3000nm – 21 Days Across the Pacific!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

We weren’t really ready to leave for our Pacific crossing, but a 7am visit from the port captain and our agent in Isabella telling us we had to leave by 8am (thanks for the ample warning guys!) kicked us into gear. After a quick good-bye cuppa with our buddy boats we were off!

We had been talking about this passage for a long time – it’s a pretty monumental thing to sail non-stop across 3000nm of open sea. Megan was pretty anxious about this leg, and we had explored taking crew with us, but in the end decided to go alone.  In hindsight, it was totally the right decision, despite all the challenges we had… (see EMERGENCY! below).
Leaving the Galapagos was both breathtaking and a bit sad as we loved these islands. We cruised along the coast of Isabella and saw loads of manta rays jumping and performing flips in the air.  We also saw normal rays doing the same, heaps of turtles and of course dolphins!  

Mike also got the lures in and we were reeling in our first catch of the trip in no time (a small Spanish mackerel).

The first 8 days of our passage were wonderful – we had great sailing and were really enjoying ourselves.  Our 4 hour watch system was working well, and our fishing success rate was phenomenal (a really pleasant surprise); we ended up only putting out one lure at a time (winner was definitely a blue & white squid lure), and only when we had finished eating all of the last catch, as we were landing a Mahi Mahi (aka Dorado or Dolphin Fish) basically whenever we wanted. 
We ate Mahi Mahi each day for the first 12 days of our voyage!  Megan was quite the culinary wiz: fish tacos, fish curry, fish kebabs, fried fish, grilled fish (a fave) and … after a few days off since we got a bit fished out … a lovely fish pie.
Whoops!  Even in a catamaran leaving a glass plate on a counter top in big swell can be a mistake (how complacent we become about how easy it is to live & sail on a cat!) … at least we had one piece each.
We also spent time doing minor maintenance: daily rig inspection, chafe inspection, cleaning dead squid & flying fish from the deck (so many each morning it was like ritual suicide!) and of course, our daily position updates and letting friends & family know we were ok!

The satellite phone was a real godsend, and we were very glad to have it aboard.  While at first we were happy to provide and receive daily position updates to our buddy boats and shore crew (i.e. worried parents), when disaster struck is was a real lifeline to have onboard.

Before we left, we had talked through our worst case scenarios, both in terms of problems and location.  Basically, 1000nm from Galapagos was the point of no return – so far downwind that it makes more sense to keep sailing the remaining 2000nm to the Marquesas than to turn back.

Well, at almost exactly 1000nm (and 8 days) from the Galapagos one of our worst fears was realized – in one instant we lost all steering and our autopilot failed. At 4am Mike was on watch, and as he came back downwind after putting in a reef the autopilot started playing silly buggers.  Taking the helm, he knew immediately something was wrong and called for Megan. 

It’s a bit of a blur what happened next, but in short order we had realized that our port rudder was no longer connected to any steering mechanism!  With the port rudder flailing around at will, the starboard rudder couldn’t control the boat.

Next to a fire or holing the boat, this was our worst fear realised! After dropping the sails, we drifted for about 4 hours while Mike tried to come up with a repair. The problem was a sheared pin.  A single pin connects the rudder quadrants to both the steering arm and (on the port side) to the autopilot ram.

This unique piece (see below) is threaded through the rudder quadrant (14mm thread), then has a spacer washer & goes through the steering arm ball joint (20mm), then has a built in tightening nut, followed by another smooth section that goes through the ball joint of the autopilot ram (15mm), topped off with a split pin. The port piece had sheared off just below the rudder quadrant!  
Mike quickly switched the same pin from the starboard side to the port side, so that we could use the autopilot, and then worked on a jury rig for the starboard side pin.  This obviously isn’t a piece that we keep in the spares kit … in fact, we don’t have any 14mm bolts in the kit at all!  Somehow Mike remembered that the nuts on the bolts holding the bimini pillars in place were the same size as the nuts on these pins, and we were relieved that these bolts were the right width (14mm) to go through the rudder quadrant.

With Megan using the emergency tiller to hold the rudder as still as she could (the passing 3m swell really kicked the rudders around a lot without anything controlling them), Mike was able to put the bolt in place, and stuff the space around the control arm ball joint with cut up pieces of fuel hose.

With fingers crossed, we started motoring along to see if the fix would hold.  And hold it did.  For the next few days we sailed with the rudders locked off, using only sail trim to keep us headed roughly on track (though we did weave quite a bit and covered significantly less ground – catamarans are definitely harder to steer using only sail trim than a ketch would be!). 

Through all this, we were able to use our sat phone to stay in contact with our friends, and more importantly our dedicated shore crew (Mike’s Dad).  Rod was able to coordinate with Lagoon getting replacement pins underway while we were still at sea.  Thanks again to Rod for being an awesome shore crew for our passage!

After a few days, we started to judiciously use the autopilot again, until finally we started to have real confidence in the fix we had come up with.  (It worked all the way to the Marquesas and, after taking apart and inspecting how it held up, we will be counting on it again until we get replacement pins in Tahiti).

Unfortunately, the breakage really messed with our enjoyment of the trip.  Up until that point, we had really been having a wonderful time.  The boat had been sailing really well, we had both felt good (and rested), and we were amazed at how awesome our lives were!

After the breakage, we were both on edge.  Megan had a lot of trouble sleeping for a few days in our room, as each noise the autopilot made (which is behind our heads in bed), would wake her in fear that it had broken again.  Each time one of us woke the other to change shifts, we would immediately jump up thinking that something else had gone wrong.  Stress levels were high … thankfully, at least we had other sleeping options … but still, we were both pretty affected by the reality of how far from land we were, and how quickly things could go wrong.
After a few days, things started to level out and we continued with our trip – though we did encounter a few more minor problems along the way: chaffed through 1st reefing line & topping lift, separating tack on our gennaker, broken impeller in generator, etc.  Basically, Mike had a lot of fun doing repairs while underway.

And of course, we did enjoy ourselves again … nothing like a cup of hot coco at sunrise!

Or a bottle of wine and some brie to celebrate Mike’s 35th birthday! 
But finally, after 21 days, we saw our landfall – Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas!
We had slowed down during our last day so that we would arrive at daylight, and the timing was just right.  It was a spectacular thing as the darkness began to lift at daybreak for a huge mountain of blackness to remain in front of us, and gradually take shape into a marvelous, jagged island!

Approaching Hanavave, our anchorage of choice in Fatu Hiva, at daybreak was awesome.  This anchorage is really stunning!

Unfortunately, our arrival wasn’t as straight forward as we'd hoped!  We came in and dropped our anchor, only to drag.  This anchorage was quite crowded (18 boats) when we arrived, and the river mouth must wash away any holding directly in the centre part of the bay (multiple boats dragged when trying to anchor here).

But … when we went to lift our anchor, our windlass motor died!

This was really the straw the broke the camels back – all we wanted after our 21 days at sea was to anchor & have a cup of coffee while admiring the view, but we ended up dropping our anchor by hand in 25m and putting out all our chain (130m) … then Mike was right back into trying to fix the motor (removing brushes, sanding back commutator, etc.).

Ah … well, that’s owning a boat!

All in all, we had a great trip despite all our challenges.  We are really happy that we accomplished this part of our adventure on our own, together in all the ups and downs and are excited about the rest of our time in French Polynesia!

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