worked from home - my three small IKEA desks jammed up in the corner of our living room, bolted together in an efficient “U” shape, housing two computers, two printers, a scanner, a pile of external SyQuest, Jaz and Zip drives and a stack of printed stationery - this was the hub of my little creative empire, the aspirations of which spilled over the 8’ x 8’ rug, permeated our whole apartment and became my driving passion for over a decade.

In time the company grew and I moved from my cramped little corner at home, to my very own little office, a whole room which I shared with my first and only employee. As the company expanded, so did our work space - more desks, computers and equipment filled the corners, occupied with a growing team of young, enthusiastic, talented designers - their personalized work areas full with colorful creative goodies: witty posters, suction dart guns, gadgets, Kinder Egg puzzles and squishy toys, which I would regularly see shooting across my periphery, hurled about the office at unsuspecting co-workers during brief moments of creative frustration, inspiration and, ahhh, sweet revelation!

We won awards for our unique ideas and designs. We accepted challenging almost impossible projects with unrealistic deadlines other agencies dare not touch. We labored days, nights and weekends together, brainstorming ideas, tossing stress balls, conceiving the inconceivable, our creative solutions astonishing clients. For 10 years I gave everything to my company and I loved every stressful, consuming, exhausting second of it. So when the time came to pursue another passion, to circumnavigate the world, I couldn't just sail away from it all. The senior design team were promoted to my business partners and together we devised a comprehensive plan to ensure our success as we all planned to navigate our way through unfamiliar territory.

For almost two years now both ventures are not only on track but exceeding all of our expectations. My business partners in New York are managing i&D with a level of energy, dedication, competence and pride that comes so naturally with ownership and when you're doing exactly what you want to do. And I'm working from my new office aboard Dream Time, communicating ideas and emails on a daily basis with the self-proclaimed "Dream Team" back in New York. Although I'm well out of range from the occasional stress ball with my name on it, we still operate in very much the same way, it's a team effort.

My office on Dream Time, the starboard quarter berth, is a narrow rectangular cabin that consists of a bunk, a small navigation table, a book shelf and two louvered cupboards. My laptop, a Toughbook computer donated by Panasonic, one of i&D's clients and a sponsor of this adventurous endeavor, rests on a small hinged 14” x 24” teak table the folds down in front of me, forming my deck. I have a single wireless printer, a rugged external hard drive and an Iridium satellite phone that also operates as my modem.

I feel like I did in the summer of 1997, working from a crammed corner office in our New York apartment, my mind brimming with dreams and ambition. I'm not entirely certain what lays over our horizon. As Dream Time sails west across the expansive South Pacific, anything seems possible. But I do know, without any doubt, that we are traveling in the right direction.


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Day 691 - South Pacific (S 9° 42.6 W 118° 17.7)
14:36hrs - April 21st 2009
The Reality

It's day 17 of what will probably be the longest single passage of our entire world circumnavigation. Sure I knew it was over 3,000 nautical miles of open ocean before we set-off, and I calculated that it would take us between 4-5 weeks to transit, but the reality of planning an offshore leg such as this one and actually doing it, are quite different.

We're well over half way to the Marquesas and have covered a distance of 1,796 nautical miles, but the reality is we still have another 1,209 before we raise the islands. A distance that at our current speed of 6 knots in 15-20 knot trade winds, will take us another 9 days to transit.

The passage is going remarkably well, we have a daily routine that operates like clockwork - night watches, domestic chores, boat projects, eating, napping, relaxing. Ironically we're doing very little 'sailing' though, our sails have remained full and untouched for over a week, so Catherine and I feel more like passengers on Dream Time rather than her captains. If the trade conditions are as they should be, the reality is that the boat is happy to skip over the waves sailing herself. The satellites orbiting above guide our autopilot below, we have remained on the same tack, on the same heading, in much the same conditions for two weeks now. There's really very little for us to do, except hold on.

Our ocean photos do little justice to the actual size of the heaving swell that surround us. The photos show a light chop or perhaps even what appear to be smooth, tranquil rolling seas with the sun shimmering off its surface, the reality is quite different. The swell is relentless and requires us to clutch, brace, grab, twist and flex as they continuously pass under our keel. It's like balancing atop one of those giant orange rubber aerobic balls - in an earthquake. The swell is a combination of the easterly waves blown by the trades and a deep, slow rolling swell from the south, probably a result of stronger winds down in the 'roaring forties', and they occasionally decide to converge right on Dream Time's port quarter. Clinging to handholds with our fingertips, in a fashion not altogether different from mountain climbers, Catherine and I hang-on as Dream Time is heaved over to starboard, enough for our caprail to occasionally scoop gallons of seawater onto the teak deck, turning the water around us white and leaving the ocean bubbling, gurgling and hissing in our wake as we surge forward. The unfortunate reality is that these freak waves usually rear-up just when Catherine is preparing one of her deliciously complex meals down in the galley (the ingredients invariably consisting of just about anything that rolls: tomatoes, onions, apples, cabbages, olives). Chasing a runaway onion or a pack of fleeing olives around an undulating cabin floor is most definitely not her idea of fun.

But besides the sheer magnitude of this long passage, the length of which we will probably never have to cover again in a single leg. Besides the rolling, the bracing and the endless routine of it all, the reality is, I really quite like it out here.

Sure there is the excitement of realizing our dream to sail around the world, the thrill and adventure of crossing the South Pacific in a small sail boat, but there is something else. I see things differently out here, I'm more aware of the magnificent order of things, a simple, natural harmony of gargantuan scale, that, even on the rolliest of days, can be quite comforting. It is something that I rarely recognize when on land, but out here, in the open ocean, you're right in the very center of it all - the sun and moon rise from the horizon immediately behind us, orbiting high above us before swinging down and sinking below the horizon directly in front of us. The quiet night sky - the Southern Cross always floating off our port side, the Big Dipper off our starboard. Orion's Cross dead ahead, Dream Time's bow nodding and pointing directly at the center of her three stars, night after shooting star night. The world seems to revolve around us and even though at times it feels like we're in the middle of nowhere, the reality is, we're at the center of everything. And, at least for the moment, I can think of nowhere else I'd rather be.




 

 

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Day 687 - South Pacific (S 7° 47.2 W 108° 40.8)
13:11hrs - April 17th 2009
Are We There Yet?!

We are at day 13 and 1,000 miles of this passage but right now it feels like we’ve been doing it forever, and that it might never end!

One of the many questions I was asked about the trip before we left was how I felt about being so far away from land on such long passages, and I would always reply with great confidence that I was sure I would enjoy these parts the most.  The prospect of being thousands of miles from land, with thousands of feet of ocean under our keel, just being this tiny dot in a vast expanse of sea, really appealed to my sense of adventure.  I imagined leaping into a sparkling sapphire ocean, swimming around the boat and just having the whole warm beautiful Pacific to myself, but reality has proved to be a little different. 

Now we are actually thousands of miles from South America with still thousands of miles to our destination my feelings are more subdued.  The reality of the distance between us and the rest of the world is daunting, and it’s hard to imagine how anything can keep going for so long.  The ocean just keeps being there day after day, night after night and I cant imagine seeing anything else now, as much as I would like to see and feel land again I just can’t imagine getting there.  Don’t get me wrong the ocean the heavens the absolute pure nature of it all is magnificent, the huge deep blue rolling waves by day and the countless stars by night, but it just doesn’t stop.  I think I understood the concept of a 3,000 mile 4-5 week ocean passage but actually doing it is a whole other thing. 

I guess for me the biggest problem is the constant movement, everything moves all the time and it can make even the simplest tasks challenging, and having this go on for weeks is taking all the joy out things.  Getting enough sleep has been difficult too.  I am a big fan of sleep generally and without a good 8 hours I am at a bit of a loss, so our 24 hour watch system with its sporadic and interrupted sleep is difficult. 

So I guess what I’m saying is it’s not what I thought it would be, and also not enough sleep makes me grumpy, but on the bright side in just a few weeks we’ll be in the Marquesas!!




 

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Day 686 - South Pacific (S 7° 20.9 W 106° 23.9)
07:45hrs - April 16th 2009
Flying Along

We found the wind five days ago and it is glorious! After crossing an area of ocean filled with lightening, squalls and wind gusting to over 30 knots, it seems that we have finally settled in to the South Pacific trades.

Sailing before 20 - 25 knots of easterly wind, Dream Time is charging through heavy swell at a determined 6 - 8 knots of speed. When the larger rollers pass under our keel, sometimes reaching heights of over 10 feet, we surf down their face, our record to date being an exhilarating 13 knots. Our reefed main and partially furled headsail have flown, untouched, for three days, drum-tight and held out far off our starboard side as we speed onward, our heading 255°.

The ocean, once heavy and lethargic is now alive with energetic waves, white caps and thousands of flying fish that, in an effort to avoid Dream Time's path, soar over the crests in schools, gliding majestically on their silvery outstretched dorsal fins, sometimes covering distances of over 300 feet. The larger more experienced pilots expertly twist their bodies and fins, banking around and over crests, flicking their tails off the water to gain speed and altitude before plopping back into the sea. The smaller flying fish scatter frantically in every direction, clumsily colliding into oncoming swell, or sometimes, for those who misjudged Dream Time's speed and direction, headfirst into our sails or coachroof. My morning routine now consists of sea burials for the unfortunate victims unable to find our scuppers - twelve this morning. Last night, an hour before my 3:00 am shift, one even managed to fly directly into the open v-berth hatch and landed with a light 'flump' on the blanket beside me. Leaving a strong, salty, fishy smell in its slimy path, it took a few seconds for me to turn on the light, get a hold of him as he twitched and flipped around the bed, before hurling him, unceremoniously, back out to sea the same way he flew in.

There has been no traffic on the horizon or the short-range VHF radio for almost a week, it truly feels like we are alone. And, unable to speak to friends or fellow cruisers on our long-range SSB radio, due to a short in the wiring I have yet been able to trace (which keeps blowing a fuse), in a way we are.

But what a ride! Suddenly the 1,927 nautical miles we have remaining isn't quite so daunting, and at our current speed we should raise Hiva Oa, the first our Marquesan Islands in about 14 days.



 

 

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Day 681 - South Pacific (S 3° 29.3 W 96° 41.3)
15:43hrs - April 11th 2009
Adrift

Besides a brief moment when we started the engine to outrun a whale, we've been sailing for almost a week now. Our pace, however, has been dismally slow. In the time in takes most air travelers to reach Australia, say from New York or London, Catherine and I have barely managed to cover the distance required just to arrive at the departure airport by car. In the last 24 hours, Dream Time has sailed, drifted would be a more accurate description, a rather disappointing 58 nautical miles.

Too slow for our autopilot to register an acceptable rate of speed, we were forced to hand steer through much of last night. In reality not a great deal of effort is required, but it's not a particularly enjoyable distraction. Catherine, whilst listening to her audio books, dangles her leg casually over the wheel, expertly bending at the knee to adjust our heading. I choose to lock the wheel in place, balancing the rudder against the sails until the light wind shifts or a particular disruptive swell passes under us. Then, normally after a few minutes, I slacken the locking nut, turn the wheel about an inch or so, re-tighten, and continue the routine all over again. This was how Catherine and I both spent our 5-hour shifts last night.

Considering the pitiful distance we've covered over the last week - a mere 456 miles, and the distance ahead - a daunting 2,534 miles, the journey and our spirits are in remarkably good form. Catherine and I have reached a level of resigned acceptance. After-all, what choice do we have? We spend our 24 hours happily pottering around the boat - a routine of sleeping, reading, adjusting sails, writing, napping, fishing, listening to music and relaxing. With no pressure of a schedule or looming deadline we're able to simply enjoy the journey, regardless of how long it might take (36 more days at our current pace).

Yesterday I caught a 28" Mahi Mahi. We've sighted sharks, giant schools of dolphins marching across the ocean, stretching from horizon to horizon in a single leaping, jumping, somersaulting line. We've seen white spray fill the blue sky as whales surface for a breath. Occasionally, when the wind does hit double digits and Dream Time actually goes fast enough to form a bow wave, we're filled, temporarily, with a disproportionate feeling of euphoria, thrilled that we're actually moving. Regrettably these moments have been short lived.

I've begun practicing 'swinging the noon sun' with my sextant which will, when used correctly, give us our lattitude and rough longitude position, confirming what our chartplotter already knows, that we're barely moving.

Swinging under the shade of the cockpit bimini and marking our passage of time, our fruit hammock, once bulging with fresh papayas, avocados, pears, pineapples and apples, is now almost empty, only a few resilient apples and squashy pears remain. The giant 50lb bunch of bananas we rigged off our wind generator pole decided to ripen all at once, rather than in an orderly top to bottom fashion that we had been hoping for, forcing us to eat a banana every hour or so as they plop down onto the teak deck, unable to hang on any longer. Not wanting to waste a single one, we've been mixing bananas with everything - pancakes, cereal, muffins, Catherine even added a few to bread mix, making a soggy and rather weighty banana bread pudding that sticks to the roof of our mouths.

And so, leaving a trail of banana skins in our wake and steering vaguely towards a waypoint on our chartplotter I've optimistically labeled "WIND" (S 8° 00' W 105° 00') we drift onward, south-southwest, eager to make more progress but enjoying how far we've come.

PASSAGE FACTS (averages):
Wind speed: 9 knots. Wind direction: east
Boat speed: 2.9 knots. Distance covered in 24 hours: 76 miles
Barometer pressure: 1000 millibars. Skies: mostly clear
Air temperature (midday in shade): 92.8 degrees
Sea temperature: 81.6 degrees. Seas: 3'

A special thanks: Catherine and I would like to thank everyone for their emails of support and encouragement. We know how fortunate we are to be on this journey and are thrilled that so many of you are enjoying the adventure with us. Click here to read comments and emails >



 

 

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Day 677 - South Pacific (S 2° 48.9 W 91° 55.6)
13:23hrs - April 7th 2009
Day 3 of 3,000 MIles

We are now into day 3 of our 3,000 mile expedition across the Pacific and it’s hard to comprehend the distance we still have ahead of us.

For me our last passage from Panama to the Galapagos was quite an achievement in itself as it was our first, just the 2 of us, almost 1,000 mile leg. But there wasn’t much of an opportunity for laurel resting once we got there, as our Galapagos visas only allowed us 21 days, so no matter what, whether we were ready or not, at day 21 we had to leave.

It felt a bit like being nudged towards the edge of a precipice, I was nervous about going forward, but we couldn’t go back, and our visas said we couldn’t stay, so once we reached our departure date, that was it. Maybe it was a good thing though because it would have been all too easy for me to raise entirely compelling arguments to stay, perhaps just one more day with the iguanas, just one more ice cream, just one more really good night’s sleep before setting off on the longest passage in the history of us… ever!! 

But on Sunday April 5th we reached our get out of town date, and get out of town we did.  Sailing away from the last terra firma we’d see for a month felt pretty strange, but once we were out of sight of land, and all we had was our little circle of ocean, I began to settle down and ponder the miles ahead.

One of my pondering points was that we had read reports of piracy in this area, and when we were in the Galapagos we met an Australian who had been forced to make an unplanned detour there after having been tracked and followed by a ‘fishing boat’ very close to where we are now.  It had appeared to be a fishing boat, but it was behaving more like a predator circling its prey, for every course change the Australian made the other boat did the same and after several dark hours of this, he called in a Mayday and made a b-line for the closest port, San Cristobal Galapagos.  So with that in mind we have been keeping a very close watch in our little patch of ocean and from time to time we have seen boats on the horizon, but nothing more sinister than a few like minded sail boats  and a fishing boat that happily turned out to be a just a fishing boat.  Ironically this aspect of the journey so far means the further away from land we get the safer we feel.

The weather is beautiful, we are averaging about 80 miles a day, we have a knot of current in our favor and the wind is light but useable, so all in all day 3 is turning out to be pretty good.  We are however, not having any success in the fish department, so I guess its pasta for dinner again.




 

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Day 674 - Galapagos Islands (S 0° 53.7 W 89° 36.8)
19:01hrs - April 4th 2009
It's Time!

There's a steady rotation of cruising boats coming and going from our anchorage in San Cristobal. Boats arriving from the east replace those departing for the west - it's like a long distance nautical relay,
and it's our turn to go.

Since I first watched Mutiny On The Bounty, the original 1962 version with Marlon Brando, I've dreamed about this moment - exploring the Southern Pacific Ocean in a sail boat. It's time. Our 20-day visa for the Galapagos, the maximum amount of time extended to cruisers not willing to negotiate the Ecuadorian immigration system for a longer stay, is coming to an end. So tomorrow, with our passports stamped and our zarpe (cruising papers) in order, we'll begin the longest journey most cruisers will ever encounter when circumnavigating the globe - over 3,000 miles of ocean, a journey that will take us approximately a month to transit. The weather charts I've recently downloaded show the steady E-SE trades of the South Pacific lower than I would like, about 10°south of the equator, or 600 miles away. So rather than sailing our rhumb line, a straight course to our destination, our heading will be more southerly as we search for wind to fill our sails.

I'm filled with excitement in anticipation of our passage. Well out of the commercial shipping lanes, not a single reef or island enroute and, when we find the trades, the promise of days/weeks of fair downwind sailing - it'll be a cruiser's paradise. If the conditions are as I hope they will be, not a sheet, halyard or sail will need to be touched for days at a time, perhaps even weeks. Dream Time and her crew will experience a sensation that I can only describe as meditative. Days and nights will not exist for us as they do in the traditional sense, rather there will be just a continuous streaming passage of time marked only by our position fixes on the chart.

The sextant that Catherine bought for me over 7 years ago, that I admit I've never used, will be dusted-off and christened on this passage. It may take me a few days (or weeks) to master, but I plan to navigate our way to the Marquesas with it, swinging the noon sun down to the horizon each day in a manner consistent with the legendary nautical adventurers whose wakes we will be following.

The Marquesas Islands, a mountainous cluster of over 10 islands in the northern territory of French Polynesia, are home to approximately 9,000 Polynesians. Our first stop will be the island of Hiva Oa, which reputedly was the last stronghold of cannibalism in French Polynesia (source: Earl R. Hinz & Jim Howard's "Landfalls of Paradise"). Also, the ancient art of tattooing is still practiced in the Marquesas, which, I've been told, boast some of the most skilled artists in all of the Pacific. To this day Marquisans decorate their bodies, even newborn infants, with traditional designs, intricate patterns and symbols which are believed to increase the holders authority and strength. Marquisan tattoo artistry is performed in the traditional way - tapping a needle against the skin using a short stick. It doesn't sound terribly pleasant but still, I plan to get inked!

Perhaps it's not he best idea I've ever had, especially after considering the fuss I made over a stubbed toe (see blog 3/13/09), but I've been considering getting one for a while, and there is no better place for an authentic, painful, tattooing experience than the Marquesas. I'm not entirely certain what the design will be or where it will be located, but I promise to record the ceremony and document the experience in detail for your viewing pleasure.



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Day 671 - Galapagos Islands (S 0° 53.7 W 89° 36.8)
11:01hrs - April 1st 2009
Touring the Galapagos & Things I Didn't Know

We just spent the last 4 days touring some of the many islands here and we are now entirely accustomed to sharing space with sea lions, turtles, iguanas and a myriad of other curious and generally friendly creatures.

We have been up to the top of volcanoes and down into deep dark lava tunnels, we hiked through endless desolate lava fields and along vast deserted pristine beaches and its all amazing, even more amazing to think that every creature that somehow managed to float, fly, swim or drift here all those millions of years ago, did so quite by accident and then having survived the journey they then had to adapt to an inhospitable and often deadly volcanic environment, so it seems appropriate that today their home is an internationally prized and protected marine reserve and they can finally relax and enjoy their little piece of earth

FYI - interesting Galapagos things I didn’t know:

  • It’s not cold, the Master and Commander movie made it look cold here, but it’s not, in fact it’s hot & sunny with hardly any rain even in the rainy season.  The water is a bit chilly but the sun is equator hot.
    P.S. as soon as I wrote this it started raining!! Spooky.
  • Sea lions totally rule here, as do all non-human creatures in and around these islands.  The Galapagos is 97% national park with the remaining 3% inhabited in theory by humans, but in reality the sea lions rule everywhere.
  • ‘Wild’ giant tortoises roam around on lush verdant hills grazing like cows, less wild ones live in protected tortoise nirvana’s eating bananas, yucca and anything else their giant tortoise hearts desire.
  • ‘Volcano treks’ look deceptively relaxing in photos.
  • Penguins and pink flamingos really can exist in the same place.
  • They do have ice cream here, not sure why I thought they wouldn’t,
    but they do so I probably didn’t need to eat quite so much ice cream before we left Panama!

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