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Exploring Taiohae – Nuku Hiva, Marquesas

With our land legs firmly back installed we explored our first south Pacific island. The island is beautiful and decorated with carved stones and beautiful flowering bushes.

The people have been so friendly and welcoming to us too, everyone is very relaxed about everything which is a welcome change after the form filling and officialdom of Panama and Galapagos.

We hitch hiked up to the top of the ridge to see the viewpoint. Our lift was in the back of a truck full of cabbage leaves which made for an interesting trip!

The view was breathtaking. The island is so lush and green with dramatic cliffs and soaring trees. We then hitched another lift further along the ridge to a marked hike amongst tall pine trees. It was almost like being back in Europe albeit with temperatures like an oven on full blast.

Feral horses and cows meandered across the road and through the trees. It was quite surreal (are we back in the New Forest in Lymington?!) and a gorgeous walk.

Luckily we managed to hitch a lift back down to the town as I did panic it would take us about 7 hours to walk back down and I am not sure little legs would have made it! There are not many cars/trucks on the road but it appears hitch hiking is the way to travel as there isn’t another option and everyone happily stops for you. Phew! It was a fabulous view on the way back down (without the cabbages)!

Arrival in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, Pacific Ocean

Just before we sighted land a huge pod of dolphins came to visit us and play in our bow wave, it was like they were showing us the final way to the Pacific islands.

Dolphins leading the way

I can’t tell you how amazing it is to see land again and with the dolphins with us again it was truly magical. The boys shouted “land ahoy” at the top of their voices and we gazed in awe as the island shapes appeared out of the mist and clouds.

Land appearing always under the clouds

Due to COVID we have to check-in in a specific island and harbour, which slightly annoyingly means sailing past a few islands like Ua Huka first! Never mind there will be time to explore and potter back to other islands in due course. 30nm further on we finally see our island and it’s an amazing dramatic sight with steep rising cliffs from the sea. Greens and browns glinting against the blue of the sea and even the sight of other sailing boats.

We’ve sailed 3500 miles and have seen precisely two boats in the entire time, both fishing boats off Galapagos. That’s it. Talk about deserted seas. Even the smell of land fills our nostrils, all your senses are delighted, it was a truly emotional time.

Nuka Hiva looks stunning and we are delighted to have made it before nightfall. We adjusted our clocks, we are now 10.5 hours behind the UK, ate a quick dinner and dropped into bed utterly exhausted. Exploring (and checking-in) and ringing home will start tomorrow. But the good news is that we have made it across the Pacific in record breaking time, 17 days and 7 hours. Not bad!!! That’s Force 8 sailing for you!!! The last boat to arrive here took 70 days from Panama!! Most people in the bay took 35-45 days. It took us 8 days from Panama to Galapagos and 17 to here, equivalent of 24 days total. Still very fast! Time to go slow for awhile and get into island time…

Anchored safely in a stunning spot Niku Hiva

Only 300 nm to go, what do we do all day?

All the way we have celebrated mini milestones knocking off the next 100nm, getting to under 1000nm then 500nm and now we are at only 300nm to go, it’s unbelievable although also very ground hog day. The weather is sunny, the sky and sea are blue, the wind 25-35kts and the waves are still big and rolly with two sets hitting our stern at different angles, one typically 3.5m and the other set 2.5m, no prizes to guess that they then combine hence our constant motion. We also have a daily wager on what the water temperature has risen too. So far we are on 25.9 degrees which is a rise of 9 degrees since we left. Everyone seems to have had a turn at winning with Felix being particularly canny with accuracy. Looks like it will be perfect swimming temperature when we arrive. We’ve also celebrated sailing 11,000 nautical miles so far in the trip, not bad for a six and eight year old to have that sailing mileage under their belt at their ages.

I’ve been baking to keep the crew happy and have to say the bread, biscuits and banana cake results have been fantastic despite the treacherous cooking conditions. Huge thanks to s/y Alisara as we are still using your silicon loaf tin which is a godsend, thank you!

So what do we do all day? Our typical day starts with me finishing my 4am to 7am nightwatch and I get everyone breakfast to start the day. I then retreat to bed to get some well earned zzzz’s and Chloe kindly starts the school day and Russell the boat chores.

To avoid goose barnacles Russell trails ropes either side of the boat for an hour. Then there is cleaning the solar panels especially if we’ve had a resident bird overnight resting, running the generator and water maker amongst a long list of jobs.

Russell trying to clean the solar panels!

Chloe does boat school with the boys during the morning and they spend their breaks playing Lego around me on our bunk as I try in vain to sleep. I’m then up to prepare and feed everyone lunch. The afternoon it’s time for an audible book for the boys and some craft, painting, pom pom making and the like or occasionally baking with me, whilst the adults doze and read and adjust the sails.

Baking time

Sometimes we all play board games, Hugo’s favourite is chess and Conservation Crisis.

Story time with Chloe

Then it’s time to prepare dinner for 6pm which Chloe and I take turns doing before I start my first night watch from 7pm till midnight. Russell and the boys go to bed at 7pm and Chloe not long after, so it’s a quiet dark boat by 8pm as I settle in to a podcast and harness myself into the cockpit as the waves knock you off the seat otherwise. At midnight Russell comes on night-watch and I gratefully handover and try and get some rest before returning at 4am for my second night watch till breakfast. Then we repeat the cycle and repeat for 21 days…..

We all think that two week passages are okay, anything longer starts to get tedious. Now you can see why we are exhausted on arrival! We are very excited about seeing land and to be peacefully at anchor not rolling around. And I dream about a whole night’s sleep. Although I have to say that my construction industry working career to date and fitting in a further masters degree at Cambridge whilst a full time working mum has got me used to no sleep!! Good preparation for an ocean crossing!

Halfway party and force 7 pancakes

Every milestone is an excuse to celebrate on a long passage and halfway across the Pacific was not one to be missed. I baked fresh bread (still using s/y Pacific Pearls brilliant simple recipe- thank you) and scones and we had treats of chocolate and crisps.

Home made bread aboard

Somewhere along the line we’d promised the boys pancakes too. The only slight problem was that we were now sailing downwind in a Force 7 with huge roller waves. Not wanting to disappoint I set too and made two lots of pancake mix as anything more than a quarter full in the bowl would slop over the side with the boats movement. Carefully sealing one lot of pancake mix in a box with a lid I left the other in the bowl as I started cooking the first pancake. A huge wave then tipped the boat much more than usual knocking the bowl over and sending the entire pancake mix over me and the galley. To add insult to injury I’d just had my first shower and washed my hair (fresh water is somewhat precious as we have a pretty dodgy water maker which is as about as reliable as a chocolate teapot). It’s times like these that test your limits when you are sleep deprived and knackered and a very long way from shore. Luckily Chloe helped me clear up the spectacular mess and we managed a good laugh about it. The boys still got their pancakes from the mixture safe in the box so it all ended well.

Chloe cooked their favourite meal of sausages and pesto pasta for dinner and we had a night of watching good old cartoons, Top Cat, Wacky Races and the Flintstones. A fun day of sunshine, games, stories and treats. Now we just have the other half of the Pacific to go….gulp! Time to plan the next milestone party, getting under 1000nm to go, this time without the pancakes though.

Making a Velcro chess board!

Super pod of dolphins

The sea colour is a more intense blue and the temperature is rising but it’s still miles upon miles of endless blue Pacific ocean. Suddenly on day 9 with 1548nm still to go (still not even halfway) Russell cried out “dolphins, hundreds of them!” We all scrambled on deck and stood in awe as around 400 Pantropical Spotted Dolphins (we believe) or more dolphins swam towards us, leaping and surfing in the waves around us. “It’s a super pod” cried Felix.

Super pod arriving to play with us

The dolphins surround us and we could see them in groups of ten or more swimming in synchro to leap out of the water together and surf in our bow waves and the big waves crashing around us.

Felix chatting to the dolphins

After days of seeing nothing and rolling around in large waves (except the occasional red footed booby), it was magical and lifted us all.

Boys captivated by the dolphins
Dolphins all around us

Generator stops working

When we left Galapagos the sea temperature was 17-18 degrees C and with cool air temperatures too, so I was allowed to use our small freezer for once. (Cooling from 17 degrees to -20 is easier than from 33 to -20 in power consumption terms). Chloe and I batch cooked and we had 12 dinners all prepared to ease the the cooking burden at the beginning of the passage. Within four days of our Pacific journey the sea temperature had already risen to 23 degrees and with it the air temperatures too. The weather was infuriatingly cloudy yet equatorial hot so we were limited in the solar power we were making. Russell was having to run the generator three times a day to provide enough power to run the freezer and all the instruments, screens and auto helm (self steering). We quickly took the decision to turn off the freezer, move the contents to the fridge and ease the burden on the generator. With all the rolling motion of the boat I’m not sure you’d exactly get laminar flow through the generator. We now only needed to run it once every two days. The best time to run the generator is when the batteries are low so it puts the maximum charge in. This normally means running it in the dead of night. Only this time after starting up it kept just konking out. Climbing into an engine room at night when the boat is pitching and rolling is not for the faint hearted and after an initial exploration we decided to run the main engine for a bit to charge the batteries and explore further in the morning. We were halfway across the Pacific, the furthest point from anything. With no experience of mending or diagnosing generator problems we set too in the morning.

Taking apart the generator

Going through the service kit and spare parts provided showed multiple spare water impellers. So Russell guessed that might be broken and lo and behold he was right. Changing and sorting it in the ever pitching and rolling engine room was another matter and despite getting stuck with cramp whilst balanced precariously in the engine room, all went fine.

Perched in the engine room

The generator purred back into life and stayed on, hurrah. We’ve only used the generator for 200 hours in a year and a half and the service replacement of the impeller is not till 400 hours, but this one had been annihilated. One to watch out for in the future.

New and old impeller

Pacific crossing first week

The Pacific is often known as the “pacifier” the gentle ocean. I can tell you after our initial 1000 miles / first week at sea in the Pacific crossing were anything but gentle or pacifying! We experienced huge waves which sent us pitch and rolling from side to side like a pinball machine, winds up to Force 8 and a current which varies widely from with us to against us. On day four during a particularly hideous night whilst we were sailing downwind with large waves coming from behind us a massive freak wave came from the front over the top of the yacht and drenched us. How on earth that happens is beyond me! It’s pitch black at night so you can’t see waves coming. With two hatches on vent (tiny opening) we had bath loads of water dumped inside the boat at 3am, ensuring everyone was very much awake.

Russell who never complains about the weather made the following comment at breakfast the next day, “that was pretty hideous and unpleasant”. Understatement!

Dawn the morning after..

Luckily we have all now developed some pretty sturdy sea legs and the days rock and rolling seems to be more bearable. It gets bad at night when the current bizarrely turns against us and the wind picks up to 30kts.

Big waves rising behind us

So much for the steady 20kts trade winds and equatorial current! Humph!! The only good outcome is that we are racing along at 8ktns often surfing down waves even faster than our hull speed. Hopefully that will take some days off the total tally and we will arrive sooner in Pacific paradise, fingers crossed. We have also been treated to several sightings of whales, one who’s puff next the boat startled us all. They are such majestic beautiful creatures. Luckily it swam quickly away and we got a few more tantalising glimpses before it dived into the depths.

Daily arrival of flying fish on the deck

Pacific crossing days 1 & 2

The first days sail of a long passage is always a bit dozy as everyone sleeps off the affects of sea sickness tablets. We snack and graze on bakery goods and fresh foods enjoying the last land treats. My first nights night watch wasn’t without mishap as I heard a loud sound as one of the laden fruit nets hanging from the aft binimi broke sending our precious fresh oranges and grapefruits scattering across the deck and plopping into the dark ocean. Drat, bother, there goes our fresh fruit on the first day! I clipped my harness onto the life line and went aft to retrieve as many as I could, hurling them into the dinghy hanging off the davits. The deck was at a 20-30 degree moving angle so nothing was going to stay still anywhere. I could sort where to put them in the morning in daylight. But with the boat pitching and rolling at a 30 degree angle, sailing at 10kts (with the 2kts of current in our favour for once) and it being pitch black with everyone asleep I wasn’t going to risk anything over an orange, fresh or not!

Russell poked his head up, the net breaking meant the avalanche of oranges landed above his head where he was sleeping in the back cabin. “What on earth was that?” he asked, “the oranges” I replied hurling the last few into the dinghy. We then both laughed at the hilarity of it as I explained what had happened. Never mind we have fresh apples and pears left and tinned fruit and 20 days to go….

Some Galapagos oranges rescued

Exploring Isabela island, Galapagos

Our last land stop before a 3500 mile sail across the Pacific to the Marquesas is the largest island in Galapagos, Isabela. So we decided hiking was the order of the day. First we did a gentle walk to the giant tortoise sanctuary, which was lovely. We arrived at feeding time fortuitously (they are only fed once a week) and it was great to see these large prehistoric-looking animals quite animated as they noisily chomped through leaves. We walked through the wetlands to the ponds and saw one lonesome flamingo.

The next day we hiked to the infamous wall of tears built by the historic penal colony. We nearly renamed it the hike of tears as it turned into a 14km hike across hot volcanic gravel paths in the boiling sun. The boys did brilliantly despite the heat and distance and we made it back to town in time for a late Equadorian lunch which we all happily devoured. We did manage to see giant tortoises, penguins, marine iguanas and a snake too along the walk.

The road up to the volcano is shut unfortunately so that hike is not possible for us (much to the boys relief)! Instead we are just prepping the boat and getting ready for our 3500 mile passage. I’ve hauled Russell up the mast and the mast and rigging check has gone well now it’s my turn to find some fresh fruit and vegetables on the island. Yeeks, slightly nervous, it will be our longest sail yet…and it’s not exactly the best place to try and stock up! This is the high street (the roads are sand on the island).

Sailing to Isabela island Galapagos

We were accompanied by a pod of over 100 inquisitive dolphins on our sail from Santa Cruz to Isabela which was amazing.

It was a delight to drop anchor in the calm anchorage of Puerto Villamil after the rock n roll anchorage of Santa Cruz. We were promptly inspected by the port authority to check all our papers, safety equipment, permits and permissions were in place. You need internal zarpe forms for travel between islands in Galapagos and we have had to have another set of COVID-19 tests, all negative thank goodness.

The anchorage is deserted and we are apparently the first boat to arrive here for seven months. We are allowed ashore tomorrow when the medical team will inspect us at 7am on the dock.