The Pacific Ocean: Puerto Vallarta to Hiva Oa

We left Puerto Vallarta on Monday, March 14. I did not even notice that it was Pi day (3.14….) until friend Mark told about the pi(e) he had to celebrate!

Below are three “on passage” posts about the crossing. For context: The great circle route (most direct) is 2,277 nautical miles. But often that is not the best route due to wind and current patterns, such at the doldrums at the equator. Our course took about 2,800 nautical miles. We arrived on Sunday, April 10 for a crossing of 27 days, 3 1/2 hours. A long passage, but still inside the 3-4 week window we had projected. And we beat our passage time of 31 days from Hawaii to Portland in 2010.

Trade Wind Sailing

Trade Wind Sailing. The classic puffy white clouds all lined up. These always remind us of a series of paintings by our cousin, the artist Katie Crown.

Sunday, March 21

14* 17.9′ North Latitude
110* 44.4′ West Longitude

It is Sunday afternoon and we have been sailing over the Mathematicians Seamounts for days. Huge mountains underwater, that thankfully we cannot see, are named: Bernoulli, Newton, Lagrange, Keppler, Cantor, Lobachevshy, Napier, Euclid, and others.
The wind is blowing at about 7-10 knots from the NNE. We are sailing downwind, with the wind at our backs, at about 4 knots – which is great after the prior four days. The mainsail is down, lashed to the boom and the twin headsails are up, supported by their “twizzle stick” poles. The Aries windvane is steering very well – endlessly, silently and using no electricity. The windvane plays well with the twin headsails; it’s a great combination in these conditions. It is 28.0 C in the cabin and 28.6 C in the water. Relative humidity is comfortably low at 60%. This is classic trade wind sailing over deep cobalt blue waters.

We left on Monday, as scheduled. A very nice young man from Mexican Customs came to inspect the boat. Once aboard, he seemed at a loss as to what to inspect for – our boat is so modest. He took a few snaps of the interior and the exterior and left with a smile. All very simple and painless, and different than what we’d been told to expect. I guess they simply want to know that you are who you claim to be. After one last Mexican lunch and a short siesta, we left the dock at 1:15 pm. There was great sailing out over Banderas Bay and by nightfall we had cleared the headland and set a course towards the southwest. The next four days brought very light and variable winds. We generally drifted towards the southwest, sometimes at less than 1 knot, under the “Starfish” drifter sail. Wednesday and Thursday we motored during the night. This helped relieve the rolling and slatting of empty sails, moved us along, and allowed the off-watch to sleep more easily. This wind from the NNE developed on Saturday and really stabilized today.

We are settling into the routine of life aboard during passage. This has taken a bit longer than usual because we both had colds leaving Puerto Vallarta, and so have been trying to get enough sleep while offshore in rolling, slatting conditions. When the wind is very light the boat rolls, even in light ocean swells, causing the sails to fill and empty and fill again with a loud bang. This happens in a random pattern that creates unpredictable noises, which then make it hard to sleep. And Randy frets about the stress and chafe on the sails, which doesn’t help the mood on board either. Now with consistent winds and the downwind rig pulling nicely, the whole crew is happier and catching up on sleep, chores, and reading. We got sun showers today! We successfully made radio contact using the Marine Single Side Band (SSB) with a few other boats on the Pacific Puddle Jump net. We can’t see each other, but we all have been experiencing similar conditions within a 300 mile radius or so.

Meals have been abundant and delicious. Fresh produce is ripening a bit faster than expected, so we are getting lots of fresh salads and fruits now. We’ll start using canned vegetables and fruit in a few days. A fish line is out most of the day, trolling for anything edible like Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, or tuna. Although we have yet to catch any one of these, something big must be out there: The line came in last night with the lure missing – the stainless steel wire leader chomped clean through.

Highlights that come from sailing in a small boat: Risso’s, or Grampus, dolphins have visited the boat at sunset the past two days, in pods nearing a dozen and staying for 10-15 minutes, playing in front the the boat as we sail quietly along. Ruth is continually fascinated with the abundant bird life of boobies, petrels, and tropic birds that circle the boat – they’re probably hoping for the results of a fish yet to be cleaned. Or maybe they’re just curious. The younger boobies amuse us as they try to find a landing spot aboard, then have to abort mid-flight. We’ve seen lots of flying fish; one took a flying leap off a wave and whacked into the dodger during one of Ruth’s night watches, startling her, but probably startling it even more.

Landfall is at least another three weeks away. We’re about five days behind the optimistic projections. We’ll send another post in week or so …

Sunday, March 27

06* 25.9′ North Latitude
117* 30.9′ West Longitude

It is Saturday afternoon and we have been sailing along the northern boundary of the doldrums for three days now. Officially this is the InterTropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). One of the more cumbersome and awkward acronyms ever coined, we prefer the traditional “doldrums” to ITCZ. This is where the NE trade winds meet the SE trade winds, creating light and variable winds and many squalls. There are fluky winds here, and they can come from any direction. The air is warm and humid over warmer ocean water. With the trade winds blowing into the ITCZ from the NE and SE, the warm air mass goes where it can: It moves up. Warm air moving up creates squalls, the ocean’s cousin to midwestern thunderstorms. Squalls, like thunderstorms, bring strong and gusty winds, lots of heavy rain, and often lightning. We’ve been sailing under overcast skies and among the squalls for three days. The overcast sky is welcome as it blunts the intensely hot tropical sun. The rains are welcome because they give the boat a good washing, rinsing off the salt that builds up on everything, and clearing the humid air. The lightning is both beautiful and nerve-wracking. Fortunately, most of it is cloud-to-cloud lightning. A squall this afternoon provided welcome showers for all crew in the cockpit. Our baptism to tropical cruising. Everyone feels better and spirits are up.

Squalls bring wind and rain.

Squalls bring wind and rain. Can you see the rain bouncing off the sea surface?

We have been monitoring the weather charts – do it yourself weather analysis – daily. We were sailing west along the northern boarder of the doldrums, along 6* 30′ North latitude, looking for the right winds that will carry us down and across the doldrums. All the weather arrows seem to be lining up, and so we took the decision and changed course. Running wing-on-wing with the 80% Jib and reefed Mainsail towards the SW, we are now sailing to cross the doldrums. The bonus is that we’re also on a heading more directly towards the Marquesas. Other boats are reporting SE trade winds at about 3* North latitude, about 210 nm south of us. It might be  possible to cross the doldrums in about two days and be in the SE trades by Tuesday. It will be interesting.

The big excitement was almost landing a Mahi-Mahi five days ago. We were sailing fast when the trolling line took off, zinging through water at 45* from the boat and stretching out the big bungee cord we use instead of drag on a reel to soften the strike. A big Mahi was on the hook! Randy put on his work gloves first thing (they live on the life line, at the ready) then began to slowly ‘reel’ in. The line is 1/8″ braided nylon, which was led around a winch and pulled in slowly hand over hand. But at about half-way in the big fish escaped. No Mahi for dinner. Pulling in the rest of the line, he found that the heavy-duty stainless steel double hook had broken. The Mahi didn’t free from the hook: The hook broke! Next time we stop the boat before pulling in a fish.

Wind vane steering in delightful trade wind conditions

Wind vane steering in delightful trade wind conditions

Life aboard has settled into passage-making routine: Keep the boat sailing. Monitor the weather charts. Check in with the radio net each morning. Cook, eat, wash dishes. Mostly nap. And don’t forget to fish! Between the 24 hour schedule, the heat and humidity, and the boat motion, these activities occupy the day and our energies. We read a lot. I realized that we are both fully acclimatized to life at sea when I caught Ruth studying French, for French Polynesia, and myself building a spreadsheet to correlate time zones to longitude – in Excel, on the laptop, at sea. (Yes, my propeller beanie cap is whirring.)

Sunday, April 4, 2016

03* 49.7′ South Latitude
125* 37.9′ West Longitude

The big event this week was crossing the Equator on Thursday. Here are the specs at the time of crossing:
01:10 April 1, 2016 UTC
17:10 March 31, 2016 Ship Time

00* 00.0 S Latitude
121* 05.8 W Longitude

Hiva Oa, Marquesas bearing 241*T at 1,215 nm range.


Digital “proof” from the GPS

Two very happy sailors

Two very happy sailors

We celebrated with proper Gin & Tonics in the shady cockpit during the cool of an early evening. Proper – that is with Limon (small key limes – prevalent in Mexico) and no ice. Ruth had made a very nice pasta salad and we indulged in a glass of Vino Tinto to go with. Mexican red box wine works quite well on a small boat. The crucial count down: 18 Limons left.

After taking about four days to cross the Doldrums, we’re finally sailing in the fabled SE Trades. And yes, we can see the Southern Cross, but our waterline is only 27 feet. Blue sky punctuated with puffy white cumulus clouds that look like little cotton balls float by. Amazingly regular in shape, size, altitude, and spacing. The water is a deep cobalt blue. While there was a lot of wildlife in the Sea of Cortez and on into the NE Trades, here just south of the Equator, we see very little. Fewer birds, many fewer flying fish and no more squid on deck on the mornings leaving little black splotches. Dolphin visit the boat every day or so, but here the dolphin are larger, the pods are smaller and they stay not so long. I drag a troll line each day, but have yet to catch anything. It’s wonderful that the dolphin are smart enough never to take the trolling lure. I just hope the Mahi Mahi are not.

The doldrums were marked by 100% cloud cover and squalls. We were lucky with a decent wind for the first two days. After that sailing was fast around the squalls and often flat between. We got lots of rain and took showers in the cockpit, our baptism to tropical sailing. Now it’s mostly clear and hot. Humidity varies quite a bit, from above 80% to below 65% percent. This, and whether there’s a breeze, affect our comfort more than then the heat itself. The first three days after crossing the Equator was fabulous sailing on a modest, and very consistent SE Trade Wind. Today a minor low trough brought high clouds and much less wind. We drift downwind and wait for the SE Trades to kick in again. A large squall is brewing to the south.

Today’s highlight was pulling the plug on the knotmeter. The meter, which give boat speed through the water, has a little paddle wheel. It’s mounted through the bottom of the boat in a bronze through-hull fitting, with a cap nut and O-rings to keep everything in place and the ocean out. Well, over time the boat speed became less and less believable – much like your speedometer getting slower and slower even as the light poles keep whizzing by. The remedy is to pull the plug, seeing a small geyser of ocean water rush in, and quickly insert the blanking plug. Then I can take my time to clean out the baby gooseneck barnacles beginning to colonize my paddle wheel. When all clean, repeat with a reverse swap of paddle wheel and geyser for blanking plug. Now spinning freely, boat speed is much more reliable. This needs to be done about every other week. Ocean depth is 4,662 Meters (2.9 miles down).

The amazing change is from sailing against the Equatorial Counter Current right along the Equator to sailing with the South Equatorial Current. The Counter Current must have been against us by 1 a knot or so. The Equatorial must be with us by at least that much. We are seeing a net increase in Speed Over Ground (from GPS) of 2 to 2.5 knots! So I am curious how far this favorable current extends both west, but especially south towards the Marquesas. This is why having reasonably accurate Speed Through the Water is important. It helps to evaluate current direction and speed. Over a very long passage we cross into and out of numerous ocean currents that affect our navigation strategy.

We’re now 880 nm from Hiva Oa. If the weather approximates the forecasts, we will be there within a week or so. I certainly hope before 18 days.

Sunday, April 4, 2016

Arrived Atuona, Hiva Oa. Anchored by 4:40 pm. Of the 30 some boats in the harbor, three are from Portland, Oregon. About 10%, a pretty good showing for a small town up a river.

The harbor in Baie Tahauku at the town of Atuona on the island of Hiva Oa

The harbor in Baie Tahauku at the town of Atuona on the island of Hiva Oa



5 thoughts on “The Pacific Ocean: Puerto Vallarta to Hiva Oa

  1. Glad to hear your voyage is going smoothly. I have some sad news to impart. Dad had a stroke on March 16th affecting his left side. He has been trying very hard to rehab but on April 15th he had another small stroke. We consulted his doctor and spoke with Dad about hospice. Dad said he is ready to “go” and was so relieved after the decision was made. David T. has brought your Dad down to visit a few times which Dad has enjoyed.
    Safe travels to all. Love, Kathi


  2. Nice work you two! What a great adventure. Thanks for maintaining such a great blog. It is fun to get news but I also think I am learning something.


  3. Great to hear the crossing apparently went well. We are really enjoying the blog. Had snow all day yesterday, gone today. Back down to Santa Cruz next week.


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