Passage Logs: Acapulco to French Polynesia

There is only one word that can describe the last four months-UNBELIEVABLE! They have contained some of the best of the best-two wonderful months in Zihuatanejo Bay, a wonderful and safe 16-1/2 day passage from Mexico to the Marquesas with one of the most beautiful landfalls in the world (Fatu Hiva) and some experiences with the native Tuamotu people that were nothing short of incredible. They also contained the worst of the worst-being shipwrecked on a remote Tuamotu atoll. I spent most of January and February in “Camp Zihuatanejo,” getting Moonshadow ready for the passage west, hanging out with some wonderful people (both cruisers and locals) and even giving some sailing lessons to some of the cruising wives. It was great fun and I could write a whole letter about that, but enough about Mexico for now. Zihua friends Heather, David and Will jumped aboard at O dark hundred for the day sail to Acapulco and had arranged for me docking and first class treatment at the Acapulco Yacht Club. There I met the crew for the passage-Cort de Peyster, a 747 pilot and our navigator, Eric Strasser, a former Club Nautique student of mine and our bosun, and Fred Miley, former Moo Crew and “snacktician.” We made some last-minute repairs, including replacement of the water heater (Eric schlepped the new one down from the U.S.), filled the boat with provisions and headed out just two days behind our scheduled departure date.

The Best of the Best

Day 1, March 28, 1998

Latitude 16 degrees, four minutes north, Longitude 100 degrees 12 minutes west-Acapulco.

This is not a test!! Cort, Eric, Fred MaiTai and I are headed for the Marquesas! We shook off the lines from the Acapulco Yacht Club at 0900 CST this morning. As much as I hate to leave Mexico, the smog, glitz, congestion, violence and high prices of Acapulco make it easy to say adios-for now. After a couple hours of motor sailing, a northwesterly wind filled in and we are now fully canvassed, averaging eight knots toward the southwest.

The last week has been very hectic, taking care of last minute repairs, provisioning, clearing customs, provisioning, maintenance and provisioning. We put some 360 meals on board plus staples to last six months. Imagine figuring out how much of virtually everything you need to live (toothpaste, shave cream, plastic bags, kitty litter, Band-Aids, etc.) And buying all of it at once! NO FUN. If Acapulco didn’t have WalMart and Sam’s Club they could leave it off the chart.

We’re all a bit lazy-it will take a few days to adjust to life at sea, but it’s exciting to finally be underway.

Day 2, March 29

Latitude 14-35 North, Longitude 101-35 West.

We didn’t see any good restaurants along the way last evening so Fred whipped up a great chicken curry. We got into the spirit today with cheeseburgers (in paradise, of course) for lunch.

The fishing has been lousy so far. Had a good one on the line yesterday afternoon but it seems a shark beat us to our dinner and stole our lure to boot!

MaiTai is not liking Eric and is grouchy to the rest of us. . .guess she hasn’t gotten her sea paws yet.

Lots to read and do, and sleep to catch up on. . .the hours are going by quickly. Hope you have a nice weekend and think of us while you are commuting.

Day 3, March 30

Latitude 13-15 north, Longitude 103-59 west.

Eric and I just woke up from the afternoon lunch nap. We’ve got to sleep whenever we can. Fred is still fishing. . . he’s tried six different lures. . . no luck yet. . . guess we have to eat steak tonight. Cort says that we covered 148 miles noon to noon and that if we divert our course a few degrees left, we can do a low pass by Clipperton Island. I will give you a full report if we see it.

We were plagued by “ghosterlies” or very light winds last evening and had to motorsail for seven hours. Winds picked up a bit this morning and we set a spinnaker after a lunch of guacamole and tamales. Now we’re making six to seven knots in 10-12 knots of breeze. The seas are calm in a four to 6 foot swell and not much sea life but occasional flocks of sea terns and flying fish.

We speak to other boats making the passage on our single sideband radio each day. Conditions are a mixed bag along the course ahead-everything from calms to gales (winds more than 35 knots). MaiTai has a better attitude and Eric’s scratches are healing. Cervezas are chilling for happy hour. How’s the stock market doing and who’s Slick Willie’s latest girlfriend?

Day 4, March 30

Latitude 12-20 north, Longitude 105-44 west.

Day 4 and we are falling into a routine. . . eat, sleep, read, sleep, stand watch, etc. Except MaiTai. . . eat, sleep, rest, eat, sleep, rest. Nobody is having trouble relaxing and the hours seem to race on by. The breeze continues to be light-from four to 12 knots from the North and there are gentle rolling swells on the azure blue water. Our speeds are from 2.5 knots to eight knots and our day’s run was 144 miles. We were able to sail all night without using the motor, but even though we see the tropical trade wind clouds, the trades are one and a half days further west according to radio conversations with other boats en route.

As we close in on the equator it gets warmer. . . Today’s temperature was in the low 90’s. We heard there was snow on the Bay Area hills. . . what is snow?

No fish caught yet, so canned tuna for lunch. Keep changing the lures Fred!

Eric is reading The Perfect Storm. . . Every boat needs someone to do the worrying.

Cort wants to stop at Clipperton Island for a Luau. He heard there were some pigs left on the island, but we may go by in the middle of the night. . .we will keep you posted.

Day 5, April 1

Latitude 11-41 north, Longitude 108-14 west.

Happy April Fool’s Day! We’re feeling pretty lazy today. Too lazy to play an April Fool’s joke on you, but the fact that all that we are wearing is swimsuits and sunglasses is bad enough. Very lazy 138 mile day in light winds, but HOOWA we’re in the trade winds now. 10-15 knots of wind out of the northeast. We set the three quarter ounce spinnaker this afternoon so we could hold a better angle toward our way point at the equator and 132 degrees west longitude and picked up some nice boat speed.

Fred cooked up a killer dinner of pork loin with black beans and rice last evening. Eric finished The Perfect Storm and is now reading And the Sea Will Tell. I see a trend but I don’t think there’s of copy of Dead Calm on board. Cort makes coffee in the morning that is strong enough to raise the dead and corrode the stainless steel mugs. Fred is very frustrated as fish swim next to the boat but don’t bite the lures. . . is there a net? MaiTai is waiting patiently for a fresh meal. I dug out the drag generator, hooked it up and am happy because it cuts the genset run time in half. Diesel is $.85 per liter in the Marquesas. The crew are catching up on their sleep. Bliss is starting to set in!

Day 6, April 2

Latitude 10-18 north, Longitude 110-39 west.

It’s a slow commute this morning–8-10 knots. The sea is congested with flying fish and we almost hit a sea turtle! How was your commute?

Cort, the naviguesser says the day’s run was 188 nautical miles and that we are 721 miles from Acapulco or one quarter of the way to Hiva Oa. Fresh northeast trade winds are pushing us at 8-11 knots with the big spinnaker flying.

The crew is getting along well. Cort, Fred and George can all use the same reading glasses!

If you would like to know what it’s like out here, you can try a few things: Eat dinner on a roller coaster and sleep on a shelf in your closet. When taking a shower, shut off the water while soaping. Set the alarm clock to go off at random times during the night. When it goes off, go outside and sit for a few hours. Have a fluorescent light installed on the bottom of your coffee table and lie under it to read books. Put on a raincoat, stand in the shower and tear up $100 bills.

The drag generator popped out of its mount this morning and hit the barbeque. We think a shark hit the propeller in the water. We lost a drive prop, torque line and the barbeque grill. Imagine 14 days without a barbeque!

Day 7, April 3

Latitude 08-29 north, Longitude 113-46 west.

There’s nothing like trade wind sailing! Cort says that our noon to noon run was 218 nautical miles or an average speed of more than nine knots. Today was wash day and I’m sure that all those sheets, shirts and shorts hanging on the windward lifelines added to our boat speed. Eric had the 0200 to 0400 watch this morning and saw bioluminescent trails, a dozen shooting stars, a few satellites and a huge electrical storm 20 miles to the south. He thinks he will try to choreograph music to it tonight for a light and sound show.

Fred is receiving a lot of jokes and insults about his fishing, but still no luck and the crew and MaiTai is longing for fresh sushi. He did lay out a killer pasta dish for dinner last evening to help make up for his lack of fishing luck.

In the cruising guide to the Marquesas, I read that the French artist Paul Gauguin traded an old Singer sewing machine to the parents of a 13 year old Polynesian girl for the right to live with her. I wonder what I can get for the brand new electric job I have on board? MaiTai is enjoying the occasional flying fish that lands on board, but she only eats the head. . . what’s up with that cat?

Day 8, April 4

Latitude 06-27 north, Longitude 117-26 west.

We’ve been out just over a week and Cort says we can expect to pass the halfway mark tomorrow afternoon. Our day’s run was 214 miles.

The weather has been squally since 0230 this morning. Rain has washed the deck and sails and given us a bit of relief from the sun and heat. Each squall passing leaves us with light winds and lumpy seas. We’re looking closely at the weather reports to find the right point to cross the equator and intertropical convergence zone, also known as the ITCZ or doldrums, without getting hammered by thunder storms.

Fred reports that a large fish has stolen a second lure. . . there are now two fish out three with “hook-in-mouthÓ disease. No worries, we continue to eat well. Last night was an excellent lentil soup. Cort and I finished the evening with snifters of rum and cigars on the aft deck. Tonight is Mexican night-chicken mole poblano, rice and beans with a flan for dessert and, of course, cold cerveza.

The biggest excitement of the day was a dolphin sighting this afternoon with a great show of acrobatics.

Eric is trying to wean himself off of seasick medication. . . lots of sack time.

Day 9, April 5

Latitude 05 north, Longitude 120-30 west.

OK, here’s some statistics for you. According to our navigator, Cort, we will reach our halfway point of 1410 nautical miles from both Acapulco and Hiva Oa in the Marquesas right around happy hour today. Cervezas are chilling. The day’s run was 237 nautical miles. We are now in the Pacific Standard time zone and just about 2,243 miles due south of San Francisco in case you want to pop into our halfway party this evening. . . there will be plenty of beer, wine and vittles, so don’t bring a thing.

Last night was comedy night–comedy of errors! Squally conditions and a number of “operator errors” resulted in a shredded spinnaker and not much sleep for the crew. Everything’s going much better today. We’re averaging 10 knots with white sails trying to pick our spot to drop through the equator (I wonder how it’s marked?) below thesquall lines.

Eric and MaiTai both had mild cases of mal du mer yesterday as a result of lumpy seas, but there’s evidence that their appetites are returning. Eric scarfed pancakes and bacon for brunch and MaiTai devoured an entire flying fish. Fred is cooking a turkey dinner and apple crisp for tonight.

Day 10, April 6

Latitude 02-55 north, Longitude 123-24 west.

Greetings from the doldrums! It’s a very poor description of what we’ve experienced. We started the morning with rain and 20 knots of wind on our back. Then we went “motor slogging” into driving rain and 25 knot “noserlies” (wind on the nose.) We just popped out of the other side of the system and now have 17 knots of wind on our beam, thank you. Our day’s run was 217 wet nautical miles, but after four sunless days, it looks as if clear skies are on the horizon. We’re looking forward to opening the hatches and ports, drying out, and living outside again.

We were teased by a school of tuna yesterday afternoon. We hooked at least four fish, but due to boat speeds from 9-11 knots, we couldn’t get them to the boat. At least MaiTai gets an occasional flying fish that has practiced an aircraft carrier landing on the deck.

We are all feeling well and getting just enough (not plenty) of rest. Thanks to Fred’s cooking, we are eating well and thanks to Evert Fresh Bags we still have fresh lettuce, fruits and veggies after 10 days.

Tomorrow night, the equator!

Day 11, April 7

Latitude 01-33 north, Longitude 126-29 west.

We woke up to a gorgeous, sunny day. The squally “doldrums” are behind us and blue skies, gentle breezes and seas are ahead of us. We gybed (intentionally for a change) over to port tack and headed due south to the “Big E.” Within a couple of hours the boat resembled a garage sale with gear drying out all over. With the spinnaker set and the wind and waves behind us, we are enjoying trad wind sailing at it’s best. Cort says that the day’s run was 190 nautical miles and that tomorrow while you are enjoying your morning coffee, we’ll stop for a swim at the equator and photograph the “goose eggs” on the GPS screen.

Last night we saw another vessel for the first time in over a week. Eric, our onboard Sherlock Holmes, is searching for a small elusive source of fresh water finding its way into the bilge.

With just over a thousand miles to Hiva Oa, Fred is desperately trying not to make this a fishless passage. It has to be El Nino!

With the boom vang added to the list of broken gear and the sideband radio on the blink, I am feeling like I’m in the shower tearing up $100 bills.

Day 12, April 8

Latitude 00-39 south, Longitude 126-06 west.

Greetings form the southern hemisphere! I awoke this morning at 0630 excited to cross the equator for the first time in a sailboat. As I walked through the salon, I heard the sound of small metal parts hitting the deck overhead. On deck I discovered that the nut for the goose neck (holds the boom to the mast) had come off and the bolt was about to fall out as well. It could have been ugly! Some quick teamwork corrected the problem and we averted disaster just in time for the equatorial crossing. We dropped the sails and took a swim, but the water was too deep (14,000 feet) to see the line on the bottom.

Eric saw a group of fishing boats last night off to port. . . wonder if they were having better luck than us? Ahoy there, what’re you guys using for bait? We had another lure swiped by a large fish-the teasing is endless.

Our day’s run was 146 nautical miles in light winds. The quotation of the day came from Cort when asked if we should check the radar to see the weather ahead, he said “why bother, we’re going anyway.” We sailed through a very rainy squall and now are motor sailing in calm seas and very light winds.

We’ve decided that since we are ahead of schedule, we will make our first landfall at Fatu Hiva, supposedly one of the most beautiful and seldom visited islands in the Marquesas chain.

Equator party tonight!

Day 13, April 9

Latitude 02-30 south, Longitude 130-15 west.

We finally found the real doldrums, but a few hundred miles south of where they were supposed to be. Could it be because this is our 13th day at sea? We have been motoring on and off for 26 hours in two to five knot winds, but we’re sailing in the squalls because the winds get up to eight or nine knots. We get wet, but they’re free miles. The weather report says we should have 15 to 20 knot winds from the east to northeast-sure! Our navigator, “Graybeard” says the days run was 195 nautical miles and that we’re less than 700 miles from Fatu Hiva. Help us pray to Aoelus, the wind god, to get us therewithout burning up all of our diesel. The good news is that the watches are easy and we can steer straight to the mark. After a round of rum punches last evening, Fred served up a great Tuscan minestrone soup and a dessert of spice cake with pears and ginger custard. We finished with rum and cigars on the aft deck. Just making the best of a tough situation.

Day 14, April 10

Latitude 04-20 south, Longitude 132-21 west.

Geez, the time is flying by–can you believe we’ve been out here for two weeks! We continue to motorsail in “ghosterlies,” winds of 1-1/2 to five knots. When we hit an occasional squall or wind pipes up for a bit, we sail for an hour or two. The quotation of the day early yesterday by me “we ain’t going anywhere, but we ain’t burning any diesel.” Cort says the day’s run was 161 miles. His quotation of the day later was “the only time you have too much fuel is when you are on fire.” With more than 500 miles to go and little prospect of wind, fuel may become an issue.

This morning we got word that “Leviathan,” a 32-foot sailboat about 200 miles ahead was stranded in the calm with a blown engine. We diverted to assist and probably will tow her to Nuku Hiva. Just when you think you’ve got problems!

We finally caught a fish, a very small bonito that we released in the hopes of better luck. OK, we could have lied!

Day 15, April 11

Latitude 05-43 south, Longitude 134-34 west.

HOOWAA! We are sailing again! The trades filled in this morning and we have been reaching in 10 knot easterlies ever since. Just what we wanted for Easter. Having received the same wind, our friends on Leviathan (the boat in distress) are sailing on without our assistance.

Last evening was the most beautiful of the passage. The sun setting amidst the puffy cumulus “trade wind” clouds left an intense crimson glow on the horizon. You can only experience these breathtaking sunsets at sea. The glassy windless sea reflected the clouds above. It looked more like Lake Tahoe than the ocean, not a welcome sight for sailors. On my watch, the clouds parted to reveal the Southern Cross constellation (a southern version of the North Star.) On his four to six a.m. watch, Eric saw a simultaneous sunrise and moonset.

The navigator’s report is that the day’s run was 162 nautical miles and we are now less than 400 miles fro Fatu Hiva, our planned landfall.

Having run out of Bimbo Bread (Mexican Wonder Bread), Fred is making some killer scratch breads. Looks like we won’t starve before we get to paradise.

Day 16, April 12, Easter Sunday

Latitude 08-03 south, Longitude 136-29 west.

While you were out looking for Easter eggs, we’ve been blasting across the South Pacific Ocean life a freight train, except we’re rolling 20 degrees side to side in the beam swell. The trades have come in spades blowing up to 25 knots in the peaks. We’re broad reaching, hitting speeds up to 13 knots. At this rate we’ll be at anchor in Baie de Vierge (Virgin’s Bay), Fatu Hiva, by mid day tomorrow.

Sometimes I know how Herb Caen felt when I’m running out of material to write. Wait! FISH ON! I’m back and we’ve just boarded a six foot long, fifty pound spearfish, which is related to the swordfish and is purportedly good eating. In fact he tried to spear me in the leg, leaving a little bruise. The pork loin is back in the freezer and we’re having sushi and fresh fish for dinner. . . yum-yum. Did anyone bring sake? MaiTai is in a food coma from the scraps. We’d better start fishing again-it could be another 15 days before we catch anything.

Day 17, April 13

Virgin’s Bay, Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia.

As the sun rose this morning, we started seeing coconuts floating by and more and more birds. Those are good signs I thought. At 0700, I spotted the island of Motane off the starboard bow. Two hours later, we had Fatu Hiva right off the bow. HOOWA! All this cool electronic stuff really works! As we got close, we realized that we were in a very different world than the one we had left 16 days ago. The water is bluer and the young volcanic island before us is covered in palm trees and dense foliage. As we approached Virgin’s Bay, it looked just like in the book, except the photo in the book had been reversed. As we slowly approached, we were all in awe-steep cliffs plunging into the sea, numerous spires jutting out (some with goats climbing on them) and greenery everywhere. Someone should have been there singing Bali Hai.

At 1:30 p.m. local time, exactly 16-1/2 days after we left Acapulco, we set the hook in the most beautiful anchorage I’ve ever laid eyes on. After putting the boat away and a bite of lunch, we launched the dingy and went ashore where we were greeted by a small army of kids, who gave us fruit and hounded us to see the boat. They spoke Marquesan and French so we didn’t understand most of their chatter. We walked aimlessly for about an hour or so, mostly because we hadn’t walked in so long, with the kids trailing along.

The natives are friendly and their homes are clean and simple. The local grocery store is poorly stocked, but the prices are high. For example, a swim suit was $40, a jar of mayonnaise $7.

Tomorrow, we will do some serious exploring while school is in session.

April 15

Latitude 10 south, Longitude 139 west.

We’re on the move again. After two days and nights in the breathtakingly beautiful Virgin’s Bay, we’re headed northwest up the Marquesan chain to Hiva Oa, where Paul Gauguin was laid to rest.

We spent the morning yesterday applying some spit and polish to our little floating home and then ventured ashore for some sightseeing. Two Marquesan children, who spoke no English, appointed themselves as our “guides” and we hiked for an hour or so deep into the tropical rainforest to a spectacular 200 foot waterfall. Along the trail were awesome vistas of the rugged terrain as we made our way across what appeared to be an extinct volcanic cone. After a refreshing swim in the cool pool at the waterfall and a few Kodak moments we headed back to the village and checked out some local crafts and chatted a bit with the natives. The village chief told us that a tourist had gone to the waterfall and disappeared a week ago. He advised us not to swim there because of a large, strange fish that was there (a bit late for us.) Guess he thought the fish ate the tourist–we think the guy just liked the island and decided to punch out and stay. Anyway, he asked us to put up a sign in English and German to warn other cruisers.

We had a quiet evening on the boat, watching goats hang out on the jagged rock formations above the bay. Later the moon and clouds provided an eerie lighting to the landscape.

April 20

Latitude 09-04 south, Longitude 140-14 west.

We’re back! We had a rather quiet weekend on the Island of Nuku Hiva, but then again there’s not much going on here. We sampled some of the local food, which was excellent, but quite expensive. It’s not hard to spend $25 a head on lunch or $50 on dinner. A beer is four to five dollars everywhere. The only bargain is baguettes, which are excellent and only 35 cents each.

We performed some necessary maintenance, repair and provisioning on Saturday and had a local meal with some live Marquesan music along with buddy boaters Ruth and Buddy from Annapurna, who arrived the day before from Acapulco.

Yesterday, we rented a four-wheel drive (all vehicles here are four-wheel drive) to do some exploring of the island. The roads are poor and the best one can do is about 10-15 kilometers per hour. We visited Typeevai, the valley Herman Melville wrote of in his first book, Typee. It is very lush, tropical and quiet. Archaeological sites abound and we hiked up to one that had tiki heads carved from volcanic stone.

We stopped for lunch at the only “snack” in the village owned and built by a Marquesan named Thomas. The food was good and inexpensive and Thomas gave us limes, local apples and bananas from the trees on his property. He then played his ukelele for us and told us that in addition to Marquesan and English, he speaks Spanish, French, Tahitian and is learning German. His is also the village priest. This kind of hospitality is typical once one gets out of the “big towns.”

We are presently underway, motor sailing to Takaroa in the Tuamotus island group, about 439 miles from Nuku Hiva, where we hope to do some diving.

April 23

Teavaroa, Takaroa Atoll, Tuamotus Islands.

We departed Nuku Hiva in a flurry of last minute activities. We were able to pick up some great food (a turkey, some veal and asparagus) from a hotel that was closing to remodel, and of course fresh baguettes from the boulangerie. The rental car returned, awnings down and stowed, dinghy up, etc. and we were off by 0930. Fifty-seven hours of uneventful motor sailing on calm seas and we were in the Tuamotus.

Actually, we had two events: First we hooked two large marlin that did some cool tail dances before taking off with our lures and then we boarded a small tuna. A shark took a bite out of it while it was on or line but left enough for two sashimi meals. . . yum-yum, meow meow.

After we made a white-knuckle entrance through the narrow pass into the lagoon and dodged all the underwater lines (pearl oyster farms) we anchored in a glassy calm spot near the village. The Tuamotus consist of 78 islands, mostly coral atolls. The flat islands or “motusÓ are covered with palm and other trees. The village of Teavaroa is a small Mormon enclave, friendly and quiet. After an 1-1/2 hour grand tour and visit to the magasin (grocery store), we were invited aboard to tour the Picton Castle, which is an early 1900’s three masted barque (tall ship) that is circumnavigating. She has all the latest gear such as canvas sails, manilla rope lines, coal stove in the galley, GPS and satellite phone.

We dove this afternoon in the pass to the ocean, experiencing an abundance of fish, including lionfish, barracuda and reef sharks. . . all friendly, of course. . .and the visibility was more than 100 feet.

Tomorrow, we will make a short sixty mile daysail to the Manihi Atoll

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